Posts Tagged ‘Freedom Plaza’

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National Bike to Work Day 2016

Today was the 60th annual National Bike to Work Day. Originally begun in 1956 by The League of American Bicyclists, the day is part of National Bike Month, which is recognized annually during the month of May. Over the past sixty years, Bike to Work Day has grown into a widespread event with countless bike riders taking to the streets nationwide in an effort to get commuters to try bicycling to work as a healthy and safe alternative to driving a car.

Bike to Work Day in the metropolitan D.C. area has been held annually for the past decade and a half.  It was originally started in 2001 by The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), of which I am a member.  That first year consisted of a small group of only a few hundred, but has since grown significantly.  There were a record 17,500+ officially registered participants in 2015.  And hopefully this year, a new record will be set.

This year WABA, along with Commuter Connections, a regional network of transportation organizations coordinated by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, as well as a number of local bike shops and organizations, again sponsored pit stops along many of the commuter routes in the area.  So I took a few hours of vacation time and spent the morning riding to some of this year’s 83 area pit stops that were set up in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.  And I did a breakfast crawl at the pit stops set up at Freedom Plaza, Franklin Square and at the National Geographic Society, where they were handing out muffins and baked goods, Kind breakfast bars, fresh fruit, and all kinds of other items.  They also had valet bike parking, and bike mechanics on site to help with problems and make adjustments for those who needed it.  I also picked up a lot of free swag, because they were giving away free items like T-shirts, water bottles, sunglasses, tire repair kits, bike lights and bells, area maps, etc.  I also was given coupons for a free bus ride for both my bike and I, which will come in useful if my bike breaks down on one of my rides.  I’m also entered for a chance to win a new bike and other prizes in various drawings.

Bike to Work Day is a clean, fun and healthy way to get to work. But even if you’re unable to commute via bicycle, use can use the day as a spark to getting out there and riding a bike more.  Or maybe riding again if it has been a while since you were on a bike.  Whether it’s for recreation, exercise, running errands, or for any other reason, riding a bike not only has its benefits for both the rider and the environment, but it’s also just plain fun.  As a former resident of D.C. named John F. Kennedy was once quoted as saying, “Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride.”

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

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Brigadier General Casimir Pulaski

Kazimierz Michał Władysław Wiktor Pułaski was born on March 6, 1745, in Warsaw, Poland, the oldest of three sons born to Count Józef Pułaski and Marianna Zielińska, who were members of the szlachta, an old and influential branch of the Polish aristocracy. Following in his father’s footsteps he became interested in politics at an early age, and soon became involved in the military and the revolutionary affairs in Poland. At the age of fifteen, he joined his father and other members of the szlachta in a conspiracy known as the Confederation of Bar, intended to free Poland from Russian and Prussian interference in Polish affairs.  In 1771 the Polish government implicated Pulaski in a plot to abduct Stanislaus II, the Russian-controlled king.  Accused of treason for his actions on behalf of Polish liberty, Pulaski travelled to Paris and sought protection in France. There he met Benjamin Franklin and Marquis de Lafayette, who induced him to support the colonies against England in the American Revolutionary War. Following a recommendation by Benjamin Franklin, the American ambassador to France, Pulaski emigrated to North America to help in the cause of the American Revolution, arriving in Philadelphia in 1777.

Upon his arrival Pulaski submitted his name to the Continental Congress for an officer’s commission. However, he was initially turned down.  So he unofficially joined General George Washington’s forces, and after saving his life at the Battle of Brandywine, was appointed a brigadier general in the Continental Army. Later that year Pulaski went on to fight at the Battle of Germantown, and then briefly stayed at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-78. During the following spring, he briefly resigned his commission with the intent of returning to France. After being reinstated and sent to New York, Pulaski experienced a number of setbacks and once again decided to leave America. But events in Georgia kept Pulaski in the army and brought him to the South.

Pulaski distinguished himself throughout the revolution, and of all the Polish officers who took part in the American War for Independence, Pulaski was the most prominent. Of his many accomplishments, Pulaski is best known for having created the Pulaski Cavalry Legion, and reforming the American cavalry as a whole. In fact, along with Michael Kovats de Fabriczy, they are known as the founding fathers of the American cavalry.

At the Siege of Savannah in 1779, while leading a daring charge against British forces, he was mortally wounded by British cannon shot.  Pulaski’s enemies so respected him, however, that they spared him the musket and permitted him to be carried from the battlefield to the American camp.   James Lynah, the physician who treated Pulaski, claimed that he could have saved him if the general had remained in the American camp.  However, Pulaski insisted upon boarding a ship, and was taken aboard the Continental Brigantine Wasp.  Rumors about the exact cause of death and place of burial emerged after Pulaski’s death and continue to exist, but the standard account of what happened comes from Captain Paul Bentalou, who claimed that the general died of gangrene aboard the ship and was buried at sea.

