Posts Tagged ‘Foggy Bottom’

United States Institute of Peace

United States Institute of Peace

Congress has the power to create, organize, and disband all components of the Federal government. But there is no complete official government list, and even experts can’t seem to agree on the total number of Federal government departments, agencies, commissions, offices, bureaus and institutes. Most estimates suggest there are probably more than two thousand, each with their own organizational structure and areas of responsibility and authority. However, their duties often overlap, making administration and keeping tracking of what your tax dollars are supporting even more difficult.

On this bike ride, as I was riding in northwest D.C.’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood, I happened upon a modern, glass-fronted building which upon further exploration turned out to be the headquarters for one of the Federal entities that I had never heard of before – The United States Institute of Peace.  Located at 2301 Constitution Avenue (MAP), just a block west of The Albert Einstein Memorial, and near the northwest corner of the National Mall near The Lincoln Memorial, their headquarters is a LEED-certified building which was designed to house the Institute’s offices and staff support facilities, library, conference center, auditorium, classrooms, and a public education center, all while serving as symbol of this country’s commitment to peacebuilding.

The United States Institute of Peace is a non-partisan, independent, Federal institution that provides analysis of and is involved in conflicts around the world.  It is relatively new, having been established by an act of Congress that was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1984. The Institute’s staff of approximately 275 is split among its D.C. headquarters, as well as field offices, and temporary missions to conflict zones.  It is governed by a board whose members are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

In this city that often seems to thrive on it, the Institute and its headquarters building are not without controversy.  The Institutes board members have historically had very close ties to the American intelligence community, and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency may assign officers and employees to the Institute.  And critics assert that the Institute’s peace research looks more like the study of new and potential means of aggression through trade embargos, austerity programs, and electoral intervention.

Further, the Institute is funded annually by the U.S. Congress, and during its first 30 years its official funding has increased almost tenfold. However, it also receives funds transferred from other government agencies, such as the State Department, USAID, and the Department of Defense, making its actual operating costs unknown.

The controversy and criticism of the Institute also affected the construction of its headquarters building. Officials broke ground for the new headquarters in June of 2008 at a ceremony that included President George W. Bush. However, by 2011 Congress voted to eliminate all funding for the U.S. Institute of Peace, including for the construction of its headquarters. Funding for the building was eventually restored the following year by both the House and Senate.

Additionally, the Institute is prohibited by law from receiving private funding and contributions for its program activities. However, the restriction on private fundraising was lifted for to construct the massive headquarters building which I visitied on this ride.

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Organization of American States Headquarters Building

The Organization of American States Headquarters Building

On this lunchtime bike ride I rode to the headquarters for the Organization of American States (OAS), known as the Pan American Union Building, which is just off of Pennsylvania Avenue and across the street from The Ellipse, at 200 17th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood.

The OAS is an inter-continental organization which was founded in April of 1948 by the United States and 20 Latin American countries. Officially, the organization was established in order to achieve among its member states – as stipulated in Article 1 of its Charter – “an order of peace and justice, to promote their solidarity, to strengthen their collaboration, and to defend their sovereignty, their territorial integrity, and their independence.”

Unofficially, however, the reasons for its formation were somewhat different than the charter’s stated intent. The Latin American member states wanted a political institution to deal with intra-hemispheric disputes based on their fears that the United States, intent on its anticommunist crusade at that time, might engage in unilateral interventions against Latin American governments. For the United States, it was intended to serve as a protection against communist penetration of the Western Hemisphere.

The United States insisted that the charter include a statement condemning “international communism or any totalitarianism” as “irreconcilable with the tradition of the American countries.” For the Latin American delegates, the key article of the OAS charter stated that, “No State or group of States has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other State.”

The OAS has had some successes, including settling border conflicts between various member countries, such as the truce and subsequent resolution of the Soccer War between Honduras and El Salvador in 1969.  However, in generally it never actually functioned as any of the member states had intended, and neither side got what it had hoped for when it was formed.

