Archive for the ‘Buildings’ Category

A Post-White House Presidential Residence

Unlike when most presidents’ terms in office conclude, when President Obama left the White House in January of 2017 he and his family chose to stay here in D.C.  In fact, the only other former President to live in D.C. after leaving the presidency was Woodrow Wilson, who also has the distinction of being the only former president interred in D.C.

The Obamas’ reason for staying in the national capital city was so that Sasha (the youngest daughter), could stay and graduate from high school.  At the time she was a sophomore at a private high school named Sidwell Friends, where her older sister Malia graduated in 2016.  As President Obama explained, “We’re going to have to stay a couple of years in D.C. probably so Sasha can finish.  Transferring someone in the middle of high school?  Tough.”

So after living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for eight years, what kind of home did the Obama family move into?  On today’s lunchtime bike ride I stopped by to see their current home, located at 2446 Belmont Road (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Kalorama neighborhood, to find out.

While not as impressive as the White House, the Obama family’s current home is newer than it.  The White House has been the residence of every U.S. President since John Adams in 1800.  The Obamas’ Belmont Road house was built 128 years later, in 1928.  The White House has 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms and 6 levels in the residence, while the Obamas’ current house has 13 rooms, eight and a half bathrooms, and three levels.  The Obama family’s previous residence has 35 fireplaces, while their current home has only one.  The White House has formal gardens, vegetable gardens and a rose garden.  Their new home has only a formal garden.  Lastly, the White House is approximately 55,000 square feet and sits on 784,080 square feet of fenced in land, while the Belmont Road house is 6,441 square feet and sits on fenced in lot that measures 11,915 square feet.

The White House also has a bowling alley, a swimming pool, a tennis court, a movie theater, three elevators, butlers and personal assistants, groundskeepers, and five full-time chefs.  The Obamas do not yet have a pool but recently were approved for a permit to build one.  And the Belmont Road house has a lower level au-pair suite for Barack’s mother-in-law.

Although not for sale, the White House is worth $397.9 million.  The Belmont Road house was listed for $5,750,000 in 2008, and then listed and relisted twice in 2012 for $7,995,000.  Having not found a buyer, it was subsequently listed again in 2014 for $5,750,000.  It sold in may of that year for $5,295,000 to former Clinton White House press secretary Joe Lockhart and his wife, Giovanna Gray Lockhart.  An Obama family corporation, Homefront Holdings, LLC., then purchased the home from them in 2017 for $8.1 million, which is more than quadruple the price of comparable real estate listings in the area, where the median price is $1,995,000.

Despite the fact that last year’s move from their home at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was a substantial step down for Barack, Michelle, and Sasha, their current home is much larger and more valuable than the home they still own at 5046 South Greenwood Avenue in south side Chicago’s Kenwood neighborhood, where they lived prior to the White House, and still stay on some visits back home to Chicago.

The Obamas will most likely remain in their current home in the nation’s capital until at least the summer of 2019, after Sasha graduates.  After that, they may continue to reside here, they may return to Chicago, or they may end up somewhere else.

 

NOTE:  Unlike all of the other photos on this blog, I did not take the above photos of the Obama family’s current home.  Those photos were taken from the real estate listing at the time they bought the home.   Because the Secret Service, which guards the former president’s homes here in D.C. and in Chicago have restricted access to the roads on which they are located, the following photos were the only ones I was able to take of what I could see on my bike ride.  They show uniformed Secret Service officers at blockades at either end of the road, and one of the black SUVs I saw while I was riding around the neighborhood in which sat plain clothes Secret Service agents.

 

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

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A Secret Entrance to the White House

Anyone who has been near the White House when the president or visiting dignitaries were arriving or departing have seen the entrances to the White House in use.  Equipped with security gates, ram-proof physical barriers, armed personnel, electronic surveillance equipment, and other unseen security measures, the entrances are obvious.  But there is another entrance to the White House that few people know about.

