Posts Tagged ‘Philadelphia’

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The Freedom Bell

The Liberty Bell, one of the most iconic symbols of American independence, sits behind glass in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, approximately 137 miles up Interstate 95, north of D.C.  And on this lunchtime bike ride just before the Independence Day holiday weekend, I did not ride to Philadelphia to see it.  However, D.C., has a replica of the Liberty Bell.  It is named the Freedom Bell, and is located on Massachusetts Avenue near First Street, at Columbus Circle next to the massive Columbus Fountain on the plaza in front of Union Station (MAP).  And it was the Freedom Bell here in D.C. that was the destination of this ride.

The Freedom Bell was a gift to the United States, in celebration of the country’s Bicentential, from the American Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary. The bell weighs eight tons, and is twice the size of its more famous counterpart. The bell was cast in 1975, but had to be cast outside of the U.S. because no foundry had the capacity to cast it. So the Freedom Bell was cast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London, the same foundry that cast the Liberty Bell in 1752. The iron work was then completed by Fred S. Gichner Iron Works of nearby Beltsville, Maryland. Jack Patrick served as associate architect, and Allen J. Wright Associates created the post and beam support for the bell.

After the bell was completed and shipped to America, it then traveled to all 48 contiguous states aboard the American Freedom Train for the Bicentennial, starting on April 1, 1975 in Wilmington, Deleware, and ending on December 31, 1976, in Miami, Florida. The bell shared a train car with a map of the American Freedom Train’s journey and a lunar rover.

After the conclusion of the Bicentennial year celebrations, the bell was placed in storage by the National Park Service. Eventually, lengthy discussions led to an agreement that the bell would be placed at its current location in front of Union Station, which was done in 1981.  The American Legion, however, was unhappy with the bell’s placement, because they had hoped that it would be placed somewhere on the National Mall.

Today, even though the Freedom Bell sits in front of the extraordinarily busy Union Station, most passers-by are oblivious to its existence as they hustle past it to their trains.  So, maybe the American Legion was right.

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[Click on the thumbnail above to view the full size photo]

The plaque that rests on the ground in front of the bell reads: “The Freedom Bell, Dedicated to The Spirit of the Bicentennial on Behalf of The Children of Our Nation, Given By The American Legion And American Legion Auxiliary, 1981.”

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The Original Patentees of the District of Columbia Memorial

As I was leisurely riding near The Ellipse and President’s Park on this lunchtime bike ride, I saw a relatively small, nondescript granite shaft near the sidewalk along 15th Street. To the tourists and others walking past it, it seemed as unimportant as an unsolicited opinion. But the fact that they were ignoring it made me even more curious to find out about it. So I stopped to look at it and take some photographs, and found out that it is the Original Patentees of the District of Columbia Memorial.

Also known as the Settlers of the District of Columbia Monument, or the First Settlers Monument, the memorial is an historic feature of President’s Park South. It is located on the eastern side of The Ellipse to the east of the Boy Scouts of America Memorial and on the western side of 15th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.

Until the late part of the 18th century, the Continental Congress met in numerous locations, effectively resulting in several different cities having served as the nation’s capital. These cities included: Baltimore, Maryland; Philadelphia, Lancaster and York, Pennsylvania; Princeton and Trenton, New Jersey, and; New York City. Because of this, the Continental Congress decided that the nation’s capital be established permanently at one location. Disagreements quickly rose as to which state it would be a part of. In 1790, Alexander Hamilton proposed a solution that established the new permanent capital on Federal land rather than in a state. President George Washington, who was raised in the Potomac area, was chosen to pick the site. As a result, the permanent capital was established in 1791 in its current location, with both Maryland and Virginia giving up land along the Potomac River to establish the Federal district.

The Original Patentees of the District of Columbia Memorial commemorates the eighteen original patentees who granted land for the establishment of the nation’s new capital city. A patentee is someone to whom a grant is given and, in this case, the grant was ownership of the land that became the District of Columbia. The monument to commemorate these men was given to the city by the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and was dedicated during a ceremony on April 25, 1936.

