Posts Tagged ‘Adams Morgan’

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Mama Ayesha and the Presidents

During this lunchtime bike ride as I was riding across the Duke Ellington Memorial Bridge in northwest D.C.’s Adam’s Morgan neighborhood, I saw a mural on the side of a building on the eastern end of the bridge.  So I rode over to get a better look at the mural.  I discovered it was on the side of Mama Ayesha’s Restaurant, located at 1967 Calvert Street (MAP), and depicts the restaurant’s namesake standing in front of The White House.  She is flanked on either side by eleven different presidents standing in chronological order, starting with Dwight D. Eisenhower and ending with Barack Obama. The content of the public artwork is so unusual that I just had to find out more about it.

The mural was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and private donors.  It was created in 2009 by Karla Rodas, also known as Karlísima, who is a native of El Salvador but moved with her family as a child to nearby Alexandria.  After graduating from Annandale High School and Washington University, she returned to D.C. and has since become one of the capital city’s most well-known and respected muralists.

The initial concept for the mural was planned by Mama Ayesha’s family members, who have run the restaurant since its opening in 1960. However, the original plan did not have Mama Ayesha as the centerpiece of the work. Instead, the family wanted Helen Thomas, a renowned White House reporter and regular customer at the restaurant, to be at the center of the mural. She was envisioned to be seated at a desk with pen and paper in her hand. However, Thomas politely declined the family’s request, opining that Mama Ayesha should be portrayed instead.

The final design depicts Mama Ayesha in traditional Palestinian garb standing in front of the White House. With six presidents on her right and five on her left, she stands in the middle between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, with their arms interlocked. Interspersed throughout the mural are other symbols and additional scenes and landmarks from the national capital city. They include a bald eagle, the city’s famous cherry blossoms, as well as the Lincoln Memorial and its Reflecting Pool, the Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument and the United States Capitol Building.  And representations of the U.S. flag appear on the sides of the painting.

With President Obama’s successor to be determined in tomorrow’s election, I hope the mural will be updated.  There is sufficient space in front of the Reflecting Pool for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.  I very much look forward to the election being over.  And I also look forward to being able to come back to see the updated mural at some point in the near future.

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

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Pierce Mill

I had no particular destination in mind when I left on this lunchtime bike ride.  Initially, I just rode north.  Then as I was riding and would see a direction that didn’t look familiar, I would follow it.  As I made my way up through the DuPont Circle, Kalorama, Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant neighborhoods, I just continued riding.  Eventually I found myself on a long downhill stretch of Park Road, and as I crossed over Beach Road I happened upon Peirce Mill.  Situated in Rock Creek Park, Peirce Mill is located at 2539 Tilden Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.

Peirce Mill was built on 1839 by a Quaker farmer from Pennsylvania named Issac Peirce.  Using the moving water or Rock Creek as a power source, the mill ground corn, wheat, and rye.  However, Peirce was not a miller and did not operate the mill himself.  Instead, he hired other millers to do so.  It remained in operation for more than six decades.  The last commercial load ground was in 1897, when the main shaft broke, while a millwright named Alcibiades P. White was grinding a load of rye.

The Federal government bought the mill as part of Rock Creek Park and it was restored as a Public Works Administration project, completed in March 1936, at a cost of $26,614.  Operation began again in October of 1936 under the supervision of miller Robert A. Little.  The mill was used from December 1, 1936 until 1958 to provide flour for government cafeterias.  Eventually, however, due to a lack of trained millwrights and lack of water in the millrace, it again discontinued operating as a mill, and was used from that time forward as an historical site.

There was a brief period, between 1993 and 1997, that the mill was closed once again.  A restoration effort was begun by the Friends of Peirce Mill, and the mill was restored with the support of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  The mill officially reopened in October of 2011.

Peirce Mill is currently open from April 1st through October 31st from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m, Wednesday through Sunday.  During the month of November it is open on only Saturdays and Sundays, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  And from December through the end of March it is open from noon to 4:00pm on Saturdays and Sundays. But the best time to plan a visit is on the 2nd or 4th Saturday of each month between April and October, when the National Park Service typically runs mill operation demonstrations.

