Archive for the ‘Roadside Attractions’ Category

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The Oldest Miniature Golf Course in the United States

There are not a lot of choices when it comes to playing miniature golf in D.C. In fact, there is only one miniature golf course in the entire city.  And that is the course in the East Potomac Park Golf Center, located in East Potomac Park at 972 Ohio Drive (MAP), just south of The Jefferson Memorial and north of Hains Point, situated on a peninsula between the Washington Channel and the Potomac River.  And this was the destination of my lunchtime bike ride today, which combined with taking the afternoon off from work, turned into a miniature vacation.

East Potomac Park’s miniature golf course began operating in 1930, and is the oldest continually-operating course in the United States.  As you can imagine based on its age, it is a little more plain in appearance than the typical modern dinosaur or pirate-themed courses, or the fluorescing glow-in-the-dark indoor courses, that are prevalent in seaside resorts, amusement parks, and other tourist destinations.

Each of the course’s holes are simple cement, brick and stone structures with lightly rolling hills and angled turns and corners.  But with varying degrees of difficulty, the overall course is challenging enough to keep the game interesting.  My score made it clear that I was not one of the best players to play the course.  But I think I can safely say that I had as much fun as anyone there.  And a leisurely late lunch at the clubhouse after a full round of 18 grueling holes was a perfect way to top off the day.

The East Potomac Park Golf Center also has two 9-hole and one 18-hole regular golf courses in addition to its miniature version, as well as a covered and lighted driving range, a practice putting green, a FootGolf course (also the only one in D.C.), a retail pro shop, a tennis center, and an aquatic center. There is also a restaurant in the club house, The Potomac Grille, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. And everything is overseen by the National Park Service and, therefore, open to the public.

The center has available on-site parking, as well as an ample number of bike racks.  So regardless of how you get there, I highly recommend going.  For me, it was a great way to end the workday, and begin the workweek.

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On my lunchtime bike ride today I happened upon a number of signs containing poetry. When I looked into it, I found out that they were from a recent contest called the 2016 Golden Haiku Contest. The theme of the short poems pertain to Spring.  And even though today was warm and Spring-like, it doesn’t arrive officially until next week.

I took a photo of a dozen of them, but there are 125 different haiku posted around the the Golden Triangle area of the city, which is the heart of D.C.’s business district, stretching from the front yard of the White House to Dupont Circle. If you are nearby and want to see them for yourself, you can find a map of them here.  But if you’re too far away to see them in person, you can read them here, on the Golden Triangle website.

I found it interesting that as I took a photo of each new one I found, the people walking by were oblivious to them. There is so much to see and enjoy in D.C. Unfortunately, many people in the city are too preoccupied to slow down for a moment and enjoy what is all around them.

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The Lindens

I’ve found that if you remain alert when riding a bike around D.C., you’re almost always guaranteed to happen upon something interesting and out of the ordinary. And on today’s lunchtime bike ride, I chose to ride around with no particular destination in mind hoping to find something new.  I wasn’t disappointed. I was riding around the historic Kalorama Heights neighborhood in northwest D.C. when I happened upon an “Art On Call” installation. Art On Call is a city-wide effort, lead by an organization named Cultural Tourism DC, to restore the city’s abandoned roadside police and fire call boxes and turn them into neighborhood artistic icons. (Note: I plan on writing a future blog post on this subject.)

The Art on Call piece I discovered on this ride was about a house known as The Lindens.  Located nearby at 2401 Kalorama Road (MAP), the house is also known as the King Hooper House.  But it is more than just a house. The elegant Georgian-style house is also the answer to a riddle.  So if anyone ever tells you that there is a house in our nation’s capitol that is the oldest house in the city, even though some houses have been in city longer. And then asks you what house it is, you will know the answer is The Lindens. And after reading this post, you’ll know why.

The house known as The Lindens was built in 1754, more than two decades before America declared its independence, making it the oldest house currently in D.C.  However, it has not always been here.  It was originally built in Danvers, Massachusetts by Robert Hooper, an English Loyalist and wealthy shipping and business tycoon.  It was Hooper, whose nickname was King, who hired an architect named Peter Harrison to build him a summer home for property he owned in Danvers.  It got its name, The Lindens, as a reference to the linden trees that lined the property’s original driveway.  It remained in Massachusetts for nearly 200 years, and had many illustrious owners over those years, including Henry Adams, descendant of President John Adams.  As the American Revolution drew near in 1774, the house even temporarily  sheltered General Thomas Gage, the Massachusetts colony’s last British governor.

