Archive for March, 2018

An Historic Elevator

On today’s lunchtime bike ride I stopped to pick up a submarine sandwich at a place called Potbelly Sandwich Works, which is a restaurant chain that began in 1977 in Illinois, but opened locations throughout the D.C. area only a few years ago.  The location I went to today is located in the Litwin Building at 637 Indiana Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Penn Quarter neighborhood.  However, the chain is now worldwide. In addition to the United States, they also operate restaurant locations in the United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, Canada and India.

As I waited for my sandwich to be made I took notice of a very old elevator.  It is not currently in use, but can be seen located behind a sheet of hazy plexiglass.  Later I checked into the old elevator, and I found out that at one time, locals claimed that it was installed by the Otis Elevator Company in 1853.  If true, that would have meant that the elevator not only pre-dated the Civil War, but would have made it one of the oldest elevators in the world.

The Litwin Building was so named after the family of Fred Litwin, who ran a furniture and antiques shop in the building for 52 years before retiring in 2003 due to health reasons.  In fact, I remember visiting his store a number of time earlier in my career and talking with him.  And because Mr. Litwin was enamored with the old elevator, and ran one of the most social business in the city where he would often talk with customers at length about a variety of topics, including about the elevator, information about it made its way into local newspapers.

The 19th-century elevator that was hand-operated with two heavy ropes. Its safety device, a carriage spring that latched into bars in the elevator shaft if either of the ropes gave way, made it unique. Elisha Graves Otis invented the device in the early 1850’s and patented it.   This is why locals thought the elevator was made by Otis.  But after extensive research by the an archivist for the Otis Elevator Company, it was determined that the elevator is actually a Bates elevator, most likely dating to the 1870’s or 1880’s.  So even though it’s not one of the oldest elevators in the world, it just might be the oldest operating elevator in this country.

Mr. Litwin tried to sell the elevator at the time he retired.  In an article in The Washington Post he is quoted as saying, “It’s awful when you have a love affair with a machine and find that nobody wants it … We’ve called a lot of people involved with elevators to try to make a home for this.”  But despite being unable to, the elevator has survived.  The building was awarded National Historic status, so when The Potbelly Corporation bought the property, the restaurant was told they could not remove the historic elevator.

As I often say, there’s always something to see in D.C.  And from just looking around while I was standing in line waiting for their signature sandwich named “The Wreck” (salami, Angus roast beef, oven roasted turkey, hickory smoked ham with melted Swiss cheese topped with fresh lettuce, tomato and mayo on a multigrain roll), I was able to see, and later learn about, a small but unique part of this city’s history.

Advertisements

The Church of Two Worlds

On this lunchtime bike ride I stopped by the building that houses one of the more unusual churches in the city, The Church of Two Worlds.  The church was founded in 1936 by the Rev. H. Gordon Burroughs.  Initially the church met all over the city, holding services in hotel banquet rooms and, for a time, even at the French Embassy.  In 1960 it bought the building where it currently resides, which was built in 1906 as a Methodist church, and then was the home of the Bible Presbyterian Church of Washington.

But what makes the church different is not its building.  The building, located at 3038 Q Street (MAPin northwest D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood, has a tan brick exterior, stained glass windows, and large wooden doors that together give it the appearance of a typical local church.

What makes The Church of Two Worlds unusual is that it practices Spiritualism, whose philosophy holds to the doctrine that the spirit exists distinct from matter.  Now that may not be all that different from many other churches.  But where it begins to become unusual in comparison to most other churches is that one of Spiritualism’s goals is to prove the continuity of life by contacting the spirits of the dead, or “discarnate humans”, who they believe continue to maintain their individuality and personality after the change we know as death, and have both the ability and the inclination to communicate with the living.

Further, adherents of Spiritualism, also known as Spiritists or adherents of Spiritism, believe the spirit world is not as a static place, but one in which spirits continue to evolve and advance beyond where they were in this world.  And because they believe that contact with spirits is possible, and that spirits are more advanced than humans, they believe that spirits can provide followers with useful and practical knowledge about moral and ethical issues, as well as offer insights into the nature of God, whom they often refer to as Infinite Intelligence.

