Posts Tagged ‘General Services Administration’

The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly

In this country we do not have a king or royalty.  Instead, we have an elected president. And unlike a king, our president does not have a throne.  But if our president did have a throne, today I saw the one upon which our current president would probably sit.  The throne looks like something that might have come directly out of President Trump’s private home or office.  However, it is instead located in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which is located at 8th and F Streets (MAP), in the Penn Quarter neighborhood of northwest D.C.

The throne is named “The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly”, and it is a piece of folk art created by an African-American janitor and outsider or naïve artist named James Hampton.

Hampton was born in Elloree, South Carolina, in 1909.  In 1928, he moved to D.C. and shared an apartment with his older brother, Lee.  Hampton subsequently worked as a short order cook, served in the Air Force where he worked as a carpenter, and eventually became a night janitor with the General Services Administration.

Hampton never worked as an artist, or even had any formal training in art techniques, art history, or art theory.  But shortly after his brother’s death he began spending his time during his off-hours in a rented garage secretly creating a large assemblage of religious art, including the throne, as a monument to God.  However, he was a man of extremely modest means.  So he created his art, and built the throne, out of various old and recycled materials like aluminum and gold foil, old furniture, pieces of cardboard, old light bulbs, shards of mirror, jelly jars, coffee cans, and old desk blotters, which he bound together using tacks, pins, tape and glue.

It is unknown if Hampton, who also referred to himself as Saint James, Director of Special Projects for the State of Eternity, ever thought of himself as an artist.  He created the Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly in complete obscurity.  In fact, it was only upon his death in 1964, when the owner of the garage which he rented sought to rent the space out again, that Hampton’s work was discovered.  As best can be determined by art historians, Saint James dedicated his off-work hours from about 1950 until his death fourteen years later to assembling The Throne.

The Throne eventually landed in the possession of the Smithsonian and, thankfully, became part of our national folk art heritage instead of our modern political tradition and culture.

         

         

         

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

Note:  These photographs do not begin do The Throne justice.  In person it is absolutely massive sitting in it’s dark purple alcove.  And the play of light off the foil and mirrors not only makes it shine, but it seems to actually glow.  I highly recommend seeing it in person to experience its full effect.

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The Old Post Office Pavilion

Located approximately halfway between The White House and the U.S. Capitol Building, at 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), is the Old Post Office Pavilion, an historic building of the Federal government.  Also known as the Old Post Office and Clock Tower, the Romanesque Revival style building is an iconic structure and one of the most recognized buildings in D.C.  Built between 1892 to 1899, upon its completion it was used as the U.S. Post Office Department Headquarters and the city’s main post office until 1914.  It has been used primarily as an office building since then.

At 315 feet tall, the Old Post Office’s clock tower ranks third in height among the buildings in the national capital city, behind the nearby Washington Monument and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. From an observation deck at the 270-foot level, the tower offers incredible panoramic views of D.C. and the surrounding area. Beneath the observation deck is the tower clock, which is now more than a century old. Below that, on the tenth floor, are the Bells of Congress. These bells are replicas of those at London’s Westminster Abbey, and were a gift from England during the U.S. Bicentennial celebration in 1976, commemorating friendship between the nations.  They are rung at the opening and closing of Congress and for national holidays.

At times the building has had a precarious existence, and came close to being torn down on more than one occasion.  It has also undergone a number of changes and renovations over the years.  In the 1920’s the building was nearly demolished during the construction of the Federal Triangle complex.  In 1964, the President’s Council on Pennsylvania Avenue recommended the demolition of all but the clock tower.  The recommendation was subsequently approved by Congress. But as a result, local citizens banded together, and with the help of advocates in Congress, were able to convince Congress to reverse its decision.  Helping to ensure its future, the building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.  It is also a contributing property to the Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site.  Despite this, it again faced demise when it was nearly torn down in the 1970s to make way for completion of massive Federal Triangle development project.  However, it was once again spared.

Major renovations to the building occurred in 1976 and 1983, with the last renovation resulting in the addition of a food court and retail space on the ground level, and private and government office space in the upper levels. At that time, this mixed-use approach garnered national attention as a innovative approach to historic preservation.  Most recently, in 1991, an addition was added to the structure which contained more retail space.  However, the biggest change to the Old Post Office Pavilion is yet to come.  At the beginning of this year the food court and stores were closed down.  And earlier this month the remaining offices in the building and the clock tower closed.  This was done to begin the next chapter in the building’s life.