On the east side of the monument facing 15th Street is inscribed “To The Original Patentees/Prior To 1700 Whose Land / Grants Embrace The Site Of / The Federal City. Monument Erected By The / National Society Of The / Daughters American / Colonists, April 25, 1936.” The names of the original landowners, listed on the other three sides, and the date of their land patents, are inscribed in the base of the monument. They are, in ascending order: Robert Troope, 1663; George Thompson, 1663; Francis Pope, 1663; John Langworth, 1664; John Lewger, 1666; Richd and Wm Pinner, 1666; Zachariah Wade, 1670; Richard Evans, 1685; Henry Jowles, 1685; Andrew Clarke, 1685; John Peerce, 1685; Walter Houp, 1686; Walter Thompson, 1686; Ninian Beall, 1687; John Walson, 1687; William Hutchison, 1696; Walter Evans, 1698, and; William Atcheson, 1698.

Each of the four sides of the monument also contains a stone relief panel carved by Carl Mose, a former instructor at the Corcoran School of Art. The panels contain symbols of the early pioneers’ agricultural pursuits. On the east side above the main inscription is a relief depicting a tobacco plant, a major cash crop of the colonies. The relief on the north side of the monument depicts a fish, a food staple in those times. On the west face of the monument is a relief of a stalk of corn, which native Indians introduced to the colonists, showing them how to use as food and fertilizer for other crops. And on the monument’s south face is a relief of a wild turkey, another abundently-available food staple of the time.

So as most people walk past it without a second thought, the monument to the men whose land became the nation’s capital stands silently by to remind us of their names, which may have otherwise been lost over time. And had it not been for these men, the location of our capital, and even the history of our country, may have been different.

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

The Howard Theater

The Howard Theater

The Howard Theatre, which is located at 620 T Street (MAP) in the U Street Corridor of northwest D.C.’s historic Shaw/Uptown neighborhood, is an entertainment venue with a storied history of highs and lows since opening over a century ago. And that is the reason I decided to make it my destination on this lunchtime outing.

The Howard originally had a capacity of more than 1,200, and featured orchestra and balcony seats and eight private boxes, with a lavishly decorated interior. And the theater’s original exterior matched its lavish interior, combining architectural elements of the Beaux-Arts, Italian Renaissance, and neoclassical styles. However, it lost its original ornate facade in 1941 when it was redone in the then-fashionable Streamline style. And it has been reduced in size over the years, currently being able to seat only half of its original capacity.

After its initial opening in 1910, The Howard became known for its variety of acts, including vaudeville performers, plays, and even circuses. However, despite its early success which lasted through the 1920’s, the Howard was forced to close down at the onset of the Great Depression in 1929.

The building became a church for a short time, but was was able to reopen a couple of years later under new management, and this time became a venue devoted to discovering and hiring only the best in black talent. Though The Howard did not discover, Duke Ellington, a native Washingtonian, it was responsible for launching many other careers, such as Ella Fitzgerald’s. The astounding success of The Howard resonated throughout the East Coast as it energized the debuts of other black owned theaters, such as The Apollo in Harlem, The Uptown in Philadelphia, and The Royal in Baltimore, or, what was known at the time as The “Chitlin’ Circuit.”

Over the next couple of decades, many notable Jazz performers headlined at The Howard, including Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway, Ethel Waters, Nat King Cole, “Moms” Mabley, and hometown favorite Duke Ellington, bringing along with them an unparalleled level of fame and prestige to The Howard. Other types of performers were intermittently mixed in with these acts during this time. These acts included performers like Danny Kaye, Abbott and Costello and Cesar Romero, as well as Pearl Bailey, who made her debut at the Howard.

Then in the 1950s and 60s, The Howard became a venue for rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm and blues, including such artists as Sarah Vaughan, Sammy Davis, Jr., James Brown, Lena Horne, Lionel Hampton, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, and Marvin Gaye, to name but a few.