However, it become run down over the years and by the time the Great Depression hit the house was in a sad state of affairs. Then in 1933, it was rescued by Israel Sack, founder of the Sack Gallery based in Boston, and Leon David, a Boston real estate and antiques dealer.  At that time Sack used the house for storage and as a showroom. He also brought in a team of architects from the Historic American Buildings Survey in D.C. to make a set of measured drawings and photographs of the house. Those drawings and photographs would soon come in handy.

In 1934, George Maurice Morris, a lawyer who eventually became president of the American Bar Association, and his wife, Miriam, a fertilizer heiress, bought the house for $10,000.  They then had it moved to its present location on Kalorama Road.  Under the supervision of Walter Mayo Macomber, the architect of reconstructed Colonial Williamsburg, the house was painstakingly taken apart and transported on six railroad cars to its new home.  Using the drawings and photographs, it was reassembled beginning in 1935, and took 34 months to complete.  The house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969.  So even though there are numerous homes in the city that predate The Lindens tenure at its current location, the house itself is, nonetheless, the oldest house in D.C.

And if this house sounds interesting to you and you think you might want to own it, you’re in luck.  It is currently for sale.  The 262-year old, 8,820 square-foot house boasts six bedroom suites, and seven full and two half baths on five separate levels. It also includes banquet and embassy-sized principal rooms, a reception hall, a library, a spa with sauna, a billiard room, a tavern room, and eleven fireplaces. The Colonial-style home has all of this, as well as a patio and three-car garage, all on a majestic half-acre, landscaped and fully fenced-in yard.  The Lindens was featured in Architectural Digest in January of 2014.  The house most recently sold for $7.165 million in February of 2007 to retired hedge fund manager Kenneth Brody, but is now on the market again and could be yours for a mere 8.75 million dollars.  I looked over my budget and worked out the math, and found out that I’d have to sell some of my bikes to be able to afford it.  So I decided to pass.

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Little Free Library

During today’s lunchtime bike ride I ran across a “Little Free Library.” It is located in the 400 block of 13th Street, near the intersection with D Street (MAP), in the southeast section of D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, and is part of a burgeoning global literary movement which began in 2009 in Hudson, Wisconsin, when  a man named Todd Bol built a model of a one room schoolhouse as a tribute to his mother, a former school teacher who loved reading.  He filled it with books and put it on a post in his front yard.  Everyone loved it so much that he built several more and gave them away.  And thus, a movement began.

Little Free Libraries first began popping up in the D.C. metro area a couple of years ago. It has since spread throughout the city and to the suburbs. There are currently 31 Little Libraries in the city, 140 in Maryland, and an additional 180 in Virginia. Worldwide there are over 30,000 Little Free Libraries. In addition to the United States, these little libraries are also providing access to free literature all around the globe, in such countries as Tanzania, India, Brazil, Italy, Ghana, Spain Vietnam, and Guatemala, to name just a few.

Little Free Libraries relies on people to build and fill their own little libraries so that the movement continues to expand. Library creators are called Stewards, and it’s up to them to choose what their libraries look like. Some look like fancy mailboxes, while others look like birdhouses, or even doll houses. The creativity is limited only be the imagination of the Stewards. Stewards also choose what initially goes in them. But that can quickly change as people add and subtract from the offerings available. Stewards can also register their Little Library on the website and add it to the online Interactive World Map of libraries.

The libraries don’t require membership cards, nor do they have late fees or time limits on the books that anyone can “check out.” In fact, if you like the book, it’s okay to keep it. So next time you’re going down the street, keep an eye out for a Little Free Library. You may just find a great novel waiting for you there.

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

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Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge

On this three-day Columbus Day holiday weekend I ventured to the outer areas of the D.C. metro area, where I visited the Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which is located approximately 25 miles due south of the city, at 13950 Dawson Beach Road (MAP), where the Occoquan River meets the Potomac River in Woodbridge, Virginia .

Up until the 1940’s, the site was a popular tourist spot known as Dawson Beach. Then in 1950 the U.S. Army purchased the site. Named Harry Diamond Laboratories, the Army initially used the area for a radio transmitting station. In the 1970s, the base’s mission shifted to top secret research. Electromagnetic pulse testing and sight lines for security kept the vegetation low, primarily in grasslands. The base was eventually closed in the 1990s, and ownership of the 644-acre site was transferred to the Department of the Interior’s United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

Originally referred to as the Marumsco National Wildlife Refuge, the refuge was officially established in 1998 and renamed the Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.   Today it consists of a mix of wetlands, native grasslands and forest areas that provide a diversity of habitats for wide variety of species. The wetland habitats cover about half of the refuge and include wet meadows, bottomland hardwoods, open freshwater marsh, and tidally influenced marshes and streams. Upland meadows and mature forest comprised mostly of oak, hickory and beech trees are interspersed among the wetlands.

