Posts Tagged ‘Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation’

The Stephenson Grand Army of the Republic Memorial

The Grand Army of the Republic Memorial

Many of the statues and memorials in D.C. seem as though they are permanent.  But this is often not the case, with many of them being moved around, placed in storage, or changed as necessary to accommodate new construction or development.  This is the case for The Grand Army of the Republic Memorial, which was the destination of this lunchtime bike ride.

The Grand Army of the Republic Memorial is presently located across the street from The National Archives and Records Administration Building and adjacent to the U.S. Navy Memorial in Indiana Plaza, at the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and 7th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Penn Quarter neighborhood.  The memorial was moved in 1987 from it’s original location, which was just a few yards away where The Temperance Fountain is now located.  The fountain was moved from its original location a few blocks away during the renewal of Pennsylvania Avenue by the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation.

Shortly after the conclusion of the American Civil War, groups of men began joining together in fraternal organizations. These organizations were first formed for camaraderie, but eventually evolved into groups which possessed and wielded significant political influence.  Emerging most powerful among the various organizations would be The Grand Army of the Republic.

Founded in Decatur, Illinois on April 6, 1866 by Dr. Benjamin F. Stephenson, membership in the Grand Army of the Republic was limited to honorably discharged veterans of the Union Army, Navy, Marine Corps or the Revenue Cutter Service, who had served between April 12, 1861 and April 9, 1865. The organization became among the first organized advocacy groups in American politics, lobbying the U.S. Congress to establish veterans’ pensions, advocating for voting rights for black veterans, and supporting Republican political candidates.  As one of the more powerful political organizations in the late 19th century, it also helped to establish The Old Soldiers’ Home, which would later become The Department of Veterans Affairs.  Also, under the leadership of John Alexander Logan, the organization was largely responsible for establishing the Memorial Day holiday at the end of May, as part of their Decoration Day campaign.

At it’s height in 1890, it would number almost 500,000 veterans of the “War of the Rebellion,” with chapters or “posts” in every state except Hawaii, even those of the former Confederacy.  But the organization continued to allow only Union veterans of the Civil War, and through attrition it grew smaller each year.  It was finally dissolved in 1956 when its last surviving member, Albert Henry Woolson, passed away.

Memorials to the Grand Army of the Republic include a commemorative postage stamp, a U.S. Federal highway, and various statues and physical memorials in hundreds of communities throughout the country. The D.C. memorial was erected by the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Foundation using funds that the U.S. Congress appropriated in 1907, and was dedicated in 1909.

The memorial’s pink granite centerpiece was designed by the firm of Rankin, Kellogg and Crane, and P.R. Pullman and Company, was responsible for the foundation of the monument, which had to be specially made due to the significant weight of the granite column. Scottish-American sculptor J. Massey Rhind sculpted the bronze statue and inlays for the memorial.

Also known as The Dr. Benjamin F. Stephenson Memorial, it is part of a group of statues entitled “The Civil War Monuments in Washington, D.C.” which are spread out through much of the central and northwest areas of the city, and are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.  With the dissolution of the organization, the memorial is now owned and maintained by the National Park Service.

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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]

The Temperance Fountain

The Temperance Fountain

One of the last remaining Temperance Fountains, an ornate reminder of an outdated and failed social movement, can still be found in D.C.   Originally located downtown at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 7th Street, it was moved to its present location in 1987 during the renewal by the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation.  The fountain currently sits at the corner of Seventh Street and Indiana Avenue in northwest D.C. (MAP), across from the National Archives Building and U.S. Navy Memorial, where thousands of tourists and workers walk past daily without noticing it.

It was erected and donated to the city in 1882 by Henry D. Cogswell, a dentist from San Francisco, who was a crusader in the temperance movement.  The fountain was one of a series of fountains throughout the country that he designed and commissioned in a belief that easy access to cool drinking water would keep people from consuming alcoholic beverages in one of the many nearby saloons.

The fountain is an elaborate structure built of granite that Dr. Cogswell designed himself.  It has four granite columns supporting a canopy on whose sides the words “Faith,” “Hope,” “Charity,” and “Temperance” are chiseled.  On top of the structure is a life-sized heron, and the centerpiece is a pair of entwined dolphins from which ice water once flowed from their snouts.  Other fountains he designed were adorned with frogs, pigeons, sea serpents, horses, and gargoyles.  A few even sported a bronze statue of Dr. Cogswell himself, with a water glass or temperance pledge in his outstretched hand.  Passersby could partake using a brass cup attached to the fountain, and the overflow was collected by a trough for horses to drink.  The city got tired of replenishing the ice in a reservoir underneath the base and disconnected the water supply pipes many years ago.  Today it remains as a non-functional memorial to the defunct temperance movement.

These grandiose statues were not well received by the communities where they were placed.  The fountain in San Francisco was torn down by a mob of self-professed art lovers, while the one in Rockville, Connecticut, was thrown into a lake. Although the Temperance Fountain in D.C. remains unscathed, it was considered so ugly by so many that it spurred city councils across the country to set up fine arts commissions to screen such gifts in the future.  However, despite the opposition, the D.C. statue has been placed on the Downtown Historic District National Register, as well as U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Dr. Cogswell built similar monuments which can still be found in Tompkins Square Park in New York City, and in Rockville, Connecticut.  Other examples were erected and then torn down in Buffalo, Rochester, Boston Common, Fall River, Massachusetts, and Pacific Grove, San Jose and San Francisco, California.


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.