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

Note:  I recently ran across the following photo in the Library of Congress, taken sometime between the 1880s and 1910s.  It depicts men riding bikes near Peirce Mill, showing that people have been riding bikes to and near the mill for over a hundred years.

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Boundary Castle

Boundary Castle

While on a bike ride along 16th Street near Florida Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C., I found an old, sturdy brownstone retaining wall and what appears to be an ornate entry gate leading to nowhere.   I later found out that they were once part of a property known as Boundary Castle. Also sometimes referred to as Henderson Castle or Prospect Castle, Boundary Castle was a mansion located on the border of D.C.’s Adams Morgan and Columbia Heights neighborhoods, and was the family home of John Brooks Henderson and Mary Foote Henderson.

John was a former U.S. Senator from Missouri. He was initially appointed to the Senate in 1862 to replace Trusten Polk, who had been expelled from Senate for his support of the South in the Civil War. He was later elected and served one full term. He was best known for authoring the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. He was also remembered for breaking party ranks, and along with six other Republican senators voting for acquittal in the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson. After leaving the Senate, he and his wife Mary moved back to St. Louis.

While back in Missouri, Mary founded the St. Louis School of Design and authored “Practical Cooking and Dinner Giving” and “Diet for the Sick, A Treatise on the Values of Foods.” Meanwhile, John was busy buying up enormous quantities of supposedly worthless bonds that Missouri counties had issued after the Civil War. Purchased at ten cents on the dollar, the bonds became valuable when the courts ordered counties to pay their full face value. In 1889, after accumulating a massive fortune, the Hendersons moved back to D.C.

Upon arriving back in D.C., the Hendersons needed a fitting place to live, so they had a massive, Romanesque Revival-style mansion built. The house was designed by Massachusetts architect Eugene C. Gardner, and was supposedly modeled after a castle Mary had seen in Europe. The sprawling was made from Seneca sandstone, the same material used in the Smithsonian, and boasted 30 rooms. They named it Boundary Castle.

The Hendersons also bought up approximately 300 lots outside the northern boundary of the city in the area, then known as Meridian Hill, in the hope they could develop the area into the center of Washington society during the height of the Gilded Age. Their interest in the immediate neighborhood also coincided with the City Beautiful Movement of the early 20th century. This reform philosophy of North American architecture and urban planning flourished during the 1890s and 1900s with the intent of introducing beautification and monumental grandeur in cities. However, it promoted beauty not only for its own sake, but also to instill moral and civic virtue among urban populations.

With a genuine interest in civic improvement, Mary frequently lobbied Congress for various projects to improve and beautify the Meridian Hill area. In 1900, she supported a plan by architect Franklin W. Smith to construct a colossal presidential mansion on Meridian Hill to replace The White House. However, this plan never came to fruition. She was, however, successful in lobbying Congress to support the acquisition of the land and its eventual development as Meridian Hill Park. She also had lavish palaces and mansions built on the properties they owned to be rented or sold to government officials and diplomats.

Real estate development was not Mary’s only interest during this time, however. She also became an impassioned advocate for healthy living, and wrote another book entitled ” The Aristocracy of Health: A Study of Physical Culture, Our Favorite Poisons, and a National and International League for the Advancement of Physical Culture.” She was known to throw lavish dinner parties, which were always strictly vegetarian, and alcohol-free. It was also during this time that Mary famously decided to dispose of the plentiful and expensive wine collection John had accumulated over the years. She had her butler and others bring the wine bottles up from the castle’s cellars and smash them on a large rock in the front lawn. Newspaper accounts of the incident reported that there was so much wine that it ran down into the gutters of 16th Street.

John passed away in 1913 at the age of 86. Mary remained in Boundary Castle for the next 18 years, before passing away in 1931 at the age of 88. After her death, Bondary Castle was rented by a man named Bert L. Williams, who reopened it as the Castle H Tennis and Swimming Club. In what would have been abhorrent to Mary, he also turned the castle’s ballroom into a stand-up bar. As early as 1935, there had been talk of tearing down the old castle, but it hung on until January 1949, when it was finally razed. Wealthy neighbors Eugene and Agnes Meyer had purchased the mansion in order to get rid of the rowdy club. Today, the site is home to 216 townhouses known collectively as Beekman Place.