Other beliefs or practices of Spiritualism include belief in the power of their faith to cure diseases, healing with crystals or energy, and that healing can be helped by meditating on chakras.  They also believe in readings and past-life regressions, and that all reality is spiritual, not material.

On a lesser scale, The Church of Two Worlds is different from many other churches in that it’s members can sleep in on Sundays.  But they may have a scheduling conflict during football season.  They meet on Sundays, but not until 2:00pm , when activities begin with ministers conducting a healing service.  Then at 2:30 p.m. a teaching service begins, in which ministers provide information and topics such as communication with spirits, meditation, prayer, and mediumship.  A message service then begins, which includes the availability of mediums who give messages from spirits to anyone who wants one.  This is followed by food and fellowship in the church’s Fellowship Hall.

Some famous Spiritists include author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, magician Harry Houdini, and the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates.  So if for no other reason, it might be interesting to visit The Church of Two Worlds on a Sunday afternoon to get a glimpse inside the mind of Sherlock Holmes, learn some of Houdini’s tricks, or find out what Hippocrates thinks about modern medicine.

    
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Golden Haiku Is Back

Today’s lunchtime bike ride felt like I was riding through a book of springtime poetry.  It was near McPherson Square Park that I first began to encounter the poetry on signs along the sidewalk.  And as I continued to ride I encountered the signs for several blocks in every direction.

Each sign contained a haiku, a short poem that uses imagistic language to convey an experience.  They were placed in sidewalk tree and garden boxes by the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District, and will remain through the end of March.  They are part of the annual Golden Haiku Contest.  The theme of the short poems is Spring, even though Spring doesn’t arrive officially for over a week.

The signs contain the award winning haiku and judges’ favorites from among this year’s 1,675 submissions from 45 countries and 34 states, and D.C.  The contest judges chose their top three haiku, a D.C. winner, honorable mentions and dozens of judges’ favorites to share with the public and, in their words, “bring a smile to commuters and visitors alike and brighten the winter landscape as flowers begin to bloom.”

I took the following photos of the signs I saw, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.  Which one is your favorite?

[Click on any thumbnail to view a gallery of full-size versions]

NOTE:  The Golden Triangle Business Improvement District is comprised of a 43-square-block neighborhood that stretches from DuPont Circle to Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP).

1 20160311_141244     2 2016-03-21 14.55.17     3 2016-03-21 14.06.22

4 2016-03-21 14.13.26     5 2016-03-21 14.56.48
[Click on the thumbnails above to view extremely high resolution photos]

Horticulturalists at the National Park Service are predicting that the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin here in D.C. will peak sometime between this coming weekend and the following Tuesday.  One of the methods by which they make this prediction is by gauging the stages of development of the buds on the indicator tree and then comparing that to the development of the buds on the other trees.

There are basically four stages of development for cherry blossoms before they reach their peak bloom.  The first stage is referred to as the green buds stage. This stage, when green color begins to be visible in the small brownish buds, usually occurs between late February and early March.  Cherry blossoms emerge before the leaves on the trees do, and the first sign of their impending arrival are green buds on the branches of the tree.

In the second stage of development florets begin to be visible as the buds slowly open.  This routinely occurs from early to mid March, and anywhere between 12 and 17 days before peak bloom.

The middle stage is referred to as peduncle elongation.  This may be my favorite stage for no other reason than just because of the name.  This is when the blooms grow stems and emerge outward from the buds.  When this stage occurs it is usually about 5 to 10 days until peak bloom.  However, this stage is very susceptible to weather, particularly frost, which can delay the process.

The last stage of development before peak bloom is referred to as puffy white.  This applies to all blossoms, regardless of color.  This averages between four and six days prior to peak bloom, and is characterized by the blooms begin to open up.

Finally, the tree’s peak bloom arrives.  How long the bloom last depends on how long they have been exposed to cold temperatures.  A warm spell in the 60s or 70s will produce blooms lasting four to five days, while colder temperatures could extend the blooming period so that it lasts between seven and 10 days.