The unusual number and interspersion of habitats provides visitors an opportunity to view a wide variety of wildlife species and habitats in a relatively small area. The plant diversity of this refuge is outstanding in that over 650 plant species are known to be present. The refuge also boasts being able to documented over 220 different types of birds which are either native to the area or are migratory birds passing through, many of which are uncommon or rare in the region.

The refuge has approximately four miles of old roads are reserved for foot traffic, overlapping among three circular routes. It also has two miles of roads which are reserved for motor vehicle and bicycle access. Information is posted at the visitor contact station and at trail heads.

The highlights for me included seeing white tailed deer, a red fox, a turkey, more than a dozen rabbits, wood ducks, migratory geese, painted turtles and a nesting bald eagle.  As much as I enjoyed seeing all of the wildlife, it made me sorry that I only had my cell phone with which to take photographs. On my next visit I will definitely be taking along a good camera.

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The McClellan Gate

“On fame’s eternal camping ground their silent tents are spread, And glory guards with solemn round, the bivouac of the dead.” These words, taken from the first verse of Theodore O’Hara’s poem entitled “Bivouac of the Dead”, are inscribed in gold atop the front of The McClellan Gate, which was the destination for this lunchtime bike ride.

Contained within the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery, located across the Potomac River in Arlington County, Virginia (MAP), The McClellan Gate was constructed in approximately 1871 on Arlington Ridge Road, which formed the eastern boundary of the cemetery at that time. The cemetery was enclosed by a wall with four additional gates, which included Fort Myer Gate, Treasury Gate, Ord-Weitzel Gate and Sheridan Gate,  These gates provided pedestrian and vehicular access to the cemetery, with the McClellan Gate serving as the main entrance.  It served as the cemetery’s main entrance until 1922, when it was rendered obsolete by Congress’s authorization of construction of the Arlington Memorial Bridge.  As part of the bridge project, Congress also approved a wide avenue known as Memorial Drive to link the bridge to the cemetery, and a new entrance to the cemetery, known as the “Hemicycle”, to replace the old entrance gates.

The McClellan Gate is the only gate constructed on the cemetery’s eastern boundary in the 1800’s that remains.  Subsequent expansion of the cemetery eastward in 1971 left The McClellan Gate deep inside what is now designated as Section 33 of the cemetery.

The 30-foot high McClellan Gate is a triumphal arch constructed of red sandstone taken from Seneca Quarry in Maryland. The interior of the structure is in the form of an arch, while the exterior is rectangular with a rusticated facade. On both sides of the arch, a sandstone column with Doric capitals support an entablature. The structure has been described as Victorian in architectural style, although the entablature is Neoclassical. In addition to the verse from the Theodore O’Hara poem, the upper portion of the cornice of the arch is inscribed with the name “McClellan” in gilt capital letters. The lower portion of the cornice is inscribed: “Here Rest 15,585 of the 315,555 Citizens Who Died in the Defense of Our Country From 1861 to 1865”.  Brigadier General Montgomery C. Meigs, who was Quartermaster General of the United States Army and founded Arlington National Cemetery, also had his last name inscribed on the east side of the gate’s south column.

Also sometimes referred to as The McClellan Arch, The McClellan Gate was the first memorial in the D.C. area to honor Major General George B. McClellan. An equestrian statue, known as The Major General George B. McClellan Memorial, was later built in 1907 to honor the former General-in-Chief of the Union Army during the Civil War.

Both sides of the McClellan Gate are inscribed with lines from O’Hara’s poem. Atop the back, or the west face of the gate’s arch, is inscribed, “Rest on embalmed and sainted dead, dear as the blood ye gave, no impious footsteps here shall tread on the herbage of your grave.”

Bivouac of the Dead is believed to have been a favorite poem of General Meigs. In fact, Meigs was so impressed with the poem that in addition to ordering the inscriptions on the McClellan Gate, he also had lines from the poem inscribed on wooden plaques and placed throughout Arlington National Cemetery. The wooden plaques were replaced with either bronze or iron ones in 1881. Further, in his position as superintendent over all Army cemeteries, he also had similar plaques placed in Antietam National Cemetery, Fredericksburg National Cemetery, Gettysburg National Cemetery, and Vicksburg National Cemetery, among others.