In 2013, the U. S. General Services Administration leased the property for the next 60 years to Donald Trump.  The Trump Organization said it would develop the property into a 250-plus room luxury hotel, to be named Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C.  Along with the hotel, the development is slated to include an upscale spa, art gallery, café, bar, three high-end restaurants, a fitness center, library, lounge with fountain, several luxury retail shops, and a large-scale meeting and banquet facility.  The company also pledged to create a small museum dedicated to the history of the building, and to maintain the Bells of Congress and the building’s historic exterior.  The National Park Service will retain control over the clock tower and observation deck and it will keep them open to the public for tours.

It is hoped that the building’s next incarnation will help spark an economic renaissance in D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood.  But much like the history of the Old Post Office Pavilion itself, only time will tell.

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

 

The Yards Park

The Yards Park

The greater D.C. area boasts a large number and variety of public parks.  From small neighborhood parks administered by the D.C. government, to expansive Federal parks administered by the National Park Service, there is no shortage of choices and opportunities to enjoy these natural areas.  Among the many choices is The Yards Park, one of the newer parks in D.C., and where I went on a recent bike ride.

The Yards Park is a waterfront recreation area, boardwalk, and outdoor performance space, which was designed as the center of The Yards development project to bring 5.5 million square feet of retail, residential, office and recreational development to the waterfront area near Nationals Park, the home of the Washington Nationals.  It was built as a public-private partnership between the District government, the General Services Administration, and Forest City Washington development company.  Construction began in 2007, and was completed three years later.  The park is on the Anacostia River, located at 355 Water Street in southeast D.C.’s Capitol Riverfront neighborhood (MAP), which is  just south of Capitol Hill, and to the west of the Washington Navy Yard.

The Yards Park consists of open grassy areas and well-landscaped outdoor rooms, as well as a terraced lawn performance venue, recreation trails, an elevated overlook, an iconic bridge and light sculpture, a riverfront boardwalk, and riverside gardens.  It also boasts a canal-like water feature complete with a wading pool, a waterfall and dancing fountains.

There are a variety of events and activities available at The Yards Park as well.  From sunrise yoga and bootcamp fitness classes, to beer festivals and bicycle rallies, there are activities throughout the year.  But perhaps the most popular events are the Friday Night Summer Concert Series.  With family-friendly lyrics, the concerts are designed for both adults and children to be able to enjoy a variety of bands in grassy open spaces with a river view.  The park is also available for private events including children’s birthday parties, receptions, corporate picnics and fundraising events.

So whether it’s for a special event or just to go and relax, I highly recommend The Yards Park as a destination worth considering.

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

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Clara Barton’s Office of Missing Soldiers

During the Civil War, a humanitarian named Clara Barton had a discussion with her father in which he convinced her that it was her Christian duty to help the soldiers.  She subsequently went on to help gather and distribute medical supplies, food, and clothing to soldiers during the war.  She even gained permission to work on the front lines, where her work gained support from other people who believed in her cause. These people became her patrons.  Eventually, with the support of her patrons, she went on to be appointed as the “lady in charge” of the hospitals at the front of the Army of the James.

Among her more harrowing experiences during the war was an incident in which a bullet tore through the sleeve of her dress without striking her but killing a man to whom she was tending.  For this she became known as the “Angel of the Battlefield.”

At the end of the Civil War, Barton continued her work by hiring a staff and opening an office to provide assistance to grieving parents, family and friends whose sons, brothers, neighbors were missing.  It was named the “Office of Correspondence with the Friends of the Missing Men of the United States Army.”  Also referred to as the Missing Soldiers Office, they responded to over 63,000 letters, most of which required some kind of research.  The research then led to published lists of the names of the missing so that anyone with knowledge of their whereabouts or death could contact Barton. By the time the office closed in 1867, she had identified the fate of over 22,000 men.

Barton, along with another humanitarian named Adolphus Solomons, would later go on to found the American National Red Cross, an organization designed to provide humanitarian aid to victims of wars and natural disasters in congruence with the International Red Cross.

Over a century later, in November of 1997, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) discovered signs, clothing and papers in the attic of 437 Seventh Street in northwest D.C. (MAP).  The vacant building had recently been transferred from the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation for sale by the GSA and was slated for demolition.  The artifacts were identified as the belongings of Clara Barton from her occupancy of the building during the Civil War, while she was providing supplies to soldiers on the battlefields, and immediately following the Civil War, when she operated the Missing Soldiers Office out of Room 9 on the third floor.

As a result of the discovery, the building was not demolished as planned.  Instead, it has been preserved by the GSA, which retains an easement for a planned museum in the future.