Archive for the ‘Roadside Attractions’ Category

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The Carousel on the National Mall

On August 28, 1963, during “the March on Washington,” Rev. Martin Luther’s King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  On that same day, just 45 miles away, the practice of segregation was discontinued at the Gwynn Oak Amusement Park just outside of Baltimore.  And an eleven-month-old baby named Sharon Langley was the first African American child to go on a ride there when, along with two white children, she rode on the park’s classic, old-time carousel.

The next day, “amid all the news stories about the March on Washington, there were also stories on Sharon Langley’s merry-go-round ride. Three kids – one black and two white – riding together provided an example of the harmony King spoke about at the march, when he hoped that one day black children and white children would regard each other as “sisters and brothers.”

On today’s lunchtime bike ride I went see that carousel.  But I didn’t have to ride all the way to Baltimore to do so.  Today that very same carousel is here in D.C., on the National Mall (MAP) in front of the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building, where young children enjoy themselves while their parents watch them ride the seemingly benign carousel, unaware that it has a rich history which is much more interesting than its appearance would suggest.

On April 12, 1967, the Smithsonian Secretary S. Dillon Ripley opened the carousel on the National Mall.  The original carousel was built in 1922 by the Allan Herschell Company, and was accompanied by a 153 Wurlitzer Band Organ.  At that time, rides cost 25 cents.  However, not everyone was happy to see a carousel placed on “America’s front yard.”  Some were concerned that that the carousel, along with the  popcorn wagons and some outdoor puppet and musical performances that were already there at the time, would lead to the Smithsonian developing into what the New York Times termed “an ivy-covered Disneyland.”   But that never happened, and the carousel remains to this day.

Today’s carousel is not the original, though.  Due to wear and tear the original carousel was replaced in 1981 with the carousel from the Gwynn Oak Amusement Park, which was forced to close in 1973 after suffering severe damage from flooding when Hurricane Agnes.  The Gwynn Oak carousel is 10 feet larger in diameter and has 60 brightly-painted horses, as opposed to the former which had 33.  It also has a few non-moving seats, and one sea dragon.  And riding on the carousel is not limited to children.  All are welcome, including adults, as long as you’re willing to pay the current ticket price of $3.50.

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

The Golden Haiku Contest

There are certain things that indicate the arrival of spring.  The sighting of a robin is considered the first sign of spring by many in the U.S.  For others it is when we set the clocks forward for daylight savings time.  And some rely on a more official scientific indicator, namely the arrival of the vernal equinox.  But for me it is the return of roadside haiku signs displayed by the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District (GTBID) as part of their annual Golden Haiku contest.

A haiku is a short poem that uses imagistic language to convey an experience.  And this year marks the 6th annual Golden Haiku competition.  The GTBID received nearly 2,000 entries from 50 countries and 41 states, as well as local entries from many D.C. residents.  Judges then selected their top three haiku, including a D.C. winner, dozens of honorable mentions, along with many of their other favorites.  The haiku were then printed on colorful signs that are featured in tree and flower boxes throughout D.C.’s Golden Triangle, which stretches from the front yard of The White House to the Dupont Circle neighborhood.
During today’s lunchtime bike ride, I enjoyed many of the colorful signs despite the cool and overcast weather.  And I took photos of some of my favorites so that you could enjoy them too.  But there are more than 300 signs adorning the sidewalks throughout the Golden Triangle.  They are better enjoyed in person like I did today.  But you better hurry because they are only up through the end of the month.  However, if you don’t have time or are too far away, take heart.  You can also view all of them online.

 

 

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

Links from the past:
Golden Haiku (2016)
Golden Haiku is Back (2018)

Bluestone Sidewalk Along Seventeenth Street

During today’s lunchtime bike ride I stopped to rest on a bench on 17th Street, near President’s Park, just south of The White House. As I sat there for a few moments watching the tourists go by, I noticed that the sidewalk seemed different than what I usually see. In fact, I didn’t recall seeing anything similar here in D.C. Sidewalks throughout the city are typically formed walkways made out of cement. But the sidewalks where I was sitting were made of stone. So when I had a chance later I looked into it, and my research confirmed that they are both unique and historic.