Interestingly, O’Hara originally write the poem in 1847 in memory of the Kentucky troops killed in the Mexican War, did not give his permission for his poem’s use to commemorate Civil War dead at Arlington National Cemetery. His family learned of the inscriptions only after the gate became nationally famous in the years after its construction.

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The Watergate Steps

Ever since the infamous 1972 illegal break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in D.C.’s Watergate complex, and the Nixon administration’s attempt to cover up its involvement in it, the word “Watergate” has become synonymous with the scandal and the office complex where it originated. But almost half a century before the scandal that took down a president began, a staircase between The Lincoln Memorial and the Potomac River (MAP) was built.   That staircase is named the Watergate Steps, and it was my destination for this lunchtime bike ride.

Designed in 1902 by the architectural firm of McKim, Meade & White, the Watergate Steps were built in 1930 as part of the Arlington Memorial Bridge and Lincoln Memorial approachway. The 40 granite steps are approximately 230 feet wide at the base near the Potomac River, and rise 50 feet to the level of the nearby Arlington Memorial Bridge.  The steps become narrower as they rise, and are approximately 206 feet wide at the top. The steps are also divided into two tiers by the Rock Creek Parkway.

The steps were initially intended to be used for ceremonial arrivals of heads of state, government officials and other dignitaries arriving via the Potomac River. Their boats would pull up to the steps, and there to greet their arrival would be the new memorial, which was less than a decade old. Unfortunately, the steps were never used for their intended purpose.

Eventually, someone realized that the steps would make an excellent venue for music concerts, and a proposal was approved to moor a barge with an orchestra shell on the water at the base of the steps as a stage for summer concerts. The first concert was held there on July 14th, 1935, at which the National Symphony Orchestra performed. These “Sunset Symphonies” became quite popular, and over the next three decades crowds as large as 12,000 were entertained each summer at a series of concerts. Within the first ten years, the National Park Service, which sponsored the concerts, estimated that two million people had attended symphony performances there, as well as concerts by the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Army Air Forces bands.  Performers as diverse as Frank Sinatra and Paul Robeson also appeared there.

Alas, the concerts were discontinued in 1965 when jets started flying into Washington National Airport, and the noise was just too loud and would drown out the concerts. Failing to be used for their intended purpose, and with the discontinuance of the waterside concerts, the steps now serve mainly to provide tourists and other pedestrians with access to and from the Rock Creek Park Trail, which runs along the bank of the Potomac River. It is also a favorite location for local runners, who sprint up and down the steps for exercise.

So next time you hear the word Watergate, remember that it is more than just an office complex which was the site of a political scandal.  Not only did the Watergate Steps come first, but it is widely thought that the office complex was actually named after the steps.

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The Freedom Bell

The Liberty Bell, one of the most iconic symbols of American independence, sits behind glass in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, approximately 137 miles up Interstate 95, north of D.C.  And on this lunchtime bike ride just before the Independence Day holiday weekend, I did not ride to Philadelphia to see it.  However, D.C., has a replica of the Liberty Bell.  It is named the Freedom Bell, and is located on Massachusetts Avenue near First Street, at Columbus Circle next to the massive Columbus Fountain on the plaza in front of Union Station (MAP).  And it was the Freedom Bell here in D.C. that was the destination of this ride.

The Freedom Bell was a gift to the United States, in celebration of the country’s Bicentential, from the American Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary. The bell weighs eight tons, and is twice the size of its more famous counterpart. The bell was cast in 1975, but had to be cast outside of the U.S. because no foundry had the capacity to cast it. So the Freedom Bell was cast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London, the same foundry that cast the Liberty Bell in 1752. The iron work was then completed by Fred S. Gichner Iron Works of nearby Beltsville, Maryland. Jack Patrick served as associate architect, and Allen J. Wright Associates created the post and beam support for the bell.

After the bell was completed and shipped to America, it then traveled to all 48 contiguous states aboard the American Freedom Train for the Bicentennial, starting on April 1, 1975 in Wilmington, Deleware, and ending on December 31, 1976, in Miami, Florida. The bell shared a train car with a map of the American Freedom Train’s journey and a lunar rover.

After the conclusion of the Bicentennial year celebrations, the bell was placed in storage by the National Park Service. Eventually, lengthy discussions led to an agreement that the bell would be placed at its current location in front of Union Station, which was done in 1981.  The American Legion, however, was unhappy with the bell’s placement, because they had hoped that it would be placed somewhere on the National Mall.

