Archive for July, 2018

28 Blocks

During today’s bike ride on the Metropolitan Branch Trail I encountered a large mural on the facade of the Penn Center building at 1709 3rd Street (MAP), in northeast D.C.’s Eckington neighborhood. In addition to its massive size, what initially caught my attention was the realism and unusual yet simple gray tones that give the mural the appearance of an old black-and-white photograph.

The mural is entitled “28 Blocks,” and is the creation of American artist Garin Baker. Baker resides in New York City and is a traditionally trained realist painter, but his professional career spans across artistic disciplines. Baker spent four months hand-painting the 60’ by 160’ mural on 156 sections of parachute cloth in his studio. He then brought the work to D.C., and used a special polymer glue to attach the mural to the facade of the building, followed by a final coating and varnish that add UV and graffiti protection, thus requiring only minimal maintenance for many years.

The mural gets its name from the 28 blocks of marble used between 1914 and 1922 to erect the Lincoln Memorial’s iconic 120-ton marble statue of a seated Abraham Lincoln. But the mural isn’t intended to honor Lincoln. In fact, even the image of the Lincoln statue within the mural is only a peripheral image to provide context to the focus of the work. The mural depicts and is intended as a tribute to the men who are responsible for cutting out, hauling, carving and erecting the iconic Lincoln Memorial statue, which was designed by sculptor Daniel Chester French and planned by architect Henry Bacon. Most of those men were first or second generation black men who were born free, or Italian immigrants.

A quote from Frederick Douglass is also prominently featured on the mural. It reads: “Without culture there can be no growth; Without exertion, no acquisition; Without friction, no polish; Without labor, no knowledge; Without action, no progress. And without conflict, no victory.”

According to Baker, the color scheme of black, white and gray is intentional and carries symbolism. “People see things in black and white, but it’s really not the full story,” he said. “Only through all the shades of gray do we see the full truth.”

The mural is conveniently positioned adjacent to the Metropolitan Branch Trail, which gives cyclists, joggers and walkers a front row seat to view it. But not only that, the trail runs parallel to the train tracks that not only carries commuters and other riders on the Red Line between the Rhode Island Avenue and NoMa-Gallaudet University and New York Avenue stations, but also ferries people from New York to Union Station, allowing them to see the mural out their windows just before reaching the station. Officials with the city’s Department of General Services say 50,000 or more people a day can see the mural. I’m glad I was one of them today.

 

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

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A Ghost Bike in DuPont Circle

On this bike ride, in northwest D.C.’s DuPont Circle neighborhood, as I was riding near the intersection of M Street and New Hampshire Avenue (MAP), I saw a sight that no one, especially a cyclist, ever wants to see – a ghost bike. A ghost bike is a bicycle that is painted white and left as a memorial at a site where a cyclist was fatally injured by a collision with a motor vehicle.

This particular ghost bike was put there in memory of Jeffrey Hammond Long, a 36 year-old D.C. resident who was struck and killed at about 2:15 p.m. on Saturday, July 7th, just ten days ago. Jeffery was riding in a designated bike lane when a large truck, which was travelling in the same direction as Jeffrey, turned into the bike lane as it attempted to make a right turn onto New Hampshire Avenue. The truck crashed into Long, causing him to fall beneath the truck. Medics took Jeffrey to a hospital, but he was pronounced dead the next day.

Many cyclists, and even pedestrians, who are familiar with the intersection say it’s known to be unsafe. And I agree. I have been through the area and that particular intersection numerous times. And although I have never been involved in an accident, I have seen vehicles parked in the bike lane, or even traveling in the wrong direction on M Street. So later, after my ride, I looked into it and discovered that at least seven other crashes have occurred at the intersection involving cyclists in the past three and a half years. And a collision two years ago resulted in the death of a pedestrian crossing the street.

And a few days ago the District Department of Transportation agreed that the intersection is unnecessarily dangerous, and removed four parking spaces on M Street near the intersection to allow for better visibility for drivers making a right turn across the road’s bike lane. DDOT also announced that the sidewalk will be widened in the near future. It’s sad that DDOT did not make the changes prior to the devastating accident that took Jeffrey’s life. It was an accident that was preventable. But hopefully they will learn from this and proactively work to make other known dangerous areas safer before another cyclist dies.

The D.C. Department of Transportation said on Twitter that it is working with the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District and other city agencies to expand the sidewalk along M Street. The agency said plans are to realign the M Street bike lane adjacent to Duke Ellington Park, but more details will be provided by the business group later this month.

UPDATE (07/19/2018):  In response to the death of Jeffrey and other recent preventable deaths in D.C., the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) hosted the “Rally For Streets That Don’t Kill People” in front of the John A. Wilson Building on Pennsylvania Avenue today. I attended the rally, along with between 150 and 200 cyclists and concerned citizens.

