Posts Tagged ‘City Beautiful Movement’

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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Arlington Memorial Bridge

Arlington Memorial Bridge

Widely regarded as D.C.’s most beautiful bridge, Arlington Memorial Bridge spans the Potomac River and is one of nine bridges that connect the National Capital City to the Commonwealth of Virginia. It is located at the western end of the National Mall (MAP), and in part constitutes a formal terminus of the Mall.

A masonry, steel, and stone arch bridge with a central drawbridge, Arlington Memorial Bridge was designed in the Neoclassical architectural style. Except for the draw span, the bridge is of reinforced concrete construction faced with dressed North Carolina granite ashlar. The draw span is of the double leaf, underneath counterweight type and is faced with pressed ornamental steel made to blend with the masonry spans. At the time it was built, the draw span was the longest, heaviest and fastest in the world, although it is now sealed and inoperative. The bridge is 2,163 feet long, carrying a 60-foot-wide roadway and 15-foot sidewalks on either side.

Arlington Memorial Bridge also contains some ornamental characteristics typical of the “City Beautiful Movement” which was taking place in D.C. at the time it was designed. 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. The northeastern entrance to the Arlington Memorial Bridge features “The Arts of War” sculptures, Sacrifice and Valor, which were completed by Leo Friedlander in 1951. On the pylons of each pier of the bridge are large circular discs with eagles and fasces designed by sculptor Carl Paul Jennewein.

Congress first proposed a bridge at the site of the current structure on May 24, 1886. However, the bridge went unbuilt for decades thanks to political quarrels over whether the bridge should be a memorial, and to whom or what. Then in November of 1921, President Warren G. Harding was travelling to the dedication ceremony for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery when he was caught in a three-hour traffic jam because the existing bridges at the time could not handle the traffic. Resolving to prevent that from happening again, President Harding sought an appropriation to fund the work to build a bridge. Congress subsequently approved his request in June of the following year. Construction finally began in 1927, and took six more years to complete. The dedication ceremony was on January 16, 1932, headed by President Herbert Hoover. Arlington Memorial Bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

Today Arlington Memorial Bridge is a major entryway and commuter route into the city. But the years of heavy use have taken their toll, and although the bridge has received various relatively minor repairs over the years, it has never had a major overhaul or restoration. In a report two years ago, the Federal Highway Administration called for a complete overhaul of the bridge. And after a major inspection of the bridge, the National Park Service transportation division head Charles N. Borders, II, stated “The bridge … is really at the end of, and beyond, its life cycle.”

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The Dumbarton Bridge

The Dumbarton Bridge

The Dumbarton Bridge, also sometimes referred to as the Buffalo Bridge or the Q Street Bridge, is an historic curved masonry arch bridge in northwest D.C., which conveys Q Street (MAP) across Rock Creek Park connecting the city’s DuPont Circle and Georgetown neighborhoods. The ornate neoclassical bridge with strong influences from Roman aqueducts was designed by Glenn Brown, with engineering design by Daniel B. Luten. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

What most likely would have been a plain and practical bridge had it been constructed during any other era, the Dumbarton Bridge was built in 1914-15 and influenced by what is known as the “City Beautiful Movement.” This reform philosophy of North American architecture and urban planning flourished during the 1890s and early 1900s, particularly in D.C., with the intent of introducing beautification and monumental grandeur in American cities. However, its goal was not just to promote beauty for its own sake, but also to instill moral and civic virtue among urban populations.

To accommodate the bridge’s approach and to keep the street continuous within Georgetown, the Dumbarton House, which at that time was known as Bellevue, was moved about 100 feet northward from its original site in the middle of the current Q Street to its present position on the north side of the street. However, the location of Dumbarton House was not the only construction problem facing the bridge. The proposed sections of Q Street, on either side of the bridge, were not aligned. This necessitated what turned out to be one of the bridge’s most unusual aesthetic features, its unusual curved design.

The bridge is most widely known because of its four buffalo sculptures, which are located on the sides of both ends of the bridge, and appear to be sentries standing guard. The buffalo were designed by American sculptor Phimister Proctor, who also designed the lion sculptures on the nearby Taft Bridge on Connecticut Avenue, and the tigers on the Piney Branch Parkway Bridge on 16th Street.

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The Spanish Steps

The Spanish Steps

On this ride I visited the only public park in D.C. that occupies a city street.  Located on what would be 22nd Street in the Kalorama neighborhood of northwest D.C. (MAP), are the Decatur Terrace Steps and Fountain, known colloquially as the Spanish Steps.  Instead of continuing 22nd Street, the steps were constructed in 1911 by the District of Columbia Municipal Office of Public Works and Grounds as a solution to a topographical predicament involving a slope which was too steep for carriages, and to provide a pedestrian link between S Street and Decatur Place.

What most likely would have been a simple staircase in any other era, the steps were built at the height of what is known as the “City Beautiful Movement.”  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.

So the ornate concrete staircase was designed to include narrow bands of steps that flank wider central steps, planting beds, and an oval-shaped basin and lion-head fountain on an upper terrace.  Two graceful sets of stairs then curve around the fountain to meet at the top, which consists of a broad brick terrace and balustrade.  The entire area is lined with a mix of magnolias, eastern red cedars, oaks, and other flowering trees, and there are two lamp posts at the bottom.  The steps are so elaborate that they are actually listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing feature in the Sheridan-Kalorama Historic District, designated in 1989.

When viewed from Decatur Street to the south, the Spanish Steps appear imposing and impressive.  However, when approaching from S Street to the north, they are fairly well hidden.  Their secluded location and cloak of lush greenery give the steps an intimate, almost secret feeling, making it seem as though you have discovered a hidden treasure in the middle of the city.

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