On this lunchtime bike ride I stopped by Freedom Plaza in northwest D.C., to see a bronze equestrian statue of Brigadier General Casimir Pulaski, which is located near the corner of 13th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP). The statue, by Polish sculptor Kazimierz Chodziński and Architect Albert R. Ross, shows a mounted figure of General Pulaski dressed in the uniform of a cavalry commander from his native Poland. It is part of a group of fourteen statues scattered across the city, mainly in squares and traffic circles, which are collectively known as the “American Revolution Statuary.” These statues are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Brigadier General Casimir Pulaski statue was dedicated on May 11, 1910. Just over 99 years later, Congress passed a joint resolution conferring honorary U.S. citizenship on Pulaski. It was sent to President Barack Obama for approval, and was signed on November 6, 2009. Pulaski is only the seventh person to receive the honor.  So the man who wanted to stay in Poland but was forced to leave, became a citizen of the United States, a country which he wanted to leave but where circumstances forced him to stay.  And although he failed to help lead the revolution in Poland, the statue honoring him for his participation in the American revolution depicts him wearing the uniform of Poland.

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

BTWD01

National Bike to Work Day 2015

Today was the 59th annual National Bike to Work Day. Originally begun in 1956 by The League of American Bicyclists, the day is part of National Bike Month, which is recognized annually during the month of May. Over the past half century, Bike to Work Day has grown into a widespread event with countless bike riders taking to the streets nationwide in an effort to get commuters to try bicycling to work as a healthy and safe alternative to driving a car.

In the metropolitan D.C. area, Bike to Work Day has been held annually for over a decade. It was originally started in 2001 by The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), of which I am a member. That first year consisted of a small group of only a few hundred, but has since grown significantly.  There were 16,797 officially registered participants last year.  And hopefully this year will exceed that number.

This year WABA, along with Commuter Connections, a regional network of transportation organizations coordinated by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, as well as a number of local bike shops and organizations, again sponsored pit stops along many of the commuter routes in the area.  So I took a few of hours of vacation time and spent the morning riding to some of the 80 area pit stops that they set up in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.  And I had breakfast at the pit stop at Freedom Plaza, where they were handing out fresh fruit, granola bars, locally-baked bagels, and all kinds of other items.  They also had valet bike parking, and bike mechanics on site to help with problems and make adjustments for those who needed it.  I also picked up a lot of swag, because they were giving away free items like T-shirts, water bottles, sunglasses, tire repair kits, bike lights and bells, area maps, etc.  I also was given coupons for a free bus ride for both my bike and I, which will come in useful if my bike breaks down on one of my rides, and a free meal delivered by Galley Foods, which I’ll use for a lunch one day soon.  I’m also entered for a chance to win a new bike and other prizes in various drawings.

Bike to Work Day is a clean, fun and healthy way to get to work. But even if you’re unable to commute via bicycle, use can use the day as a spark to getting out there and riding a bike more.  Or maybe riding again if it has been a while since you were on a bike.  Whether it’s for recreation, exercise, running errands, or for any other reason, riding a bike not only has its benefits for both the rider and the environment, but it’s also fun.  As a former resident of D.C. named John F. Kennedy was once quoted as saying, “Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride.”

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

McPherson Square

McPherson Square

This month marks three years since a disillusioned band of protesters first pitched tents in a park in lower Manhattan, sparking a movement against corporate greed known as Occupy Wall Street. The New York protest initially garnered a significant amount of media attention and public awareness, thanks mainly to the involvement of the Canadian anti-consumerist magazine named Adbusters, which originally came up with the idea for the occupation. Adbusters began to promote the occupation, and then enlisted help from the Manhattan-based public relations firm Workhouse, who was well known for its successful work on client brands including Mercedes and Saks Fifth Avenue. It was their efforts that lead to media awareness, inspiring the initiation of other Occupy protests and movements around the world, including here in D.C.

Occupy D.C. was a protest in McPherson Square in D.C., and was connected to the other Occupy movements that were springing up across the U.S. in the fall of 2011. The group began occupying McPherson Square in October of that year. As a result of an inability to resolve internal differences and disputes, a number of protestors broke off from the original group, and began an occupation of Freedom Plaza several days later. That group called itself Occupy Washington. This squabble was an early indicator to me that the movement was destined to fade into obscurity.

