Posts Tagged ‘Frederick Law Olmsted’


The U.S. Capitol Gatehouses and Gateposts

In addition to the U.S. Capitol Building itself, there are a number of other buildings, memorials and other attractions on the building’s grounds.  But during this lunchtime bike ride I went to see some that are no longer there.  They are no longer on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol Building because they were moved just over a dozen blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue, and are now located in President’s Park on The Ellipse, just south of The White House.

The U.S. Capitol Gatehouses and Gateposts were designed circa 1828 as part of the original Capitol design by then-Architect of the Capitol Charles Bulfinch. Thus they are also often referred to as the Bullfinch Gatehouses. The first gatehouse, known as the East Gatehouse, and three gateposts, now stand at the corner of 15th Street and Constitution Avenue (MAP) in the Downtown neighborhood of northwest D.C.  The other, the West Gatehouse, is two blocks further up the street, at 17th Street and Constitution.

Similar in detail to the four Bulfinch Gatehouses, numerous gateposts were designed by Bullfinch and incorporated in the former fence around the Capitol grounds.  As part of major landscaping renovations of the Capitol grounds in 1887 by Frederick Law Olmsted, all of the gateposts were removed.  Seven survive today.  Three are located near the East Gatehouse.  The four other remaining gateposts were relocated to The United States National Arboretum, much like the National Capitol Columns, which also used to be located at the U.S. Capitol Building but now reside at the Arboretum in northeast D.C.  The gateposts there now flank the main entrance at New York Avenue and Springhouse Road.

The original use of the gatehouses and coordinating gateposts were described in a 1834 guide to the U.S. Capitol Building as “…four grand entrances to these grounds, two from the north and south for carriages, and two from the east and west for foot passengers. The western entrance at the foot of the hill is flanked by two stone lodges, highly ornamented for watch houses…”

In 1880 the gatehouses and gateposts were relocated to their present locations. And in 1938 – 1939, the relocated gatehouses were restored under the direction of National Park Service architect Thomas T. Waterman.  At that time they were given new roofs, doors and windows. The gatehouses are almost identical. One major difference, however, is that the East Gatehouse bears two high water marks carved into the stone to commemorate flooding in 1877 and 1881. The gatehouses are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places in their new locations.

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


The Bartholdi Fountain

Of all the monuments, statues, memorials, and other interesting places and events in D.C., some of my favorite destinations on my lunchtime D.C. bike rides, especially during the warm months of summer, are public fountains. And there are many of them in the National Capitol City from which to choose. One of the most famous is officially named “Fountain of Light and Water,” but is more commonly referred to as the Bartholdi Fountain.  Located at the corner of Independence Avenue and First Street (MAP) in The United States Botanic Garden in southwest D.C., it was the destination for this ride.

The fountain is referred to as The Bartholdi Fountain because it was created by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the French sculptor who is best known for designing the Statue of Liberty. The fountain is based on Classical and Renaissance sculpture, and is composed of a series of basins, supported by sculptures of classical figures. The fountain was cast in Paris by A. Durenne Foundry, and the cast iron is coated with bronze. Standing in the center of a circular marble pool, the fountain weighs 30,440 pounds, stands 30 feet high, and has three caryatid figures 11 feet in height.

The three-level fountain is topped by a mural crown resembling a crenellated city wall. Water spills from the crown over three youthful tritons playfully holding seaweed and splashes into the upper basin. Twelve lamps surround the basin. The crown appears to be held by caryatid figures depicting nereids, or sea nymphs, standing on a triangular pedestal with an ornamental design of seas shells and coral. Three reptiles are positioned at the pedestal’s corners, and spout water while supporting the fountain’s lower vasque. Water spouts from a crown at the top, cascades down into the smaller vasque, and then down into the larger vasque before spilling into the main basin.