Interestingly, during the blooming stage not all blossoms remain the same color.  Many are dark pink when in bud, lighter pink when they first blossom, and then eventually pale pink or white.  Others may open as a white flower and change color to pink over the course of a few days.

The entire blossom season is relatively short.  Full bloom, known as mankai in Japanese, is usually reached within about one week after the opening of the first blossoms, or kaika.  Another week later, the blooming peak is over and the blossoms are falling from the trees like snow from the sky.  Strong wind and rain or other adverse weather can cut the blooming season even shorter.  So don’t hesitate going.  If you do, you may be too late.

Note:  After enlarging it, see if you can find the photo-bomber in the photo for the Green Buds stage.

The Indicator Tree

There are approximately 1800 cherry trees surrounding the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park.  And every year the visual spectacle of their blooming draws tourists from all around the world. The most recent estimate by the National Park Service is that they will reach peak bloom between March 17th and 20th this year.  Peak bloom is the day when 70 percent of the blossoms are open in the trees around the Tidal Basin.  If the Park Service is correct, this year’s peak bloom will be quite early.  In the past, peak bloom has occurred as early as March 15th and as late as April 18th.

Because different trees can bloom ahead of or behind the average, the entire blooming period can last up to 14 days.  However, frost or high temperatures combined with wind or rain can shorten this period, which includes the days leading up to peak bloom. However, there is one particular tree that is consistently a week to ten days ahead of most of the others around the Tidal Basin.  Because of this distinctive trait, it has become known as “the indicator tree”, and it is used to get an idea of where the other trees will be in a week to ten days. It’s also one of the key pieces of the puzzle that the Park Service horticulturalists use in making their predictions.

There are no signs indicating which tree is the indicator tree. So unless it happens to be covered in blossoms while the other trees around it are not, you really have to know how to find it.  Here’s how: From the south end of the bridge on Ohio Drive looking towards the Jefferson Memorial, the walkway splits into two, with one path to the left going alongside the road and another path to the right, which then splits into two as it approaches the water of the Tidal Basin. The indicator tree is where the path to the right splits into two (MAP). It’s the first old-looking tree you come across and is standing right next to a large holly tree.

It’s not the most majestic of the old trees.  Not even close.  And it’s been severely pruned over the years. But for whatever reason, this tree can be counted on to provide advance warning of the much-anticipated peak bloom.

On today’s lunchtime bike ride I stopped by to see the indicator tree. The tree seemed to be several days, or maybe even a week or more away from blooming.  Also, the weather prediction is also calling for colder weather, including possible snow or wintery precipitation later this week, which may impact the timing of the peak bloom.  So if my reading of the indicator tree is accurate again this year, the peak bloom may occur later and the Park Service’s prediction may have to be revised.

I am fortunate enough to be able to see the cherry blossoms every day, from the: initial green color in the buds; to when the florets are visible; through the peduncle elongation stage; and when the buds turn puffy white; and then, finally, when they are in full or peak bloom.  But if you aren’t as fortunate and are traveling here from out of town to see the blossoms, keep checking to see if the Park Service revises their prediction.  However, as it stands now, the park service says you should be here in D.C. starting on March 17th.  And since that’s St. Patrick’s Day, you should consider stopping by the Irish embassy and/or having a green beer and a Reuben at one of the city’s many Irish pubs while you’re here.

         

    
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

UPDATE:  On March 12th, the National Park Service revised its prediction for the cherry blossoms peak bloom, shifting it0 back ten days later than it initially predicted.  They are now saying peak bloom is likely to occur between March 27th and 31st.⠀

Statue of Mayor Marion Barry

This past weekend a statue was unveiled in front of the John A. Wilson Building, which houses the mayor’s office and the D.C. Council, and is located at 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), just blocks from the White House.  The statue is of a man who to some people was a “living legend” who advocated for the city’s poor.  To others he was a controversial figure, best remembered for being re-elected mayor despite serving a prison sentence for possession of crack cocaine.  The statue is a memorial to former D.C. “Mayor For Life” Marion Barry, who died at age 78 in 2014, and is buried here in the city in Historic Congressional Cemetery.