Located two blocks away from the White House in the 1500 block of H Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood, the secret entrance to the White House looks like almost any other alley in the city.  Thousands and thousands of pedestrians and vehicles pass by it every day, and I doubt any of them know what is hiding in plain site right in front of them.   About the only thing that distinguishes it from any other alley is a small, unobtrusive booth built into the wall of the building on the right side of alley.  I imagine most people who see it assume the booth is for an attendant collecting money for a public parking lot at the other end of the alley.  But it is actually a bullet-proof enclosure manned by Secret Service agents.

The alley leads south past the back of the Federal Claims Courthouse Building, before ending in an unassuming doorway at the rear of Freedman’s Bank, formerly known as the Treasury Department annex, on Pennsylvania Avenue.   From there, according to archival newspaper reports from before security concerns prevented the publishing of such information, the passageway to the White House passes through two subterranean tunnels.

The first tunnel was constructed in 1919 when the Treasury Department Annex was built, presumably to protect the Treasury and its employees from being robbed of the vast sums of cash with which they worked.  The second tunnel was contracted for President Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II, and lead from the East Wing of the White House to the first Presidential bomb shelter.  The tunnel and bomb shelter were to be a secret throughout the war, but was disclosed to the public in December of 1941 when Congressman Clare E. Hoffman complained about its expense in an open debate in the House of Representatives.

In later years, the tunnel has been used by persons who needed to exit or depart the White House without public or press attention. President Richard Nixon’s daughter, Tricia Nixon, and her husband, Edward F. Cox, departed the White House via the tunnel after their 1972 Rose Garden wedding.  President Lyndon Johnson also used the tunnel to avoid Vietnam War protesters when departing the White House.  Other uses of the tunnel have either been discredited or, like the stories of Marilyn Monroe using a tunnel to sneak into the White House as part of an affair with President John F. Kennedy, remain unproven.

Once the alley and tunnels were connected to provide for vehicular access to the White House, the passageway was modified to end in the parking garage in the White House basement.  And despite the general public’s lack of knowledge of the access way, or perhaps because of it, it remains in use to this day.

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.

Plant-Based D.C. Landmarks

Sadly, despite having worked in downtown D.C. for the past 30 years, I had never visited the United States Botanic Garden during the Christmas holiday season before this year.  I’ve been there many times but not during the holidays. But a friend who only lived here for a year before moving out of the area knew about the Botanic Garden’s annual holiday display, entitled Season’s Greenings, and the sights, smells, and sounds that accompany it.  When she asked me about this year’s display, it prompted me to go check it out.  And I’m so glad I did.

This year’s display is a multifaceted one that stretches throughout the Botanic Garden.  First, it includes the return of a series of D.C. landmarks made out of plant materials.  The holiday display also includes thousands of blooms throughout the Conservatory, from exotic orchids to a showcase of heirloom and newly developed poinsettia varieties in the seasonal Poinsettia Room.  Lastly, this year’s holiday decorations include a showcase of model trains chugging around, below, through, and above plant-based recreations of iconic sights and roadside attractions from across the United States.

I will be covering the Poinsettia display, and the model train and roadside attractions showcase in the near future.  Today’s blog post focuses on the collection of D.C. landmarks, all made from a myriad of plant and other natural materials, which is displayed in the Garden Court.  There are a dozen local landmarks and memorials on display this year.  The White House swing set, which had been included in previous years, was not present this year because the actual swing set is no longer at the White House.  In it’s place is the Albert Einstein Memorial.  Also new this year is the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened a little over a year ago.  All of the landmarks would be incredible in and of themselves.  But knowing that they are made of plants adds to the experience.

For added holiday cheer at the Botanic Garden, there are concerts on Tuesday and Thursday evenings in December, when hours are extended until 8pm.  If you can, I highly recommend going on one of these days for both the music and to see the exhibit and plant collections illuminated by colorful lights.  One of my first thoughts after seeing Seasons Greenings was wishing that I had known about it and gone in previous years.  So do yourself a favor and go so you don’t have the same thought years from now.