The OAS proved a disappointment to the United States because the other member states did not share its own Cold War zeal against communism. This was evidenced by the organization’s refusal to approve direct action to remove what the United States felt were “communist threats,” most notably in Fidel Castro’s Cuba. For the other member states, disappointment in the OAS centered around the organization’s failure to curb the United States use of unilateral force in other situations, such as the U.S.-orchestrated overthrow of the government of Guatemala in 1954, the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961, and its intervention in the Dominican Republic in 1965.

The OAS has grown over the years to a total of 35 countries, and now includes Canada and 14 additional independent countries in the Caribbean. However, since the end of the Cold War, the OAS’s importance in intra-hemispheric affairs has continued to diminish.

The OAS’s original charter members, listed in alphabetical order, were Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the United States, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Countries that were subsequently admitted, in chronological order of when they became a member, are Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Grenada, Suriname, Dominica, Saint Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Bahamas, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Canada, Belize, and most recently, Guyana, which was admitted in 1991.

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The Godey Lime Kilns

On previous bike rides I had seen a marker mounted on a small boulder on the other side of the busy traffic on Canal Drive, at 27th and L streets NW, just a few yards from Rock Creek Parkway under the K Street overpass (MAP), in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of D.C. I had never made my way over to see what it is though. So, on this ride I rode back there to finally check it out. I found out that the marker commemorates the site where the Godey Lime Kilns once stood.

The marker reads: “Godey’s Lime Kilns, 1833 – 1908, These kilns were used as late as 1908 supplying Washington with a fine grade of lime. The limestone was brought from quarries just beyond Seneca, Maryland over the C&O Canal. United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service – in Washington, D.C.” The site is now an historical industrial building ruin which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

On the site, strategically located on the east bank of Rock Creek at the terminus of the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal, William H. Godey founded the Godey Lime Kiln Company in 1864. The Godey Company’s facilities originally included four wood-fired ovens that were used to make lime and plaster, using limestone from Maryland quarries and brought to the kilns via the C&O Canal.

Godey made a fortune from the lime business because the growing national capital city had a nearly insatiable need for building materials. By May 1906, however, its fortunes had declined, and Godey’s was running ads to rent out its property. The kilns were taken over by John Dodson in 1897, and operated until 1907 when they were abandoned. Godey’s business closed the following year.

Only two of the original four ovens remain, and these two were half buried before the National Park Service and District of Columbia Highway Department combined efforts to excavate and restore them to the condition in which I was able to see them during this bike ride.

GodeyLimeKilns01     GodeyLimeKilns02

GodeyLimeKilns03     GodeysLimeKiln01a
[Click on the photos above to view the full size versions]

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The equestrian statue of Simón Bolívar, located at the intersection of Virginia Avenue, 18th Street and C Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood, is a public artwork by Felix de Weldon. It depicts Bolívar wearing a military uniform with great detail, including the gold medallion that was given to him by George Washington.  He is shown riding his horse, and holding a sword in his right hand and wielding it upward over his head.

Bolívar is remembered as “El Libertador,” or The Liberator, so it is befitting that his statue is part of a series, entitled “Statues of the Liberators,” honoring liberators and other national figures of western-hemisphere countries.  The statues can be found along Virginia Avenue between 18th and 25th Streets, near the headquarters of the Organization of American States in northwest D.C.’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood. The statues were erected by various Latin American countries, and are maintained by the National Park Service.  The sculpture of Bolívar was authorized by the U.S. Congress in July of 1949, and installed at its current location in June of 1955.  It was donated by and the installation was paid for by the government of Venezuela.

Simón José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad Bolívar y Palacios Ponte y Blanco, more commonly known as Simón Bolívar, was the son of a Venezuelan aristocrat of Spanish descent.  He was born to wealth and position, and travelled to and was educated in Europe, where the thought of independence for Hispanic America took root in Bolívar’s imagination.  The Latin American independence movement was launched a year after Bolívar’s return, as Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Spain unsettled Spanish authority.  Bolívar became an outstanding military general and charismatic political leader, and played a key role in Latin America’s successful struggle for independence from the Spanish Empire.  He not only helped drive the Spanish from northern South America, but also was instrumental in the formative years of the republics that sprang up once the Spanish had gone.

