Posts Tagged ‘Chinatown’

Crittenden02

Portrait of John J. Crittenden

I have not been writing as often in this blog recently because several weeks ago I fell and broke some ribs.  So I have been unable to ride.  No, I did not fall while riding a bike.  However, it was related to biking.  I wanted to go mountain biking on a section of the Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail near Mount Vernon.  However, not being an experienced mountain biker and having never previously ridden on that particular mixed-use trail, I decided to hike it first to scout it out and see if it is within my skill set to try mountain biking there.  It was while I was hiking that my foot got caught under an exposed tree root and I fell on a rocky part of the trail, breaking several ribs.  So I decided that since I could not even walk it without hurting myself, perhaps I should first get a little more experience mountain biking on easier trails before going back there to ride.

Having given my ribs enough time to heal, I now feel much better.  But since I haven’t ridden in almost a month, I decided to transition back into riding and make sure that I don’t overdo it.  So for today’s lunchtime ride, I rode to the nearby National Portrait Gallery, located at 8th and F Streets (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood, to see a painting of John J. Crittenden. He was a politician from the state of Kentucky, and represented that state in both the U.S. House of Representatives and in the U.S. Senate, and twice served as the U.S. Attorney General.  I went there because tomorrow is the anniversary of Congress’ passage of the Crittenden Resolution, which was named after him.

On July 25th in 1861, just three and a half months after the beginning of the Civil War, the U.S. Congress passed the Crittenden Resolution (also referred to as the Crittenden-Johnson Resolution). The resolution declared that the war was being waged for the reunion of the states and not to interfere with the institutions of the South, including taking any actions against the “peculiar” institution of slavery. The war was fought not for “overthrowing or interfering with the rights or established institutions of those States,” but to “defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution and to preserve the Union.” The implication was that war would end when the seceding states returned to the Union, with slavery remaining intact.

This meant that for the first year and a half of the Civil War, reunification of the United States was the official goal of the North.  It was not until President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of September 1862 that the abolishment of slavery became a goal.  The Crittenden Resolution is sometimes confused with the Corwin Amendment, a proposal to amend the U. S. Constitution adopted by the previous 36th Congress, which attempted to constitutionalize slavery. It was adopted by the necessary two-thirds margin in both houses of Congress and submitted to the states for ratification. It was ratified by three states before the war pre-empted further debate.

Today it is difficult to comprehend American society, as it existed back then, in which the institution of slavery was supported or tolerated by the public, and endorsed by the Federal government. However, as difficult as it is to comprehend, we must try. We must try to understand so we can not only understand our own history, but because slavery still exists in this world.  Currently there are approximately 27 million slaves in the world – people forced to work without pay, under threat of violence and unable to walk away. Since slavery feeds directly into the global economy, it makes sense that we would be concerned by the ways in which slavery flows into our homes through the products we buy and the investments we make. Slaves harvest cocoa in the Ivory Coast, make charcoal used to produce steel in Brazil, weave carpets in India—the list goes on. These products reach our stores and our homes. So think before you buy, because slavery is not just a thing of the past.

Crittenden03     Crittenden04     Crittenden05
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Homeless Jesus

On today’s lunchtime outing I happened upon a sculpture unlike any other public artwork in the city. It is meant to merge with the environment, so it’s not on a pedestal or made with granite. The seven-foot-long sculpture depicts a person shrouded in a blanket and lying on a park bench. The figure is difficult to see because of being covered by the blanket, but upon closer inspection is identifiable by the crucifixion wounds on his feet sticking out from under the blanket. The sculpture, located outside Catholic Charities Headquarters at 924 G Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood, depicts Christianity’s central figure, and is entitled Homeless Jesus.

The work was created by Canadian sculptor Timothy P. Schmalz, who sculpts in the small town of St. Jacobs, outside Toronto. He said the idea to sculpt Jesus as a homeless person came to him while he was walking the streets of Toronto, and witnessed a man or a woman, he wasn’t sure which, covered and on the street.  He was both moved and shocked, and considered that he had just witnessed Jesus.  After creating the piece, which he sees as a visual translation of how Jesus would want us to see him, he initially couldn’t find anyone who wanted it.  So he said at the time, “Jesus has no home, how ironic.”