 

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

1 – U.S. Capitol Building
2 – The Thomas Jefferson Memorial
3 – Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Building
4 – Lincoln Memorial
5 – National Museum of African American History and Culture
6 – National Museum of the American Indian
7 – Smithsonian Institution, The Castle
8 – U.S. Botanic Garden Conservatory
9 – U.S. Supreme Court
10 – Washington Monument
11 – White House
12 – Albert Einstein Memorial

NOTE:  My blog post on “Seasons Greetings: Railroads and Roadside Attractions” will appear next Monday.

FBI-WFO (5)

The FBI’s Washington Field Office

In honor of Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., who would have turned 98 years old today, on this bike ride I rode to the FBI Headquarters building, and from there to the FBI’s Washington Field Office, which is located at 601 4th Street(MAP).  Mr. Zimbalist was an actor who is arguably most widely known for his starring role as Inspector Lewis Erskine in the television series “The F.B.I.”, which premiered on September 19, 1965 and closed with the last episode on September 8, 1974. The series was an authentic telling of fictionalized accounts of actual FBI cases, with fictitious main characters carrying the stories.

Mr. Zimbalist developed and maintained a strong personal relationship with J. Edgar Hoover, the real-life Director of the FBI at that time.  Although he was never seen in the series, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover actually served as series consultant. Mr. Hoover requested technical accuracy for the show, and that Agents be portrayed in the best possible light. Actors who played F.B.I. employees were required by Hoover to undergo a background check. Mr. Zimbalist passed his background check with ease. He subsequently spent a week in D.C., where he was interviewed by Hoover, and at the F.B.I. academy in Quantico, Virginia. Hoover and Zimbalist remained mutual admirers for the rest of Hoover’s life. Hoover would later hold Zimbalist up as an image role model for FBI employees to emulate in their personal appearance.

The Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI, Inc. honored the character of Lewis Erskine in 1985 with a set of retired credentials. On June 8, 2009, then FBI Director Robert Mueller, presented Mr. Zimbalist with a plaque AS an honorary Special Agent for his work on the TV series.

Other notable people with a connection to the FBI and also share today’s birthday with Mr. Zimbalist are: G. Gordon Liddy (former FBI Agent and Watergate conspirator), who turned 87 today; Dick Clark (host of American Bandstand known as America’s oldest teenager, on whom the FBI maintained a file and conducted investigations in 1962 and 1985 into threats of violence against him), who would have turned 87 today; Abbie Hoffman (political activist who was investigated by the FBI), who would have been 81 today; Richard Crenna (actor who performed on the “This Is Your FBI” radio program) would have turned 90 today, and; Mandy Patinkin (actor who played FBI Agent Jason Gideon on the TV series “Criminal Minds”), who turned 65 today.

         

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

Despite it being cold and overcast today, with intermittent light rain, I went for a bike ride at lunchtime anyway.  That’s because I had made plans several weeks ago for today’s ride.  Today I rode to the Southwest Waterfront because after years of planning and additional years of construction led by PN Hoffman and Madison Marquette, a local team of accomplished mixed-use developers, the first phase of the multi-billion dollar District Wharf development project opened today with a big celebration.

Today’s grand opening kicks off four days of free musical entertainment and headliner bands, including the Bacon Brothers, featuring Kevin Bacon and his brother Michael.  Other musical acts include Go Go Gadjet, White Ford Bronco, Pebble to Pearl, and Oh He Dead, as well as the Howard University Gospel Choir, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, and the Children’s Chorus of Washington.  Other activities include restaurant openings from some of D.C.’s hottest chefs, debuts of iconic shops, and lots of waterside entertainment and activities, including marching bands, stilt-walkers, paddleboarding presidents, kayak rentals, and free group yoga sessions.  And there was a daytime fireworks show today.  And there is another fireworks show scheduled for this Sunday evening.

Located at 690 Water Street (MAP) in D.C.’s Southwest Waterfront neighborhood, Pierre Charles L’Enfant’s vision of an entryway for the nation’s capital has now become a destination.  Comprised of parks and piers, The Maine Avenue Fish Market, dozens of new restaurants, retail shops and services, a distillery, a water taxi hub, as well as two new music venues, The Anthem and  Pearl Street Warehouse, The Wharf is expected to become one of the busiest and most popular centers of activity in the national capital city.  and after today’s bike ride, I will be able to say that I was there at the beginning of it all.