The sidewalk is significant as the last remaining segment of an original streetscape feature used throughout President’s Park. While President’s Park South was filled and completed in the late 1870s, the side of the park along 17th Street was a low, badly drained area until new fill was added to bring it up to grade in the early 1880s. Then beginning in 1887, bluestone flag sidewalks were constructed along the front of the park bordering B Street, since renamed Constitution Avenue. While no date of construction can be firmly ascertained for the bluestone flag sidewalk on Seventeenth Street, it likely dates from this period or soon afterwards. A grassy strip between the sidewalk and the street was later added in the 1920s.

Most of the bluestone sidewalk surrounding President’s Park was eventually replaced with ones constructed with cement forms. As the stones cracked or fell into disrepair, it was decided that it would be cheaper to simply replace them with the same type of sidewalk that is present throughout the rest of the city. This was done everywhere except, for some reason, along 17th Street.

What stone sidewalk remains consists of rectangular bluestone slate flags, six-feet square, and extends along the east side of 17th Street from opposite C Street to opposite E Street (MAP). The sidewalk is separated from the granite curb by what was once a three-foot wide grassy strip, which is now filled in with granite pavers.

The sidewalk is not a tourist attraction. In fact, I doubt anyone walking on it even noticed it was different, let alone had any idea of its history. But I enjoyed seeing it, and thinking back about the way things were at the time when the bluestone sidewalks were constructed. The Civil War had been over for not all that long, and Grover Cleveland was the President.  The Washington Monument was almost completed and would open the following year.  The Catholic University of America was founded, and the first Woodward & Lothrop department store was built. Alexander Graham Bell built his Volta Laboratory in Georgetown. There were no automobiles, so the streets were used by horses and carriages. And form and quality were considerations in public building projects, not just price and practicality.

         
[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).

Georgetown’s “Swords Into Ploughshares” Fence

A while back I heard a story about an iron fence in Georgetown which was supposedly built using hundreds of rifles as the pickets.  Wanting to see for myself, I rode to Georgetown during today’s lunchtime bike ride and personally examined the iron fence in question, which surrounds the property at 2803 and 2805 P Street (MAP).

The story goes that in 1859, Hall M1819 rifles were being stored at an armory in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, while preparations were being made to ship some of them out west to San Francisco.  However, a famed abolitionist named John Brown and his militia, consisting of 21 men (16 white and 5 black),  had been watching the arsenal and planned to seize the shipment of firearms and use them to supply an army of abolitionists.  On October 16th of that year, the Brown militia marched into Harpers Ferry and took both hostages and control of the armory, and established what was briefly known as “John Brown’s Fort.”  However, Brown’s insurrection did not end well, to say the least, for the abolitionists.  A bloody battle ensued and U.S. Marines, led by Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee and his aide J.E.B. Stuart, recaptured the Amory.  Brown was subsequently hanged for treason.

For whatever reason, the raid prompted the military to cancel the shipment of Hall Rifles.  Instead they were auctioned off instead.  A Georgetown merchant and landowners named Rueben Daw purchased the guns and used the barrels to build a fence.  Census records from that time indicate that Daw had also worked as a gunsmith, making it tempting to think that he might have enjoyed constructing the fencing around his property with gun barrels.

So do do I think the story is true?  Well, on one hand there are other stories about the fence.  But none of the stories began until a half a century after Daw passed away.  So it’s really impossible to know for sure.  On the other hand, while I was unable to definitively determine for myself the accuracy of the story, the Harper’s Ferry arsenal one is the most plausible.  Additionally, when I examined he fence there were some signs that to me indicated that the fence was constructed using old rifles.  For example, there are cracks in some of the pickets that not only reveal that each picket is hollow, but also that the walls of the pickets are far thicker than is structurally necessary for a perimeter fence.  And the gun barrel fence is significantly more robust than other neighborhood fences, with each picket measuring about an inch in diameter.  Additionally, some of the pickets have small protrusions which, to me, very much resemble gun sights.  Finally, the pointy spiked tops are clearly separate inserts rather than wrought from the same piece of metal as the tubes.