Having also traveled to the United States, Bolívar was an admirer of President George Washington, with whom he shared two commonalities.  First, like President Washington, Bolívar was a Freemason.  George Washington and Bolívar also shared the same objective, namely, independence for their people and the establishment of democratic states.  But Bolívar differed in political philosophy from George Washington and the leaders of the revolution in the United States on two important matters.  First, unlike his northern counterparts, Bolívar was staunchly anti-slavery.  Second, while he was an admirer of the American independence, he did not believe that the same governmental system could function in Latin America, and establishing a republic there would require making some concessions in terms of liberty.

Bolívar is considered by historians as one of the most powerful and influential figures in world political history.  Yet today, outside of Latin America where he is still practically worshipped, his name and who he was is almost unknown.

The River Horse

The River Horse

On this ride I set out on a hunt for a mysterious and illusive creature known as a river horse. I found it in northwest D.C.’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood, at 21st Street and H Street (MAP), in front of the Lisner Auditorium on the campus of George Washington University

“The River Horse” is a bronze sculpture of a hippopotamus that was a gift from University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg to the George Washington University’s incoming class of 2000.  It was placed at the center of the campus in 1996, and has become a popular, though unofficial, campus mascot for all students.  It is so popular, in fact, that over the years its nose has become slightly worn due to passersby rubbing it for good luck.

Information about the legend surrounding the river horse is contained on a plaque at the base of the statue, which reads, “Legend has it that the Potomac was once home to these wondrous beasts. George and Martha Washington are even said to have watched them cavort in the river shallows from the porch of their beloved Mount Vernon on summer evenings. Credited with enhancing the fertility of the plantation, the Washingtons believed the hippopotamus brought them good luck and children on the estate often attempted to lure the creatures close enough to the shore to touch a nose for good luck. So, too, may generations of students of the George Washington University. Art for wisdom, Science for joy, Politics for beauty, And a Hippo for hope. The George Washington University Class of 2000 – August 28, 1996”

After rubbing its nose, I continued on my way feeling a little luckier for the rest of the ride.

The Pan American Health Organization / World Health Organization Building

The Pan American Health Organization / World Health Organization Building

The national capitol city has a number of architectural styles that are exemplified by buildings and memorials that are universally recognizable and seem to define the cityscape.  From the iconic neoclassical style of the U.S. Capitol Building, to the neo-classical Federal style of The White House, to the Greek Revival architecture of the Lincoln Memorial, much of the architecture of D.C. is distinctive.

One building which stands out in stark contrast to the architectural styles most commonly associated with the city is the Pan American Health Organization / World Health Organization Building.  Located at the corner of 23rd Street and Virginia Avenue in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood (MAP), it is Corbusian modernism with the facade of brise soleil and pilotis.

Named after the Swiss-French architect Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, better known as Le Corbusier,  who is considered one of the pioneers of what is now called modern architecture, the style was incorporated into the design of the building by Uruguayan architect Roman Fresnedo Siri, who won an international competition.  It was built in 1965.

The World Health Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations that is concerned with international public health. It was established in 1948, with its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

The Pan American Health Organization is also an international public health agency.  It works with the peoples of the Americas to improve health and living standards of the people of the Americas.  It was founded in December of 1902, and now serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization.

Like its people, the buildings in D.C. are too diverse to be easily characterized by just a few architectural styles, but this is one building that stands out from the norm, and is certainly worth a visit.