         

         

         

        

         

         

         

          

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

NOTE:  One more thing.  I would also like to note that The District Wharf is very bicycle friendly.  There is a free valet service, and there are plenty of bike racks throughout the entire area.  So there is no need to attempt to secure your bicycle the way the one on the photo below is.  Can you tell what is wrong in that photo?

    

Minim01

Boneyard Studios

To celebrate the end the workweek, I went for a long bike ride today with no particular destination in mind.  And as I was riding through an alley near Glenwood Cemetery in northeast D.C.’s Edgewood neighborhood, I happened upon a small triangular-shaped plot of land located at 21 Evarts Street (MAP) with what appeared to be homes that would be considered part of the “tiny house movement.” After looking into it later, I found out that the owner of the 5,000-square-foot lot is named Brian Levy, and the houses were planned as a commune known as Boneyard Studios.

The tiny house movement, also known as the small house movement, is a description for the architectural and social movement that advocates living simply in small homes. With the average size of new single family homes in the United States increasing significantly over the past few decades despite a decrease in the size of the average family, the movement is a return to houses that are generally less than a thousand square feet. Frequently, the distinction is made between small houses that are between 400 square feet and 1,000 square feet, and tiny houses that are less than 400 square feet, with some as small as 80 square feet.

The Boneyard Studios community was founded in 2012 by Levy, and hosted five tiny houses. The largest of the tiny houses is a Minim House, owned by Levy. It is intended as a showcase for his company’s homes. The Minim House is an 11-foot-wide and 22-feet-long home that has a pullout queen bed, a 5-foot desk and office space and a 10-foot galley kitchen. There’s also a multipurpose table that can be used to draft proposals for work or seat six for dinner, and a projector screen that doubles as a window shade. But it’s more unique features allow it to exist “off the grid.” These features include a rainwater collection and filtration system, an incinerator toilet and a solar array and off-grid electricity system.

Unfortunately, the project lasted only a little over two years before ending in the fall of 2014, mainly due to disputes among the tiny house residents as well as a new zoning regulation proposed by the D.C. Office of Planning, prohibiting any residential use of trailers on any alley lot in the District. So the houses continue to exist at the site to serve as a mini-house showcase, but at the present time are uninhabited.

Minim02     Minim03     Minim04

Minim06     Minim05     Minim07

Minim08     Minim10     Minim09
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

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The Brodhead-Bell-Morton Mansion

On this lunchtime bike ride, as I was riding near Scott Circle in northwest D.C., I saw what looked like commemorative brass plaques on the side of a building.  Wanting to find out more about the plaques and the building, I stopped to look into it.  According to the plaques, the mansion is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and once belonged to Alexander Graham Bell.  Whetting my appetite to find out more about the house, I researched it later when I got back from my ride.

Originally designed in the Victorian style by John Fraser, with construction finishing in 1879, the house was built for John. T. Brodhead and his family.  Based on a subsequent series of prominent owners, it has come to be known as the Brodhead-Bell-Morton Mansion, and is located at 1500 Rhode Island Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s DuPont Circle neighborhood.

The Brodhead family did not live there long, however,  In 1882, just three years after construction was completed, Brodhead sold the home to lawyer and financier Gardiner Green Hubbard, the father-in-law of telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell.  According to the home’s National Register of Historic Places registration form, the Hubbards “offered the house to the Bells as an inducement to relocate from the Boston area, and Bell allowed himself to be persuaded.”

However, the original house was not large enough for Bell and his wife Mabel Gardiner Hubbard, so they added a two-story addition on the northeast corner and then a third floor with a steep slated roof.  Bell also made other changes to the house, the most interesting of which was the installation of the city’s first electric burglar alarm system.  It was composed of an elaborate system of wires and bells that connected every door and window in the house to a room Bell referred to as the “central office.”  Indicators in the central office would show instantly whenever a door was opened or shut, or only partially opened.  And if anyone tried to enter the house at night, bells would sound.