He estimates that he has made more than thirty of the sculptures, which he sells for about $32,000 apiece. The first was installed at Regis College, University of Toronto, in early 2013.  Since then, the statues have popped up on private property in cities across the country, including Denver, Phoenix and Chicago. The statues are usually financed by an anonymous private donor, as was the case for the sculpture here in D.C., which was subsequently blessed by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, to commemorate Ash Wednesday in 2015.

I like a statement the artist made at the time the D.C. sculpture was installed. He said, “Hopefully, people think it’s a real homeless person. I hope that when people encounter the sculpture, it will remind people of the gift that Christianity has given civilization: the idea that all humanity is sacred.” But even more, I particularly like the response of the artist to one of the criticisms he received about the work, which has received mixed reviews.  Someone said to him, “Oh, great, now when I see a homeless person, I’ll think of this sculpture.”  To which the artist responded, “That’s the best compliment I could get.”

         

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

(The statue makes me think of the verse in The Bible which can be found at Matthew 25:40. “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”)

2016eoy15

1 – A Metro train inbound from Alexandria to D.C. as it passes over the Potomac River

Back in May of this year I wrote a post about meeting my original goal for this blog, and what my future goals would be.  Along with that post I also published a couple of dozen miscellaneous photos that I had taken during my lunchtime bike rides, but had not previously used for other posts on this blog.  As this year is rapidly coming to an end, I decided to post some more miscellaneous photos.  So below I have included a couple of dozen more photos that I took at different times over the past year, but have not used for this blog.  Be sure to click on each of the photos to view the full-size versions.

 2 2016eoy02    3 2016eoy04    4 2016eoy10

 5 2016eoy05    6 2016eoy06    7 2016eoy09

 8 2016eoy08    9 2016eoy07  10 2016eoy44

11 2016eoy11  12 2016eoy141  13 2016eoy54

14 2016eoy13  15 2016eoy16  16 2016eoy17

17 2016eoy361  18 2016eoy26  19 2016eoy22

20 2016eoy23  21 2016eoy25  22 2016eoy21

23 2016eoy18  24 2016eoy37  25 2016eoy39
[Click on the photos above to view the full size versions]

1 – A Metro train inbound from Alexandria to D.C. as it passes over the Potomac River.
2 – A hauntingly beautiful abandoned mansion located on Cooper Circle in LeDroit Park.
3 – A demonstration by Native Americans on the steps of The Lincoln Memorial.
4 – A musician taking a mid-afternoon nap in the park at DuPont Circle.
5 – A young girl admiring a mounted Park Police officer’s horse on the National Mall.
6 – An old farmer and his family selling watermelons out of the back of a truck on Rhode Island Avenue.
7 – A bike repurposed as a planter on the front porch of a home in LeDroit Park.
8 – A book sale at Second Story Books at the corner of 20th and P Streets in DuPont Circle.
9 – A mural interplaying with the shade of the leaves of a nearby tree on Capitol Hill.
10 – The First Street protected bikeway connecting Union Station to the Metropolitan Branch Trail.
11 – A merging of protests in front of the White House and  Lafayette Square Park.
12 – A view of the Anacostia River through the thick growth of vegetation on Kingman Island.
13 – Chocolate City Bar mural in a alley near 14th and S Streets, NW
14 – Demolished buildings on 14th Street making way for new Downtown construction.
15 – A ping pong game in the Farragut Square Park sponsored by the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District.
16 – Statues outside Bar Rogue in the Kimpton Rouge Hotel on 16th Street.
17 – The former Addiction Prevention and Recovery Administration headquarters building on First Street in northeast D.C.
18 – Boats docked on the Southeast Waterfront just west of the Maine Avenue Fish Market.
19 – A homeless woman who spends her days on a bench in DuPont Circle Park.
20 – A news reporter broadcasting live from in front of FBI Headquarters.
21 – Chinese zodiac signs adorn the crosswalk at 7th and H Streets near The Friendship Archway in Chinatown.
22 – A bee pollinating a flower in The Smithsonian’s Butterfly Habitat Garden.
23 – An Organic Transit ELF vehicle parked at a bike rack on the National Mall.
24 – A street musician playing for tips outside the Farragut North Metro Station during the morning rush hour.
25 – A bench with a view on the southern side of the Tidal Basin.