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The Octagon House

The Octagon House is located at 1799 New York Avenue, Northwest in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of D.C. (MAP), just a block away from the White House.  This three-story brick house was designed by Dr. William Thornton, the original architect of the U.S. Capitol Building, using a plan which combined a circle, two rectangles, and a triangle in order to adapt to the irregular-shaped lot on which it sits.  Why this six-sided building is named the Octagon remains a subject of debate. Some say that even though the main room is a circle, it resembled octagonal rooms common in England; others say it’s for the eight angles formed by the odd shape of the six walls–an old definition of an octagon.  Construction began in 1799, and the house was completed in 1802.  It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960, and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Octagon House was initially known as the Colonel John Tayloe III House, after the original owner.  Colonel Tayloe was reputed to be the richest Virginian plantation owner of his time, and built the house in D.C. at the suggestion of George Washington.  For Tayloe, a young entrepreneur with political aspirations, being close to the center of  the Federal government was a powerful incentive to invest in the still-developing national capitol city.  Upon completion in 1802, The Octagon House became one of the most important homes in D.C., welcoming visitors who included Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Stephen Decatur, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, the Marquis de Lafayette, and John C. Calhoun.

During the War of 1812, when British troops were advancing on D.C., the Tayloes approached the French ambassador and offered use of their home as the French embassy. The offer was accepted, and the French ambassador notified the British.  The ambassador also declared the home French territory be designating it as an embassy, and flew the French flag, thus ensuring the house survived intact.

Subsequently, after “The Burning of Washington” by the British in 1814, in which many prominent buildings in D.C. were destroyed, including The U.S. Capitol Building and The White House, Colonel Tayloe offered the use of his home to President James Madison and his wife, Dolley, for use as a temporary “Executive Mansion.”  President Madison used the circular room above the entrance as a study, and signed the ratification papers for the Treaty of Ghent there, which ended the War of 1812.  This treaty still governs relations between the U.S. and Great Britain.

Although Colonel Tayloe died in 1828, Mrs. Tayloe continued to play an active role as a prominent social figure in D.C. and lived in The Octagon until her death in 1855. The Tayloe family sold the house that same year. It was used as a hospital during the Civil War, and as an apartment building in the post-war period.  The Octagon House became the home of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) near the end of the 19th century, which  took ownership of the property in 1902.

The AIA eventually moved its headquarters to a larger building located directly behind it.  Today, the AIA owns the Octagon House, and provides for the building’s continued care and operation through AIA Legacy, Inc.

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The Lieutenant General George Washington Statue

The Lieutenant General George Washington Statue

The monument that towers over the National Mall in downtown D.C. is universally recognized as our nation’s memorial to the ‘father of our country” and first President, George Washington.  Although it was initially proposed over one hundred years before its completion, it languished in the planning and construction stages for decades.  Finally, on February 21, 1885, The Washington Monument was official dedicated.  But few people know that the 555-foot and 5-inch obelisk was not the first monument built in D.C. to honor the new nation’s first leader.  Twenty-five years earlier, on February 22, 1860, a statue to memorialize Washington was erected in D.C.  On today’s bike ride, I went to that earlier Washington monument.

The momentum to honor George Washington first surfaced before he died in 1799. The Continental Congress of 1783 passed a resolution to erect a monument to this hero of the American Revolution in the soon-to-be-built Federal capital bearing his name.  But when a frustrated President Washington was struggling to finance and oversee construction of the new capital city on the Potomac River, he pulled the plug on funding for his own memorial.  The project resumed when plans for a memorial were adopted during the centennial of Washington’s birth in 1832.  Work on the project was interrupted by political quarreling in the 1850s, and construction ceased entirely during the Civil War. Finally, in 1876, inspired by the United States centennial, Congress passed legislation appropriating funding for completion of the monument.  It was completed almost a decade later.

By this time, however, the more modest monument, The Lieutenant General George Washington Statue, had already been installed almost a quarter of a century earlier.  The bronze equestrian statue of Washington riding his horse during the Battle of Princeton depicts him in the heroic, idealized Romantic style.  It was installed where the Foggy Bottom and West End neighborhoods meet, in the center of a park in the traffic circle at the intersection of 23rd Street, K Street, New Hampshire Avenue, and Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP).

The statue is part of the “American Revolution Statuary“, a group of fourteen statues in D.C., and are scattered across the city, mainly in squares and traffic circles.  They are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.

This monument may not be the most well known, or the biggest, but it does predate the more well-known monument on the National Mall.

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