It’s too bad that Bell installed a burglar alarm system rather than a smoke detector, however, because a fire destroyed much of the building in 1887. Although it was insured, the damage from the fire was more extensive than what the policy covered.  Bell was able to have the mansion restored anyway.

Then in 1889, just a couple of years after the fire, Bell sold the mansion to Levi Parsons Morton just prior to Morton’s swearing in as Vice President under President Benjamin Harrison.  Morton immediately had the building enlarged with a new east wing, that was designed by John Fraser, the home’s original architect.  Some years later, Morton remodeled the house, converting it into the neoclassical Beaux-Arts architectural style that was all the rage at that time.  Under the hand of prominent American architect John Russell Pope, who later designed The Thomas Jefferson Memorial, The National Archives and Records Administration Building, and the West Building of the National Gallery of Art, among other important buildings, Morton had the house transformed into its present-day form.

The mansion would go on to have a number of additional prominent owners and residents, including the Embassy of Russia, U.S. Secretary of State Elihu Root, Massachusetts Congressman Charles Franklin Sprague, and Count Arturo Cassini, the Russian Ambassador to the U.S.  It then became home to the National Democratic Club, who sold it to the National Paint, Varnish and Lacquer Association.  Finally, in February of last year, it was purchased by the country of Hungary, which moved the Embassy of Hungary there late last year.

I’m glad I noticed the house during this bike ride, and then looked into it later.  The house turned out to have quite a history.  Of course, D.C. is full of history and interesting stories, if you just take the time to look for them.

BellMansion02     BellMansion04     BellMansion03
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Alexandria City Hall

Alexandria Market Square and City Hall

On days when I want to go on a longer than usual lunchtime bike ride, one of my favorite destinations is Old Town Alexandria.  And that is where I rode to today.  And it was during this ride I visited the Alexandria Market Square and City Hall, located at 301 King Street (MAP).

The site of the Alexandria Market Square and City Hall originally began as a market beginning in 1749.  Then in 1752, lottery proceeds funded the building of a town hall and courthouse on the site. George Washington served as a justice in this court.  Later, in 1817, a new three-story brick building was constructed, including a town clock tower designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe.  But an extensive fire in May of 1871 gutted the building.  Given the importance of the building, the townspeople raised enough money to pay for an exact replica of the former building.  And that building, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in March of 1984, is still standing today.

The current Second Empire-style building was designed by Adolph Cluss, was a German-born American immigrant who became one of the most important architects in the D.C. area, in the late 19th century.  He was nicknamed the “Red Architect” based on red brick being his favorite building material, and his early communist sympathies, though later in life he became a confirmed Republican.  Cluss is responsible for designing scores of major public buildings in the D.C. area, including at least eleven schools, as well as markets, government buildings, museums, residences and churches.  His designs include the Franklin School and the Sumner School, as well as other notable public buildings in the capital, including the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Building, Calvary Baptist Church, and two of the city’s major food markets, Center Market and Eastern Market.

The original city hall was something of a complex, containing the court facility, both the principal police and fire stations of Alexandria.  The Alexandria-Washington Masonic Lodge also had its headquarters located in the building until 1945, when it moved out of City Hall and into the new George Washington Masonic National Memorial on nearby King Street.  Today the City Hall building houses many of the Alexandria government offices, including the City Council Chambers on the second floor.

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The East Front of the United States Capitol Building

The United States Capitol Building is a world-renowned architectural icon and one of the most recognizable buildings in the world.  It is located at 100 Constitution Avenue (MAP) atop Capitol Hill at the eastern end of the National Mall. Though not at the geographic center of the Federal District, the Capitol forms the origin point for the District’s street-numbering system and the District’s four quadrants.  I’ve ridden both to it and past it hundreds, if not thousands of times, and on this lunchtime bike ride Julius and I rode there again.  And although I usually write in this blog about the lesser-known monuments and attractions in D.C., for this last lunchtime bike ride of the year before I take a little time off from work for the holidays, I time I decided to break from tradition and write about the Capitol.