NOTE:  Come back tomorrow for Part 2 of my year-end collection of various photos.

Mary Surratt's Gravesite

Mary Surratt’s Gravesite

Mary Surratt was a D.C. boarding house owner who was convicted of taking part in the conspiracy to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln. Sentenced to death, she was hanged on July 7, 1865, alongside three men who were also convicted of playing a part in the plot to assassinate the 16th President, thereby becoming the first woman executed by the United States federal government.

Mary Elizabeth Jenkins was born in Waterloo, Maryland, raised by her mother after her father died when she was still a toddler, and schooled in a Catholic female seminary. She married John Harrison Surratt at age seventeen, and they bought approximately 300 acres of land in Prince George’s County, Maryland, where they built a tavern and a post office.  There they raised three children, Isaac, Anna, and John Jr., on the property which became known at that time as Surrattsville.

After the Civil War began on April 12, 1861, Maryland remained part of “the Union,” but the Surratts were Confederate sympathizers. Isaac Surratt left Maryland and traveled to Texas, where he enlisted in the Confederate States Army, while John Jr. quit his studies at St. Charles College and became a courier for the Confederate Secret Service. And during the war, the tavern was thought to have doubled as a safe house for rebel agents and spies in the Confederate underground network.

When her husband suddenly collapsed and died in August of 1862, Mary found herself in dire financial straits and decided to move to D.C., where she lived in a townhouse her husband had previously purchased. The 39-year old widow rented out the family farm in Maryland, and converted the townhouse’s upper floor into a boardinghouse. Through renting the farm and operating the boarding house, Mary managed to eke out a modest living.

While debate among historians still continues over the role Mary and her boardinghouse played in Lincoln’s death, it is widely accepted that she hosted and possibly attended meetings about the conspiracy convened there by John Wilkes Booth and her son, John Jr.  Mary herself denied any involvement during her trial. After her conviction, attempts were made, particularly by her daughter, Anna, to persuade President Andrew Johnson to commute Mary’s death sentence. He refused, stating, “She kept the nest that hatched the egg.”

On this bike ride I chose to stop by some of the locations in D.C. that were part of both her life and her death. First I rode to the boarding house which she owned where John Wilkes Booth and his accomplices met. The building is still standing, and is located at 605 H Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood. Although the building has retained much of its original character, it is no longer a boarding house. The building is now a Chinese restaurant called Wok and Roll. An historic plaque next to the restaurant’s door reads, “A Historical Landmark, “Surratt Boarding House”, 604 H Street, N.W. (The 541), is said to have been where the conspirators plotted the abduction of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln in 1865, Plaque by Chi-Am Lions Club.”

I also rode to the location where Mary was hanged.  At the time it was the Parade Ground of the U.S. Penitentiary at 4th and P streets (MAP), fronting the Washington Channel in southwest D.C.  Today it is part of Fort McNair, and the courtyard where the hanging occurred is now a tennis court.

Lastly, during today’s ride I also rode to her final resting place, which is in Mount Olivet Cemetery, located at 1300 Bladensburg Road (MAP) in northeast D.C. This was the most interesting part of the bike ride. When I got to the cemetery I stopped at the front office to ask where Mary Surratt’s grave is located. Upon being told by the manager that they do not give out that kind of information, I assumed she did not recognize the name. So I explained that Mary Surratt was the Lincoln assassination conspirator who had been executed nearly 150 years ago. She said that Mary’s grave continued to be vandalized, even to this day, and that the family had specifically asked that information about the location of her grave not be given out.

However, because I was already there anyway, I decided to look around a little before I left.  I knew from researching it that she was buried in Section 31 of the cemetery.  A map at the entrance showed the different sections of the cemetery, but there was no Section 31 listed. So as I was riding around aimlessly looking at the very decorative gravestones of what must have been very wealthy and prominent people of that time period, it occurred to me that Mary Surratt would have been out of place among them. Having been a working class woman who was executed for her role in the assassination of the President, they would not have wanted her to be buried among them in that area of the cemetery. So I rode over to the other side of the cemetery – as far away as I could get from the most ornate gravestones in the cemetery. There I saw a small, very plain-looking gravestone that looked almost out of place for the cemetery. When I went up to it I saw that it read, simply, “Mrs. Surratt.”