Today, even though the Freedom Bell sits in front of the extraordinarily busy Union Station, most passers-by are oblivious to its existence as they hustle past it to their trains.  So, maybe the American Legion was right.

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The plaque that rests on the ground in front of the bell reads: “The Freedom Bell, Dedicated to The Spirit of the Bicentennial on Behalf of The Children of Our Nation, Given By The American Legion And American Legion Auxiliary, 1981.”

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Three Eggs in Space

On this lunchtime bike ride in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, I ran across an odd-looking sculpture on a grassy spit of land near the corner of Mount Vernon and Commonwealth Avenues (MAP). An odd combination of interconnected shapes, I must admit that the piece evoked mixed feelings in me.  I didn’t know what to make of it. I found it both interesting and odd, we well as welcoming yet strangely out of place. And after learning more about the controversial public artwork, named “Three Eggs in Space,” I found out that I am not alone in my reaction to it.

Three Eggs in Space is a 12-foot tall, 30,000-pound marble and limestone sculpture commissioned Stewart Bartley, the developer of an upscale apartment building named Del Ray Central, as a gift to his neighbors in the artsy community of Del Ray. The slightly tilted piece depicts a massive egg-shaped hollow oval of Texas limestone resting on a half-egg base of East Tennessee gray marble, with a smaller egg made of East Tennessee pink marble sitting inside the large oval. The artwork was fabricated by a company named Custom Marble and Design based on a scale model created by the artist, Karen Bailey.

At the time Bailey was commissioned to create Thee Eggs in Space, she was not working as a full-time artist. She was talking with Bartley about the development of his apartment building at their 30th high school reunion in Knoxville, Tennessee. He told her that his company was required to install a piece of artwork near the building as part of the development contract with the city, but that he had no idea what to do. She told her old friend that she’d like to give it a try, and he agreed to let her.

Like my initial reaction upon seeing the sculpture, Three Eggs in Space has received mixed reviews ever since it was lowered by crane and bolted into the ground on June 23, 2010. The artist describes it as both representational – it depicts three actual eggs – as well as expressive of the feminine and motherhood, with the large, concrete egg representing the mother and the marble egg in the center as the baby. But others have alternately described it as looking like an avocado, a teardrop, a toilet seat, a halo, an eyeball, and as a portal to another dimension.

The opinions about the sculpture are not only diverse, but also divided. Neighbors and passers-by, and even local community artists, either love it or hate it. Some people who like it have said it speaks of home, family and nurturing. But others who don’t like it have described it as cold, silly, and an epic fail.  Far from taking offense, however, the artist has said that she’s thrilled with the swirl of controversy around her work. “Even negative comments are good,” she said. “That means people are paying attention.”

So despite its mixed reviews, Three Eggs in Space is getting people’s attention and has them talking. And sometimes, isn’t that what art is really all about?

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An Inuksuk

As I was riding my bike down Constitution Avenue on this lunchtime ride, I saw what looked like an unusual pile of rocks on the grounds of the Organization of American States, which is located at 200 17th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood.  As I stopped to explore it further, I realized that it was, in fact, a pile of rocks. However, it was not just a random pile of rocks. It was actually an inuksuk.

An inuksuk (also spelled inukshuk, plural inuksuit) is a man-made stone landmark or cairn, which can vary in shape, size and complexity. Historically, the most common type of inuksuk is a single stone positioned in an upright manner, although the appearance of some inuksuit suggest that their construction was likely the effort of many, if not an entire community. The inuksuit have their ancient roots in the Inuit culture, but they are also used by the Inupiat, Kalaallit, Yupik, and other peoples of the Arctic region of North America. This region, above the Arctic Circle, is dominated by the tundra biome and, therefore, has few natural landmarks.

The word inuksuk means “something which acts for or performs the function of a person.” The word comes from Inuk, meaning “person,” and suk, meaning “substitute.” Inuksuit are used for a variety of purposes, including a marker for travel routes, fishing places, camps, hunting grounds, holy grounds, or to mark a food cache. There are even examples of Inupiat in northern Alaska using inuksuit as drift fences to assist in the herding of caribou into contained areas for slaughter.

The inuksuk I saw on this ride serves as public art, and an Inuit cultural symbol. It was a gift from Canada to the Organization of American States to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the country’s admission to the Organization. The inuksuk was built in April 2010 by Peter Taqtu Irniq, an Inuk artist and Canadian politician.

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