The main issues raised by the Occupy movement were social and economic inequality, greed, corruption and the perceived undue influence of corporations on government – particularly from the financial services sector. The Occupy slogan, “We are the 99%”, referred to income inequality and wealth distribution in the U.S. between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the population. However, without designated leaders or specific demands, Occupy eventually turned into an amorphous protest against everything that anyone perceived to be wrong in the world.

For its first two months, authorities largely adopted a tolerant approach toward the movement, but this began to change in mid-November of 2011 when they began forcibly removing protest camps. By the end of the year authorities had cleared most of the major camps, with the last remaining high profile sites – in D.C. and London – evicted a few weeks later. The movement’s end seemed to arrive almost as suddenly as it began.

The problem with the movement was that its mission was always intentionally vague. It was deliberately leaderless. It never sought to become a political party or even a label like the Tea Party. And because it was purposely open to taking in all comers, the assembly lost its sense of purpose as various intramural squabbles emerged about the group’s end game. The Occupy encampments, which began with a small band of passionate intellectuals, had been hijacked by misfits and vagabonds looking for food and shelter. And as the USA Today newspaper described it, “It will be an asterisk in the history books, if it gets a mention at all.” Regardless of your support or opposition to the Occupy movement, I think it can be described as an interesting time that began full of idealism, but ended with unrealized potential.

I went to McPherson Square, as well as Freedom Plaza, several times back when the Occupy D.C.’s and Occupy Washington’s protests and occupations were ongoing. And to mark the third anniversary of the beginning of the Occupy movement, I rode back to the location where they began, McPherson Square.

McPherson Square is named after James B. McPherson, a major general who fought in the Union Army during the Civil War. It was identified as a park on the original 1791 design plan for the national capitol city created by Pierre Charles L’Enfant, and is a key element of the historic monumental core, along with Farragut Square and Lafayette Square.

McPherson Square is located in northwest D.C., and is bound by K Street to the north, Vermont Avenue on the East, I Street on the south, and 15th Street on the West (MAP). It is two blocks northeast of The White House, and one block from Lafayette Park. Located in the central downtown commercial and business district, today the square is frequented by area workers and street vendors during the day, and restaurant-goers and the homeless at night.

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

Pershing Park

Pershing Park

On this bike ride I went to Pershing Park. Located at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), the park is in the heart of downtown D.C., directly in front of the historic Willard Hotel and just a block or so sourtheast of the White House.  The small park serves as a memorial dedicated to and named after General John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing.

Pershing is the only person to be promoted in his own lifetime to the highest rank ever held in the United States Army – General of the Armies – a capacity in which he served during World War I.  In fact, since the rank had never before been achieved, there was no prescribed insignia and Pershing had to design his own for his uniform.  Later, a retroactive Congressional edict passed in 1976 promoted George Washington to the same rank but with higher seniority. Pershing holds the disctinction of holding the first United States officer service number (O-1).  He was regarded as a mentor by the generation of American generals who led the United States Army in Europe during World War II, including George C. Marshall, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Omar N. Bradley, and George S. Patton.

Pershing got the nickname “Black Jack” while serving as an instructor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Because of his strictness and rigidity, Pershing was unpopular with the cadets, who took to calling him “Nigger Jack” because of his service with the 10th Cavalry Regiment, a now famous unit formed as a segregated African-American unit and one of the original “Buffalo Soldier” regiments. Over time, the epithet was softened to “Black Jack,” and although the intent remained hostile the nickname stuck with him for the rest of his life.

The site was occupied by a variety of 19th-century structures until circa 1930, when the federal government demolished the entire block. Legislation officially designating the plot as a Pershing Square subsequently was adopted by Congress later that year. How to develop the square proved controversial, however, as different groups offered competing proposals for memorials to Pershing.

In November 1963, the President’s Council on Pennsylvania Avenue proposed a master plan for the redevelopment of Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to the U.S. Capitol Building. The plan proposed constructing a National Plaza which would have required the demolition of the Pershing Square, the Willard Hotel north of the square, and the two blocks of buildings and street east of these tracts. During this time, all plans for Pershing Park were suspended until such time as the Pennsylvania Avenue master plan could be finalized.

In the end, National Plaza was never constructed. Instead, a much smaller Freedom Plaza was built which did not require the demolition of the area which would become Pershing Park.  The memorial statue was created by architect Wallace Harrison, and the design of the park was finalized in the 1970s by M. Paul Friedberg and Partners.  The multi-level park was constructed simultaneously with Freedom Plaza from 1979 to 1981, and was finally opened to the public on May 14, 1981.