So given my opinion that the fence is, in fact, made from recycled old rifles, and taking into account that the other stories contain inconsistencies or factual inaccuracies, I tend to believe the most plausible story about the Georgetown’s gun barrel fence.  And at this time in our country’s history, in which our society is in the midst of a heated debate about the 2nd Amendment and gun control, I think we could use more “swords into ploughshares” stories like it.

         

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

Season’s Greenings: Railroads and Roadside Attractions

On this lunchtime bike ride I was fortunate to see some of the most unique and beautiful holiday decorations here in the D.C. area.   I returned to the United States Botanic Garden to see more of their decorations, including their main holiday exhibit entitled “Season’s Greenings: Railroads and Roadside Attractions.”

Each year the Botanic Garden decorates for the holidays with a different themed showcase.  Last year’s theme was national parks.  This year’s holiday showcase is built around a theme of “Roadside Attractions.”  It includes a model train show, with various trains chugging around, below, through, and above recreations of iconic sights from across the United States.  Like the recreations of D.C. Landmarks , all of the features in the Roadside Attractions showcase are made out of a variety of plants.

You can explore classic attractions like Texas’ Cadillac Ranch, Colorado’s hot-dog-shaped Coney Island Hot Dog Stand, South Dakota’s Corn Palace, New Jersey’s Lucy the Elephant, and many more.

During a visit to the Botanic Garden you can also view thousands of blooms throughout the Conservatory, including a seasonal showcase of heirloom and newly developed poinsettia varieties.  And the orchid room, which is incredible throughout the year, is particularly beautiful at this time of year.  So if you can, go there before the holiday decorations are taken down at the beginning of the year.

 

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

List of roadside attractions and the state(s) in which they are located.

1 – Boll Weevil Monument (Alabama)
2 – Cadillac Ranch (Texas)
3 – Coffee Pot and Cup Water Towers (Iowa)
4 – Coney Island Hot Dog Stand (Colorado)
5 – Corn Palace (South Dakota)
6 – Dinosaur Park Dinosaurs (South Dakota)
7 – Ear of Corn Water Tower (Minnesota)
8 – Elwood, The World’s Tallest Concrete Gnome (Iowa)
9 – Golden Driller Statue (Oklahoma)
10 – Hollywood Sign (California)
11 –  Jimmy Carter Peanut Statue (Georgia)
12 – Jolly Green Giant Statue (Minnesota)
13 – Leaning Tower of Niles (Illinois)
14 – Lucy the Elephant (New Jersey)
15 – Mr. Potato Head Statue (Rhode Island)
16 – Mt. Rushmore (South Dakota)
17 – Niagara Falls and Maid of the Mist Boat (New York)
18 – Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox (Minnesota)
19 – Peachoid Water Tower  South Carolina, Alabama)
20 – Pineapple Water Tower (Hawaii)
21 – Randy’s Donuts (California)
22 – Route 66 Diner (New Mexico)
23 – Santa Monica Pier (California)
24 – Sapp Bros. Coffee Pot Water Tower (Nebraska)
25 – See Rock City Barn (Tennessee)
26 – Spoonbridge and Cherry (Minnesota)
27 – Teapot Dome Gas Station (Washington)
28 – The Big Chair (Washington, D.C.)
29 – The Big Duck (New York)
30 – The Blue Whale (Oklahoma)
31 – Twistee Treat (Florida, Texas, New York, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois)
32 – Volkswagen Beetle Spider (Iowa, Alabama, California, Nevada, Idaho, Pennsylvania)
33 – Watermelon Water Tower (Texas)
34 – Wawona Tree Tunneled Sequoia (California)
35 – “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” Sign (Nevada)
36 – Willis Tower (aka Sears Tower) (Illinois)
37 – World’s Largest Basket (Ohio)
38 – World’s Largest Bat (Kentucky)
39 – World’s Largest Chili Pepper (New Mexico)
40 – World’s Largest Pecan (Texas)
41 – World’s Largest Pistachio (New Mexico)

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

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

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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]