It was Pierre Charles L’Enfant who chose the location within the new capital city for the building in which Congress could meet. Tasked with creating the city plan, he chose what was then known as “Jenkin’s Hill” as the site for the “Congress House”, with a “grand avenue” that would later be named Pennsylvania Avenue connecting it with the “President’s House”, and a public space stretching westward to the Potomac River. That public space is now known as the National Mall. However, in reviewing L’Enfant’s plan, Thomas Jefferson insisted the legislative building be called the “Capitol” rather than “Congress House”.

In the spring of 1792, Jefferson proposed a design competition to solicit designs for the Capitol and the President’s House.  A four-month deadline was set, with a prize of five hundred dollars and a lot of land in the new capital city to go to the winner.  Of the 17 submitted designs, all of them were turned down.  A Scottish doctor named and amateur architect named William Thornton submitted the design which was eventually chosen, although it came in after the deadline for the contest.  The following year Thornton was appointed to serve as the first Architect of the Capitol, a position that still exists today.

Thornton’s original design was later modified by the famous British-American architects Benjamin Henry Latrobe, Sr., and then Charles Bulfinch.  On September 18, 1793, first President George Washington, along with eight other Freemasons dressed in masonic regalia, laid the cornerstone for the new Capitol Building.  The original building was completed in 1800, and Congress met for the first time in the newly-created Capitol in November of that year, approximately 11 months after the death of George Washington.  Eventually, the current cast-iron dome was added.  A new southern extension for the House of Representatives and the Senate’s new northern wing, designed by Thomas U. Walter and August Schoenborn, were added in the 1850’s, giving us the building we see today.

Like the principal buildings of the executive and judicial branches, the Capitol is built in a distinctive neoclassical style and has a white exterior.  Both its east and west elevations are formally referred to as fronts.  However, the east side of the Capitol is the only one with level ground for a proper entrance, so it was intended for the reception of visitors and dignitaries.  This gives the appearance that the building faces away from the Mall instead of toward it, like most other important buildings and monuments.  But the Capitol and the statue on top face toward the east so that it faces toward the people who are entering it.

Books could be written about the complete history of the Capitol, its appearance, and other aspects of the building.  But rather than go into that kind of additional detail, I decided to simply provide some of the information I find most interesting about the  building that is the seat of the legislative branch of the Federal government and serves as a symbol of American democracy.

  • The Capitol covers well over 1.5 million square feet on five separate levels, has 540 rooms, contains approximately 850 doorways, and has 658 windows, with 108 of those windows in the dome alone.
  • The Dome is 8,909,200 pounds of cast-iron and was constructed between 1855 and 1866.
  • The The building covers a ground area of 175,170 square feet, or about 4 acres, and has a floor area of approximately 16-1/2 acres. Its length, from north to south, is 751 feet 4 inches; its greatest width, including approaches, is 350 feet.  Its height above the base line on the east front to the top of the Statue of Freedom is 288 feet.
  • There used to be a law that no building in the capital city could be taller than the Capitol.  But that law was short lived, and today it is only the fifth-tallest building in D.C.  The Capitol is shorter than the Washington Monument, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the Old Post Office and the Washington National Cathedral.
  • The Capitol has its own subway, which has been there in some variation since 1909, and carries politicians from House and Senate office buildings to the Capitol.
  • There are marble bathtubs in the basement of the Capitol where members of Congress would take baths back in the 19th century.
  • The Capitol has its own crypt, which is located on the basement floor directly under the Rotunda. It is called that because President George Washington’s body was supposed to be entombed here. They even had holes dug for a viewing chamber where you could walk by and see him.  But Washington’s wishes were to be buried at his home on the Potomac River, Mount Vernon.
  • A bust of Abraham Lincoln located in the crypt and sculpted by Gutzon Borglum, has only one ear. The ear on the bust was originally supposed to face to the north because the sculptor believed Lincoln listened to Northern views and not those of the South. The ear now faces the South with its placement in the room.
  • Directly below the crypt there is a nuclear fallout shelter.
  • At any given time, several United States flags fly over the Capitol building and the flags have been flown continuously day and night since World War I.  Two flagpoles are located at the base of the Capitol Dome on both the East and the West sides.  Two other flagpoles are located above the North Wing (the Senate side) and the South Wing (the House side) and are flown only when the Congress is in session.  There are also several additional flagpoles located west of the Dome and are not visible from the ground, these flagpoles are used to meet the congressional requests for flags flown over the Capitol.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court also convened in the Capitol Building for 135 years, until moving into its own building in 1935.
  • There is a myth that the Capitol is haunted by an evil demon cat. The reason this myth exists is because of mysterious paw prints in the sandstone floor just outside of the former Supreme Court Chamber. They still have not found an explanation for the paw prints.
  • The Senate chaplain’s office has a rare oval window and it is one of the very few windows that still opens.  It can be seen on the left side of the west front.
  • For the first couple of decades, beginning in the fall of 1800 when the Federal government moved to D.C., the Capitol building was used during the administrations of Presidents Thomas  Jefferson and James Madison for Sunday religious services as well as for governmental functions.
  • Today there is still a private, locked chapel that is for the exclusive use of members.  According to the architect of the Capitol: “Its only purpose is to provide a quiet place to which individual senators and representatives may withdraw a while to seek divine strength and guidance, both in public affairs and in their own personal concerns.”