MarySurratt04     MarySurratt05     MarySurratt01     MarySurratt02
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

Note:  Historic photos obtained from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The Tai Shan Restaurant in Chinatown

The Tai Shan Restaurant in Chinatown

My traditional end-of-the-month restaurant review for this last full month of summer is of the family-owned Tai Shan Chinese Restaurant, located at 622 H Street (MAP), just down the street from the iconic Friendship Archway in the heart of northwest D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood.

The first time I visited Tai Shan was memorable. Interestingly, however, it was not because of the food. It was on August 23, 2011. I can remember the date because I stopped in on my way back to my downtown office after a long bike ride on the Metropolitan Branch Trail. And as I rode through Chinatown, I could see that traffic in the streets was gridlocked, and the sidewalks were overcrowded with people who had evacuated the nearby buildings. I had been alone and somewhat isolated from the city while I was riding on the trail, and based on what I was seeing I was fearful that there had been another terrorist attack. I went into the restaurant and asked what was happening, and it was then that I found out that there had been an earthquake. I had not felt it, and did not know about it until that moment. They were still open for business, so I got my order to go and ate my lunch that day across the street from the building where I work while I waited for engineers to inspect the building. A couple of hours later we were advised by security personnel that we could enter the building only long enough to gather our belongings, and to drive our cars out of the basement parking garage if we were parked there. Although a number of buildings and structures in the city suffered significant damage, such as The Washington Monument and the National Cathedral, our building was deemed safe and we were able to return to work the next day.

I have been back to Tai Shan a number of times since that initial visit, and despite an expansive menu specializing in authentic traditional favorites as well as specialty entrees, my customary order is the orange chicken with steamed rice. In fact, I’ve been back so many times that several of the servers there recognize me and ask me if I’ll need a menu or will I be ordering the orange chicken again. I have tried numerous of their other offerings as well, and based on the dishes I have sampled, combined with the inexpensive prices, I can understand why Tai Shan has been awarded several Washingtonian Best Bargain Restaurant awards.

A stalwart among Chinatown’s more than twenty Chinese and Asian restaurants; Tai Shan’s informal atmosphere reflects the traditional culture of the neighborhood.  Simply furnished and decorated, the décor consists of solid wooden tables and chairs with an Asian flair, pastel floral tablecloths, festive and colorful lighting, and traditional Chinese lanterns. Although somewhat small in size, it is still roomy. And a wall-length mirror on one side of the dining room helps provide an illusion of extra space. Tai Shan’s name is Mandarin for “peaceful mountain,” and the quiet and comfortable setting, which provides a respite from the hectic city just outside its doors, helps it live up to its name.

The fortune from a fortune cookie I got recently with my lunch read, “You will travel to many places.” I thought this was very applicable to me, and I interpreted it to apply to my adventures travelling by bike in D.C. When travelling to Tai Shan, you should know that they provide no parking, and nearby street parking is very limited. But it is easily accessible by Metro, with the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro Station just a half a block down the street. Or you can do as I always do, and put transportation worries aside and go there via bicycle.

The Chinatown restaurant is sometimes known as D.C.’s other Tai Shan, because Tai Shan is also the name of a famous panda cub who was formerly a resident across town at the National Zoo. While the panda was universally liked, the restaurant has received mixed online reviews on such sites as Yelp, Urbanspoon and Foursquare. Nonetheless, I have always found Tai Shan to have quality food, generous portions, fair prices, and fast and friendly service.  So I recommend Tai Shan. But perhaps you should go and decide for yourself.

chinatown3     China0     FriendshipArch01
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

UPDATE:  After operating for 21 years at its H Street location in Chinatown, Tai Shan closed its doors in August of 2015.