After the riots which followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, coupled with societal changes brought about by desegregation, brought about unrest and disturbances which served to debilitate the area, drive out many locals, and eventually cause degradation of the once vibrant neighborhood. This made it difficult for The Howard to attract patrons, and in 1970 it was forced to close down once again.

Many attempts were made to revive The Howard in the years that followed. One attempt occurred in 1975, and attracted many stars and received significant publicity, both from the audience and performers. Acts such as Redd Foxx and Melba Moore were among those featured at the reopening. Later in the decade, Go-Go bands played the venue, including the Godfather of Go-Go, Chuck Brown, another native Washingtonian, along with The Soul Searchers, also performed at The Howard. Despite this success, this run lasted only five years. The venue failed to regain its former glory or financial viability, and closed down once again in 1980.

Most recently the theater, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was reopened after a 32-year hiatus and a $29 million multi-year renovation project. After being listed by the D.C. Preservation League as one of its Most Endangered Places in the city in 2002, groundbreaking for extensive renovations of the theater was held a couple of years later, and The Howard finally reopened in 2012 with a grand re-opening gala and benefit concert hosted by Bill Cosby and Wanda Sykes.

Today the reopened theater honors the glory of the past while ushering in an exciting future. Through the addition of state-of-the-art acoustics, and video and recording capabilities, The Howard is able to retain the intimate feel of its classic space for traditional audiences, while expanding to include new digital-age audiences as well. It is open six days a week, year-round, with dining amenities

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

Site of World's First Air Mail Service

Site of World’s First Air Mail Service

A short bike ride from downtown D.C., located just off the Rock Creek Park Trail that parallels the water along the north bank of the Potomac River in West Potomac Park, and near Ohio and West Basin Drives (MAP) in Southwest D.C., I discovered a stone with a brass plaque marker.  After reading the plaque, I learned that the marker was placed there by The Aero Club of Washington, commemorating the first air mail flight to be operated as a continuously scheduled public service.  The air mail service planes used the nearby field just south of The Washington Monument near the National Mall to take off and land.

Following 52 experimental flights by the Post Office Department in 1911 and 1912, the first extended test of airmail service began on May 15, 1918, when the U.S. Army and the Post Office Department together began operating a line using U.S Army training plains, known as “Jenny” biplanes.  The planes were flown by Army pilots operating on a route between the old Washington Polo Grounds near the marker, and Belmont Park in New York City, with an intermediate stop at Bustleton Field in Philadelphia.  Included in those who were on hand for the departure of the first flight were President Woodrow Wilson, U.S. Postmaster General Albert S. Burleson, and Assistant Secretary of the Navy and future president, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

An Army lieutenant named George L. Boyle was selected to pilot the aircraft on the first flight.  Unfortunately, that flight turned out to be a somewhat less than successful initial venture, and perhaps an omen of the Postal Service’s future level of quality and service.  Boyle became disoriented almost immediately after take off, and started flying in the wrong direction.  Upon realizing that he was lost, Boyle attempted to find out where he was by making an unscheduled landing in nearby Waldorf, Maryland.  However, he broke the prop on his airplane when he made a hard landing, and the mail he was carrying had to be trucked back to D.C.   The mail was flown to Philadelphia and New York the next day but, of course, arrived late.

The plaque on the marker does not make mention of this ignominious beginning.  It reads:  “Air Mail. The world’s first airplane mail to be operated as a continuously scheduled public service started from this field May 15, 1918.  The route connected Washington, Philadelphia and New York, CurtisJN 4-H airplanes with a capacity of 150 pounds of mail flew the 230 miles in above three hours.  The service was inaugurated by the Post Office Department in cooperation with the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps of the U.S. Army.  On August 12, 1918, the service was taken over in its entirety by the Post Office Department.  This marker was erected by The Aero Club of Washington on the fortieth anniversary.  May 15, 1958.”

Less than twenty years later, in October of 1975, Air Mail as a separate class of service was effectively ended within the U.S. when all domestic intercity First Class mail began to be transported by air at the normal First Class rate, and was formally eliminated by the successor to the Post Office Department, the United States Postal Service.

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