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The Washington Hilton

The Washington Hilton

The Washington Hilton, sometime referred to by locals as “The Hinkley Hilton,” is located at 1919 Connecticut Avenue (MAP) in Northwest D.C., roughly at the boundaries of the Kalorama, Dupont Circle, and Adams Morgan neighborhoods. The hotel has seen its share of history. It also hosted the first International Conference on Computer Communications which demonstrated new ARPANET technology, the precursor to the Internet. It has also hosted the White House Correspondents Association, the Radio and Television Correspondents Association, and the National Prayer Breakfast. The hotel’s ballroom has also been the venue for a number of concerts, including The Doors and Jimi Hendrix. But The Washington Hilton is most widely remembered for an event that occurred just outside the hotel’s T Street exit. It was there that John Hinckley, Jr. attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan as the culmination of his effort to impress teen actress Jodie Foster.

Just 69 days into his presidency, Reagan exited the hotel through “The President’s Walk,” which had been built specifically as a security measure after the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  As Hinckley waited within the crowd of admirers, Reagan unexpectedly passed right in front of him. Knowing that he would never get a better chance, Hinckley fired six times in just 1.7 seconds, seemingly missing the President with all six shots. The first bullet hit White House Press Secretary James Brady in the head. The second hit District of Columbia police officer Thomas Delahanty in the back of his neck as he turned to protect Reagan. Hinckley now had a clear shot at the President, but the third overshot him and hit the window of a building across the street. As Special-Agent-in-Charge Jerry Parr quickly pushed Reagan into the limousine, the fourth hit Secret Service Agent Timothy McCarthy in the abdomen as he spread his body over Reagan to make himself a target. The fifth hit the bullet-resistant glass of the window on the open side door of the limousine. The sixth and final bullet ricocheted off the armored side of the limousine and hit the president in his left underarm, grazing a rib and lodging in his lung, stopping approximately an inch from his heart. Had Parr hesitated for a moment, the President would likely have been hit in the head.

The President, whose Secret Service codename was “Rawhide,” was rushed in his limousine, codenamed “Stagecoach,” to the emergency room at George Washington University Hospital, where it arrived less than four minutes after leaving the hotel. When his wife Nancy arrived Reagan remarked to her, “Honey, I forgot to duck.” Later, in the operating room, Reagan removed his oxygen mask to joke, “I hope you are all Republicans.” The doctors and nurses laughed, while Dr. Joseph Giordano, who was the head of the medical team and a liberal Democrat, replied, “Today, Mr. President, we are all Republicans.” Reagan survived the surgery with a good prognosis, and went on to serve out the rest of his first term as well as a second term on his way to becoming one of the most popular presidents of the modern era. Reagan died 23 years later at the age of 93 of pneumonia brought on by Alzheimer’s disease at his home in Bel Air, California.

Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity on June 21, 1982. The defense psychiatric reports had found him to be insane while the prosecution reports declared him legally sane. After his trial, he wrote that the shooting was “the greatest love offering in the history of the world”, and did not indicate any regrets. Hinckley was committed at St. Elizabeths Psychiatric Hospital indefinitely. Over the years he has been allowed to leave the hospital intermittently for visits with his family, but Hinckley remains confined at St. Elizabeths to this day.

The two law enforcement officers recovered from their wounds, although Delahanty was ultimately forced to retire from the police force due to his injuries. Since the bullet had ricocheted off Delahanty’s spinal cord after striking his neck, he suffered permanent nerve damage to his left arm. McCarthy finished out his career with the Secret Service where he retired in 1993. He subsequently served as Chief of the Orland Park, Illinois Police Department and in 1997, he unsuccessfully ran for Illinois Secretary of State as a Democrat.  Parr came to believe that God had directed his life to save Reagan, and became a pastor. The attack seriously wounded Brady, who sustained a serious head wound and became permanently disabled. Brady and his wife Sarah became leading advocates of gun control and remain actively committed to actions to reduce the amount of gun violence in the U.S.

Although the hotel was considered the safest in D.C. due to the secure, enclosed passageway called “The President’s Walk”, the unenclosed outer door from which Reagan had left the hotel shortly before being shot, was altered subsequent to the assassination attempt. The open canopy above the door was removed and a brick drive-through enclosure was constructed to allow the president to move directly from the door of his car into the hotel without public access.

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