Posts Tagged ‘John Russell Pope’

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The Brodhead-Bell-Morton Mansion

On this lunchtime bike ride, as I was riding near Scott Circle in northwest D.C., I saw what looked like commemorative brass plaques on the side of a building.  Wanting to find out more about the plaques and the building, I stopped to look into it.  According to the plaques, the mansion is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and once belonged to Alexander Graham Bell.  Whetting my appetite to find out more about the house, I researched it later when I got back from my ride.

Originally designed in the Victorian style by John Fraser, with construction finishing in 1879, the house was built for John. T. Brodhead and his family.  Based on a subsequent series of prominent owners, it has come to be known as the Brodhead-Bell-Morton Mansion, and is located at 1500 Rhode Island Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s DuPont Circle neighborhood.

The Brodhead family did not live there long, however,  In 1882, just three years after construction was completed, Brodhead sold the home to lawyer and financier Gardiner Green Hubbard, the father-in-law of telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell.  According to the home’s National Register of Historic Places registration form, the Hubbards “offered the house to the Bells as an inducement to relocate from the Boston area, and Bell allowed himself to be persuaded.”

However, the original house was not large enough for Bell and his wife Mabel Gardiner Hubbard, so they added a two-story addition on the northeast corner and then a third floor with a steep slated roof.  Bell also made other changes to the house, the most interesting of which was the installation of the city’s first electric burglar alarm system.  It was composed of an elaborate system of wires and bells that connected every door and window in the house to a room Bell referred to as the “central office.”  Indicators in the central office would show instantly whenever a door was opened or shut, or only partially opened.  And if anyone tried to enter the house at night, bells would sound.

It’s too bad that Bell installed a burglar alarm system rather than a smoke detector, however, because a fire destroyed much of the building in 1887. Although it was insured, the damage from the fire was more extensive than what the policy covered.  Bell was able to have the mansion restored anyway.

Then in 1889, just a couple of years after the fire, Bell sold the mansion to Levi Parsons Morton just prior to Morton’s swearing in as Vice President under President Benjamin Harrison.  Morton immediately had the building enlarged with a new east wing, that was designed by John Fraser, the home’s original architect.  Some years later, Morton remodeled the house, converting it into the neoclassical Beaux-Arts architectural style that was all the rage at that time.  Under the hand of prominent American architect John Russell Pope, who later designed The Thomas Jefferson Memorial, The National Archives and Records Administration Building, and the West Building of the National Gallery of Art, among other important buildings, Morton had the house transformed into its present-day form.

The mansion would go on to have a number of additional prominent owners and residents, including the Embassy of Russia, U.S. Secretary of State Elihu Root, Massachusetts Congressman Charles Franklin Sprague, and Count Arturo Cassini, the Russian Ambassador to the U.S.  It then became home to the National Democratic Club, who sold it to the National Paint, Varnish and Lacquer Association.  Finally, in February of last year, it was purchased by the country of Hungary, which moved the Embassy of Hungary there late last year.

I’m glad I noticed the house during this bike ride, and then looked into it later.  The house turned out to have quite a history.  Of course, D.C. is full of history and interesting stories, if you just take the time to look for them.

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The Archives of The United States of America

The Archives of The United States of America

The National Archives and Records Administration is the nation’s record keeper. Many people know the National Archives as the custodian of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights – the three main formative documents of the U.S. and its government. It is also the keeper of a copy of the Magna Carta, confirmed by Edward I in 1297. Other important historical documents maintained at the National Archives include the Louisiana Purchase Treaty, the Emancipation Proclamation, and collections of photography, art works, and other historically and culturally significant artifacts.  But they also maintain the public records about and for ordinary American citizens, such as textual and microfilm records relating to genealogy, census data, American Indians, the District of Columbia, maritime matters, charts, architectural and engineering drawings, and the records of the U.S. Congress and all Federal government agencies.

Opened as its original headquarters in 1935, the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration Building is located approximately halfway between the White House and the U.S. Capitol Building, between 7th and 9th Streets at 700 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP) in downtown D.C. Known informally as Archives I, the building has entrances on Pennsylvania Avenue and on Constitution Avenue just north of the National Mall.

Designed by architect John Russell Pope, the National Archives and Records Administration building was intended to be on par with the other national monuments and symbols on the National Mall. The massive building covers two full city blocks, and is among the most impressive and architecturally striking buildings on the National Mall. During the cornerstone ceremony conducted in 1933, President Herbert Hoover stated, “This temple of our history will appropriately be one of the most beautiful buildings in America, an expression of the American soul.”

The National Archives building is highly decorated with pediments, sculptures, medallions, and classical carvings. Imbedded in its size and beauty, the building has specific messages and symbolism in the inscriptions that encircle the building, and the sculptures that surround it.

The inscriptions declare the building’s goals. On the west side of the building is inscribed, “The glory and romance of our history are here preserved in the chronicles of those who conceived and builded the structure of our nation.” The inscription on the east side of the building states, “This building holds in trust the records of our national life and symbolizes our faith in the permanency of our national institutions.” And the south side inscription reads, “The ties that bind the lives of our people in one indissoluble union are perpetuated in the archives of our government and to their custody this building is dedicated.”

The four massive statues around the National Archives building were each was cut from a single block of limestone weighing 125 tons. Sculptor Robert I. Aitken’s statue “The Future” sits on the Pennsylvania Avenue side of the building to the left of the main entrance. The young woman appears to lift her eyes from the pages of an open book and gaze into the future. Its base is inscribed with a line inspired by Shakespeare’s play The Tempest: “What is Past is Prologue.” To the right of the main entrance is another sculpture by Aitken, entitled “The Past,” which depicts an aged figure with a scroll and closed book imparting the knowledge of past generations.”  The words on the base enjoin, “Study the Past.”

To the rear of the building on Constitution Avenue sit “Heritage” and “Guardianship,” both sculpted by James Earle Fraser. Heritage is located to the right of the entrance, and depicts a woman who holds a child and a sheaf of wheat in her right hand as symbols of growth and hopefulness. In her left hand she protects an urn, symbolic of the ashes of past generations. The base is inscribed, “The Heritage of the Past is the Seed that Brings Forth the Harvest of the future.” And finally, “Guardianship,” to the left of the rear entrance, uses martial symbols, such as the helmet, sword, and lion skin to convey the need to protect the historical record for future generations. This sculpture is inscribed “Eternal Vigilance is the Price of Liberty.”

A visit to the National Archives can be very productive in terms of research and information. But the building itself can make a visit worthwhile, even if you don’t go inside.

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