The 8-foot-tall, bronze statue of Barry was created by Maryland-based sculptor Steven Weitzman.  The statue was commissioned by the Executive Office of the Mayor in partnership with the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities and the Marion Barry Commission, with its estimated cost of approximately $300,000.00 paid for by a combination of both taxpayer and private funds.  It is the first permanent public honor the District has given Barry, and one of only three full-body statues in the city of African Americans.

Barry’s supporters contend that Barry embodied the spirit of Washington and point to his: work in the 1960’s as a civil rights activist; serving as the first chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; being elected to the D.C. Board of Education; being elected to a seat on D.C.’s first elected city council; serving for a total of 16 years on the city council, the last 13 of which after he was shot by radical Hanafi muslims, from a breakaway sect of the Nation of Islam, when they overran the District Building in March of 1977; becoming the first prominent civil rights activist to become chief executive of a major American city, serving four terms as the city’s mayor, and; a number of notable achievements such as the founding the city’s summer jobs program which is now named after him.

But Barry’s detractors say he was also very controversial, and continued to be plagued throughout his life and career by: various legal problems such as failing to file tax returns and pay taxes; a variety of traffic violations including drunk driving and, at one point, accumulating over $2,800.00 in unpaid tickets for speeding and parking violations; conflicts of interest while in office, including personally benefiting from awarding a city contract to his then girlfriend;  being caught on videotape being arrested and subsequently convicted of smoking crack cocaine in a hotel room with an ex-model and propositioning her for sex, and; making racist remarks about Asian Americans at a party celebrating his primary victory during the election when he was elected to his last term on the city council, on which he served until his death.

Regardless of personal opinions about him, Barry’s legacy might best be summarized by the campaign slogan he adopted when he emerged from prison and dove straight back into politics: “He May Not Be Perfect, But He’s Perfect for D.C.”

         
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly

In this country we do not have a king or royalty.  Instead, we have an elected president. And unlike a king, our president does not have a throne.  But if our president did have a throne, today I saw the one upon which our current president would probably sit.  The throne looks like something that might have come directly out of President Trump’s private home or office.  However, it is instead located in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which is located at 8th and F Streets (MAP), in the Penn Quarter neighborhood of northwest D.C.

The throne is named “The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly”, and it is a piece of folk art created by an African-American janitor and outsider or naïve artist named James Hampton.

Hampton was born in Elloree, South Carolina, in 1909.  In 1928, he moved to D.C. and shared an apartment with his older brother, Lee.  Hampton subsequently worked as a short order cook, served in the Air Force where he worked as a carpenter, and eventually became a night janitor with the General Services Administration.

Hampton never worked as an artist, or even had any formal training in art techniques, art history, or art theory.  But shortly after his brother’s death he began spending his time during his off-hours in a rented garage secretly creating a large assemblage of religious art, including the throne, as a monument to God.  However, he was a man of extremely modest means.  So he created his art, and built the throne, out of various old and recycled materials like aluminum and gold foil, old furniture, pieces of cardboard, old light bulbs, shards of mirror, jelly jars, coffee cans, and old desk blotters, which he bound together using tacks, pins, tape and glue.

It is unknown if Hampton, who also referred to himself as Saint James, Director of Special Projects for the State of Eternity, ever thought of himself as an artist.  He created the Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly in complete obscurity.  In fact, it was only upon his death in 1964, when the owner of the garage which he rented sought to rent the space out again, that Hampton’s work was discovered.  As best can be determined by art historians, Saint James dedicated his off-work hours from about 1950 until his death fourteen years later to assembling The Throne.

The Throne eventually landed in the possession of the Smithsonian and, thankfully, became part of our national folk art heritage instead of our modern political tradition and culture.

         

         

         

         
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Note:  These photographs do not begin do The Throne justice.  In person it is absolutely massive sitting in it’s dark purple alcove.  And the play of light off the foil and mirrors not only makes it shine, but it seems to actually glow.  I highly recommend seeing it in person to experience its full effect.