Three years ago, Mayor Bowser committed to eliminating traffic fatalities in D.C. by 2024. But since then the numbers have only gone up. Since then, more than a hundred people have died on the city’s streets. The rally was intended to demand swift action to stop the deaths on our roads, and to communicate that every single one of those deaths could have been prevented and the city just isn’t doing enough.

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

Edward R. Murrow Park

The late Edward R. Murrow was the first journalist to have Federal parkland named after him, when a tiny triangle of land on Pennsylvania Avenue just west of the White House was dedicated to him almost 40 years ago. And during today’s lunchtime bike ride I stopped by the park to see it.

Located on Pennsylvania Avenue between 18th and 19th Streets (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Downtown district, it is just opposite the former U.S. Information Agency (USIA), which Murrow headed from 1961 to 1963. The USIA’s successor, the International Communication Agency, is now headquartered in the same building at 1776 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Edward R. Murrow was born Egbert Roscoe Murrow at Polecat Creek, North Carolina in April of 1908. He was the youngest of three brothers born to Quaker parents. When Murrow was six years old, his family moved across the country to Skagit County in western Washington, just 30 miles south of the U.S.-Canada border. He attended high school in nearby Edison, excelled on the debate team, and was president of the student body in his senior year. After graduation from high school, Murrow enrolled at Washington State College, where he was also active in college politics. After earning his bachelor’s degree in 1930, he moved back east to New York.

It was in New York that Murrow joined the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) as director of talks and education in 1935, and remained with the network for his entire career. He first gained prominence as a broadcast journalist and war correspondent during World War II with a series of live radio broadcasts from Europe for the news division of the CBS. During the war he recruited and worked closely with a team of war correspondents who came to be known as the Murrow Boys.

A pioneer of radio and television news broadcasting, Murrow produced a series of reports on his television program See It Now which helped lead to the censure of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Fellow journalists Eric Sevareid, Ed Bliss, Bill Downs, Dan Rather, and Alexander Kendrick consider Murrow one of journalism’s greatest figures, noting his honesty and integrity in delivering the news.

Regardless of your political persuasion, most people can agree that we could use a lot more honesty and integrity in our current news reporting. I guess you could say that society needs another Edward R. Murrow. Unfortunately, there was only one.

         

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

Two of the most well known murals in the city are located on either side of the iconic restaurant Ben’s Chili Bowl, located in northwest D.C.’s Shaw/Uptown neighborhood, next to The Lincoln Theatre, in an historic building at 1213 U Street (MAP).  The one on the east side of the building, entitled “Alchemy of Ben Ali,” depicts the restaurant founders, Ben and Virginia Ali.  But it is the other one that became controversial, leading to its removal.

In 2012, the Ali family commissioned its first mural with backing from the city’s graffiti prevention initiative, MuralsDC.  A few years later, however, public pressure to redo it started to grow as sexual assault allegations began to accumulate against one of the prominently featured people depicted in the mural – comedian Bill Cosby, who was accused and has subsequently been convicted of sexual assault.  Last year, the mural was first whitewashed, and eventually replaced.

The old mural featured local disc jockey Donnie Simpson, D.C.’s Chuck Brown – the Godfather of Go-Go, President Barack Obama, and Cosby.  Three of those men returned on the replacement mural.  Cosby, who had been a longtime friend of Ben’s, did not.

The newer mural, entitled “The Torch,” painted by D.C. muralist Aniekan Udofia, who also painted the original mural, celebrates D.C. history and black culture.  The mural depicts abolitionist and political activist Harriet Tubman holding a lantern that spreads light onto the other figures in the mural.  In addition to the three holdovers from the previous mural, those figures, who were chosen through a public voting process on the restaurant’s web site, are:  boxer and activist Muhammad Ali; former D.C. mayor-for-life Marion Barry; comedian and D.C. native Dave Chappelle; singer Roberta Flack;  comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory; actress and singer Taraji P. Henson; D.C.’s non-voting Delegate to the House of Representatives, Eleanor Holmes Norton; the late singer Prince; longtime local newscaster Jim Vance; D.C. rapper Wale; local radio disc jockey Russ Parr, and; former First Lady Michelle Obama, who now accompanies her husband.

But Virginia Ali, Ben’s widow, says the decision to repaint was based on the state of the mural alone, which she contended had become so soiled, damaged and weather-beaten.  Which means, years from now the mural may need to again be replaced.  So despite not making the cut for the current mural, I still have a chance.  I’ll just have to be patient and wait.

benaliwaymural01

Original Mural

The Whitewash

The Torch

         

         

         

         

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