I’ve seen the Capitol Building almost every workday for the past thirty years.  But I learned new things about it as a result of this bike ride.  That’s just one of the reasons I ride.  And I look forward to more rides next year.  There are currently 435 posts on this blog about different places I’ve been to, events I’ve attended, or other interesting things I’ve seen throughout the city while out and about on my bike.  But I have an ever-growing list of more places to which I still want to ride.  And that list contains more places than the number places where I’ve already been.  So I anticipate that I will continue to be riding not only next year, but for the foreseeable future.

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The West Front of the United States Capitol Building

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

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Note:  The following historic photos obtained from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

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

Top Left – Historic American Buildings Survey Copy of old photograph East Front of Capitol Dome under Construction, Showing Clairvoyee and Gates. (Library of Congress Call Number: Habs DC,Wash,1–1 .
Top Middle – West front of the United States Capitol, with the new cast-iron dome under construction. In the foregrd. is the Tiber Creek or Washington City Canal and the octagonal greenhouse for the Botanic Garden (Library of Congress Call Number: Lot 12332 [item] [P&P]. Contributor: Montgomery Meigs. Date Created: November 16,  1860.)
Top Right – Construction of Capitol Dome. (Library of Congress Call Number: Lot 12251, p. 49 [P&P]. Contributor: Benjamin Brown French. Date Created: Between 1860 and 1863.)
Bottom Left – Inauguration of Mr. Lincoln,
Photograph shows crowd attending ceremony; construction on dome of U.S. Capitol in background.  (Library of Congress Call Number: LOT 12251, p. 41 [P&P].  Contributor: Benjamin Brown French. Date Created: March 4, 1861.
Bottom  Middle – Photograph showing Capitol building with scaffolding surrounding Thomas Crawford’s Statue of Freedom atop the dome.  (Library of Congress Call Number: Unprocessed in PR 13 CN 1995:149 [item] [P&P], Date Created: between 1860 and 1863.)
Bottom Right – Photograph showing Union soldiers with rifles at attention in front of the Capitol.  (Library of Congress Call Number: Lot 12251, p. 55 [P&P]. Contributor: Benjamin Brown French. Date Created: May 13, 1861.)

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Note:  A complete renovation and restoration of the iconic Capitol dome was just recently completed.  In 2014, scaffolding was erected around the Capitol Building’s massive dome for a three-year restoration project, the first major overhaul of the dome in more than half a century.  After removing 14 layers of lead paint, applying 1,215 gallons of “Dome White” paint, the fabrication and replacement of exterior ornamentation, repairing deficiencies and over 1,300 different cracks in the cast iron and, finally, removing more than a million pounds of scaffolding, the Architect of the Capitol announced just last month that the restoration effort is officially complete.  So the freshly painted and restored Capitol Building and dome will look pristine next month when it serves as the backdrop for the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump.

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Scaffolding for Restoration of the Capitol Dome

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