The Friendship Arch in Chinatown

The Friendship Arch in Chinatown

On this bike ride I not only rode to but also under my destination, which was the Friendship Archway located just east of the intersection of 7th and H Streets (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood.  The finished arch, or “paifang” in Chinese, is an impressive engineering achievement, standing 47 feet tall at the top of its highest roof, spanning 75 feet of roadway, and weighing over 128 tons. The roofing alone weighs 63 tons, supported by 27 tons of steel and 38 tons of concrete. Over 7,000 glazed tiles cover its five roofs, and 35,000 separate wooden pieces are decorated with 23-karat gold.  Reminiscent of the architecture from the Ming and Qing dynasties, the Friendship Arch’s seven pagoda-style roofs have golden color symbolic of wealth and honor, and hundreds of ornately painted dragons to welcome visitors to D.C.’s historic Chinatown neighborhood.  Constructed in 1986, it was said to have been the largest Chinese archway in the world at that time, which is ironic inasmuch as it serves as a gateway to what may be the smallest Chinatown in the United States.

D.C.’s Chinatown is located between H and I Streets and 5th and 8th Streets in the northwest quadrant of the city.  It originally developed in the late 19th century around Pennsylvania Avenue near 4th Street, where John Marshall Place Park is now.  Like many immigrant populations during that time, Chinese immigrants faced discrimination and downright hostility.  The creation of Chinatowns in D.C. and in other cities around the country was in part a defense mechanism to create safe havens where new immigrants could find shelter, sustenance, and employment.  D.C’s original Chinatown was forcibly disbanded in 1931 when the land was taken over by the government for municipal projects, but a new Chinatown was soon established in the location where it remains today.

Just a half a century later, however, Chinatown seemed on the verge of extinction. By the early 1980’s, many successful neighborhood residents and businesses had departed for safer and more prosperous parts of the city, or for the suburbs in Virginia and Maryland.  Chinatown still had a small cluster of restaurants and grocery stores, but the decline of the neighborhood, and the broader downtown area as a whole, made many wonder whether commercial establishments could remain viable in the future.  Chinatown community leaders, including chairman of the Chinatown Development Corporation and local architect Alfred H. Liu, who would go on to design the arch, argued in favor of creating a visible attraction that would serve as a magnet for visitors.

Within a few years, Mayor Marion Barry and other top city officials took a trip to Beijing to promote D.C. as an international business and finance center.  The trip was also in reciprocation for Beijing Mayor Chen Xitong’s visit to D.C. the previous fall.  This led to an agreement to establish D.C. and Beijing as sister cities.  And as part of the agreement, the two cities arranged to work together on a project to build a traditional archway in D.C.’s Chinatown.  The connection to Bejing and the People’s Republic of China met with objections from some Chinatown residents and business leaders, fearing that the Friendship Arch and Chinatown would be associated with the communist regime.  The arch’s opponents had enough clout to get their city council representative, John Wilson, to introduce a resolution opposing the arch’s construction.  And for a time there was talk of constructing a second, separate arch to rival the Friendship Arch.  In the end, plans for a rival arch never materialized, and upon its completion the Friendship Arch was widely embraced and celebrated.

Within a few years of its completion, however, the arch unexpectedly began to deteriorate.  At first a few tiles fell off.  Then, in June of 1990, one of the 100-pound carved dragons fell off and landed on the roof of a truck. Some saw it has an omen.  Since such a gateway traditionally is, among other things, a manifestation of imperial splendor, some Chinese would say the fall of one of its dragons portends the emperor’s own immanent fall.  Sure enough, on that same evening Mayor Marion Barry took to the airwaves to announce that he would be stepping down when his term ended and not running again in the fall elections, as he had been planning.  Barry had been arrested at the Vista Hotel in a sting operation in January; he would be found guilty of one charge of possession of cocaine and sentenced to a 6-month prison term.  In 1993 a major renovation project was undertaken, and the restoration of the Friendship Arch was completed shortly after Marion Barry was released from prison to be elected to the city council and then re-elected mayor.

Today D.C.’s Chinatown is home to a number of Chinese restaurants, a Chinese video store, a handful of general stores, and Chinese American cultural and religious charities.  It is also home to big national chain stores and restaurants, a theater, offices and high rise condominiums, and the Verizon Center, a sports and entertainment arena for the Washington Capitals and the Washington Wizards.  Unfortunately, the revitalization of the neighborhood is also a factor that contributed to the decline of its ethnic character.  But the Friendship Archway remains an enduring and iconic symbol of Chinatown’s heritage.