Today, Pershing Park contains a statue of Black Jack Pershing, as well as a flower beds, amphitheatre-style seating oriented around the park’s plaza, a waterfall and fountain, and  a pond which turns into an ice skating rink during the winter.  The park also contains a small structure that houses a café, restrooms and changing area for skating.  Enjoyed year round by those who have discovered it, the park is still unknown by many, especially tourists.

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Freedom Plaza

Freedom Plaza

Freedom Plaza, originally known as Western Plaza, is an open urban plaza built in 1980 in northwest D.C., located at 1455 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), at the corner of 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.  It is adjacent to Pershing Park, and just a few blocks from the White House.  The plaza was designed and developed by The Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation, as part of a plan to transform Pennsylvania Avenue into a ceremonial route connecting the U.S. Capitol Building and the White House.

The western end of the plaza contains a raised reflecting pool with a large, animated circular fountain, while the eastern end contains an equestrian statue of Kazimierz Pułaski, a general in the Continental Army.  The center of the plaza contains a giant inlaid black granite and white marble map of the national capital city, as designed by Pierre L’Enfant, with grass panels representing the National Mall and the Ellipse, and bronze markers denoting the U.S. Capitol Building and the White House.

It was renamed Freedom Plaza in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., who worked on his “I Have a Dream” speech in the nearby Willard Hotel.  At the time the name was changed in 1988, a time capsule containing a Bible, a robe, and other relics of King’s was planted at the site.  I look forward to another bike ride there in 2088 when the time capsule will be reopened.

Freedom Plaza is a popular place for political protests and civic events.  In the spring of 1968, it was home to a shanty town known as “Resurrection City,” which was erected by protesters affiliated with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Poor People’s Campaign.”  In the wake of King’s assassination on April 4, 1968, the encampment ultimately proved unsuccessful, and the inhabitants of the tent city were dispersed within the next couple of months.

Years later, beginning in October of 2011, it was also one the sites in D.C. which was temporarily home for a group which called itself Occupy Washington D.C., which was connected to the Occupy D.C. movement, encamped at McPherson Square, and to the Occupy Wall Street and broader Occupy movements that sprung up across the United States throughout the fall of that year.  However, by December, the movement’s presence at Freedom Plaza was nearing its end.  The two original organizers of the Freedom Plaza occupation divorced themselves from the occupation, and the “exploding” rat population around the camps at Freedom Plaza and McPherson Square was described by D.C. Department of Health director Mohammad Akhter as “no different than refugee camps.”

Freedom Plaza is one of those places in D.C. that many people have already been to but never really noticed.  Unique among the city’s plazas and parks, it is worth a long enough visit to appreciate its subtlety and details.

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

Earth Day in D.C.

Earth Day in D.C.

Over the course of exploring D.C. via bicycle over the past few years, I have seen that there are a lot of ways that people and organizations attempt to get publicity and recognition for their causes.  And a whale in the middle of Freedom Plaza in downtown D.C. (MAP) was a pretty big attempt.   The whale, a lifesize inflatable one, was dispayed in Freedom Plaza by The Great Whale Conservancy.  Understanding the size of the blue whale helps provide perspective on the size of the display.  The Blue Whale is the largest creature ever to have lived on earth.  Their tongues alone can weigh as much as an elephant.  And their hearts, as much as a car.

The Great Whale Conservancy is a group dedicated to generating awareness, motivating the public, and steering the public’s involvement towards saving whales.   Specifically, they were calling  for ships to use alternate shipping and to reduce ship speed in the northeast Pacific, where the world’s largest subpopulation of blue whales comes to the California coast during the mid to late summer in order to feed on krill.

The Great Whale Conservancy’s publicity display was one of a number of events put on as part of a recent Earth Day celebration.   Earth Day is an annual event, celebrated on April 22, on which events are held worldwide to demonstrate support for environmental protection.  The holiday was first celebrated in 1970, and is now coordinated globally by The Earth Day Network, and celebrated in more than 192 countries each year.   Numerous communities now celebrate Earth Week, with an entire week of activities focused on environmental issues.

Today is the 44th annual Earth Day, and there are a number of events and celebrations planned throughout the city.   From eco-friendly exhibits and activities to raise awareness of environmental issues located at Union Station (MAP), to annual cleanups planned at various locations along the Potomac and Anacostia River, there are enough opportunities for anyone who wants to participate in one of the organized efforts.  Fortunately, it’s also possible for individuals to do their part to protect the environment every day of the year.