The cast-iron fountain was made for the first official World’s Fair in the United States, also known as the Centennial Exposition, which was held in Philadelphia in 1876 to celebrate the 100th birthday of the United States. After the conclusion of the Centennial Exposition, Bartholdi offered the statue for sale for $12,000. However, he could not find a buyer. The following year, at the suggestion of Frederick Law Olmsted, the famous landscape architect who designed the Capitol Building grounds, the U.S. Congress offered him $6,000 for the fountain, half his original asking price. Bartholdi begrudgingly agreed, and in 1877 the fountain was placed at the base of Capitol Hill on what used to be Botanic Garden grounds. It was removed and placed in storage in 1926 in order to facilitate completion of The George Gordon Meade Memorial, and for landscaping improvements around the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial. Then in 1932, the sculpture was placed at its current location in the United States Botanic Garden, within the grounds of the United States Capitol Building.

Since the bike rides I write about in this blog take place during my lunchtime breaks at work, I did not visit the fountain at night. But if you are in the city after dark, I highly recommend a visit because to really appreciate the beauty of the Bartholdi Fountain, you’ll need to see it when the cascade of water is illuniated after the sun sets.  Originally designed and fitted with gas lamps, it was one of the first monuments in D.C. to be lit at night. Other than the fact that the lamps were later converted to electricity in 1915, the Barholdi Fountain remains the same popular evening destination that it has been since the 1880s.

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

The Summer House

The Summer House


In the United States as well as the rest of the northern hemisphere, the first day of the summer occurred over this past weekend.  Known technically as the Northern Solstice, or by those affected as the Summer Solstice, it is the day of the year when the sun is farthest north.  For people in the northern hemisphere, the first day of summer is the longest day of the year, with the length of time elapsed between sunrise and sunset at its maximum.   At this time of year the equator receives twelve hours of daylight, while there is 24 hours of daylight at the North Pole.  In the United States, there will be approximately 14½ hours of daylight starting tomorrow.

To celebrate the beginning of summer, I decided to write about The Summerhouse.  Tucked away on the sloping hillside on the northwest side of the grounds of the U.S. Capitol Building (MAP), the Summerhouse is a small, ornate, hexagonal red brick and Spanish tile building.  It has three arched doorways flanked by small windows on three of the six walls, and an open roof.  In the center of the structure is a fountain that used to be fed by a local spring.  The building’s water supply originally fed into a large bowl, and ladles were chained to the bowl to be used for drinking the cool spring water.  Overflow was often used to supply water for horses.  Today the original fountain bowl is decorative only and the ladles are gone, but it is surrounded by modern drinking fountains which utilize city water.   And you are more likely to find dog walkers providing water to their canine friends than riders watering their horses.

Lining the interior of the Summerhouse you will also find numerous bench seats alternating with the doorways, which are designed to provide seating for 22 people.  The seats are constructed out of bluestone, and are shaded and sheltered by projecting coverings of Spanish mission tiles, thus providing an ideal place for enjoying a cool drink of water on a warm summer day.

The original design intended for some of the overflow from the Summerhouse’s fountain to operate a small device called a “carillon” to produce soft musical chimes.  Designed by Tiffany & Co. of New York, the device could not be made to work properly and was eventually removed in 1891.  Years later, in 1959, visitors to the Summerhouse were finally able to hear the music of a carillon when The Robert A. Taft Memorial and Carillon opened nearby just north of the Capitol Building.

The Summerhouse was designed by architect Thomas Wisedell, with construction beginning in 1879 and completed in late 1880 or early 1881 by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who had previously been appointed by Congress in 1874 to develop and improve the expanded Capitol grounds.  The grounds had recently increased in size during the process of designing and building the north and south wings of the Capitol Building.  Original plans called for two identical structures, but members of Congress objected to the design of the first and present building, so the plans for a second, matching summerhouse on the southern side of the Capitol Building were abandoned and the twin was never built.

Today, the Summerhouse can be a hidden surprise and delight for visitors touring the Capitol grounds, providing refreshment of both body and spirit.  Unfortunately, most people simply walk past it.  Some are oblivious to its presence, while others may be curious, but remain too focused on where they are going to stop and take enough time to discover it and what’s inside.

SummerHouse02     SummerHouse05     SummerHouse02

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