Posts Tagged ‘President Herbert Hoover’

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The First Public Performance of The Star Spangled Banner

On this bike ride as I was riding east in the protected bike lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue between The White House and the U.S. Capitol Building, I happened to see a small plaque on the front of a building.  Out of curiosity I circled back and stopped to see what it was.  And as it turns out the plaque, located 601 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), commemorates the location where “The Star Spangled Banner” was sung in public for the first time.

The Star-Spangled Banner” is the national anthem of the United States.  It was recognized for official use by the United States Navy in 1889, and by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916.  And it was made the national anthem by a Congressional resolution on March 3, 1931, which was signed by President Herbert Hoover.

The song’s lyrics come from a poem entitled “Defence of Fort M’Henry”, which was written in September of 1814 by Francis Scott Key, who just a few block past the western end of Pennsylvania Avenue has a memorial park named after him.  Key was inspired to write the poem by the sight of a large American flag flying above Fort McHenry during its bombardment by the British Royal Navy during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812.  The words were later set to the tune of a British song which was already popular in the United States entitled “To Anacreon in Heaven”, written by John Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society, a men’s social club in London.

Despite the fact that the song is notoriously difficult for nonprofessionals to sing because of its wide range, The Star Spangled Banner today is traditionally sung most often at the beginning of many public sporting events in the United States, as well as other types of public gatherings.  But on this bike ride, I discovered where the patriotic song was sung in public for the first time a little over two hundred years ago.

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The plaque reads, “On this site in 1814, “The Star Spangled Banner” was first sung on public.  The most famous of several hotels on this block was Brown’s Marble Hotel (1851 – 1935), an innovative greek revival landmark, where John Tyler and Abraham Lincoln were guests.  In the 1830’s, Beverly Snow, a free black, operated the epicurean restaurant on the corner of 6th Street.  The Atlanta Coast Line Railroad Building was completed at the same location in 1863.  Its façade was incorporated into the present office building, erected by the B.F. Saul Company in 1985.”

B Street

B Street

During a portion of this two-wheeled outing I rode up and down Constitution Avenue, which is a major east-west street located on the north side of the National Mall, running parallel to Independence Avenue on the Mall’s south side. Constitution Avenue spans the northwest and northeast quadrants of D.C., with its western half extending from the U.S. Capitol Building to the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge. Its eastern half continues through the neighborhoods of Capitol Hill and Kingman Park before it eventually terminates at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.

Constitution Avenue was not always known by its current name, however. And had it not been for a traffic jam, it might still be known today by the name it had under the structured naming convention of the city’s original architectural plan developed by Pierre Charles L’Enfant. That name was B Street.

Back in November of 1921, President Warren G. Harding was travelling to the dedication ceremony for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery when he was caught in a three-hour traffic jam which resulted from the inability of the existing bridges at the time to handle traffic. Resolving to prevent that from happening again, President Harding sought an appropriation to fund the work to design and build a more adequate bridge. Congress subsequently approved his request in June of the following year, which would eventually result in the construction of Arlington Memorial Bridge.

However, B Street was a smaller, narrower street at the time, and extensive widening and reconstruction was needed to accommodate the traffic. Eventually, after years of planning, the vision for B Street had expanded for it to be a ceremonial gateway into the national capitol city from the magnificent new bridge, as well as one of the city’s great parade avenues, similar to Pennsylvania Avenue. And as the nature of the B Street project became apparent, there were calls to rename the street. But nothing is ever easy in D.C., and renaming B Street was no different.

In early 1930, legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives to rename the street L’Enfant Avenue. City officials opposed the name, however, advocating instead for Lincoln or Washington Avenue. Congressman Henry Allen Cooper then introduced legislation to rename the street Constitution Avenue. The proposal met with strong support from city officials, but was rejected by the House of Representatives. The bill was resubmitted the following year. During discussion on the floor of the Senate, it was suggested that the street be named Jefferson Avenue in honor of President Thomas Jefferson. Representative Cooper opined that the name Constitution Avenue in a way paid tribute to our third President as the author of the Constitution, and that a national presidential memorial to President Jefferson should be built.  By the end of the decade, President Franklin D. Roosevelt laid the cornerstone of The Thomas Jefferson Memorial. This time the legislation renaming B Street passed both the House and Senate before being signed into law by President Herbert Hoover in February of 1931, and it has been known as Constitution Avenue ever since.

Arlington Memorial Bridge

Arlington Memorial Bridge

Widely regarded as D.C.’s most beautiful bridge, Arlington Memorial Bridge spans the Potomac River and is one of nine bridges that connect the National Capital City to the Commonwealth of Virginia. It is located at the western end of the National Mall (MAP), and in part constitutes a formal terminus of the Mall.

A masonry, steel, and stone arch bridge with a central drawbridge, Arlington Memorial Bridge was designed in the Neoclassical architectural style. Except for the draw span, the bridge is of reinforced concrete construction faced with dressed North Carolina granite ashlar. The draw span is of the double leaf, underneath counterweight type and is faced with pressed ornamental steel made to blend with the masonry spans. At the time it was built, the draw span was the longest, heaviest and fastest in the world, although it is now sealed and inoperative. The bridge is 2,163 feet long, carrying a 60-foot-wide roadway and 15-foot sidewalks on either side.

Arlington Memorial Bridge also contains some ornamental characteristics typical of the “City Beautiful Movement” which was taking place in D.C. at the time it was designed. This reform philosophy of North American architecture and urban planning flourished during the 1890s and 1900s with the intent of introducing beautification and monumental grandeur in cities. However, it promoted beauty not only for its own sake, but also to instill moral and civic virtue among urban populations. The northeastern entrance to the Arlington Memorial Bridge features “The Arts of War” sculptures, Sacrifice and Valor, which were completed by Leo Friedlander in 1951. On the pylons of each pier of the bridge are large circular discs with eagles and fasces designed by sculptor Carl Paul Jennewein.

Congress first proposed a bridge at the site of the current structure on May 24, 1886. However, the bridge went unbuilt for decades thanks to political quarrels over whether the bridge should be a memorial, and to whom or what. Then in November of 1921, President Warren G. Harding was travelling to the dedication ceremony for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery when he was caught in a three-hour traffic jam because the existing bridges at the time could not handle the traffic. Resolving to prevent that from happening again, President Harding sought an appropriation to fund the work to build a bridge. Congress subsequently approved his request in June of the following year. Construction finally began in 1927, and took six more years to complete. The dedication ceremony was on January 16, 1932, headed by President Herbert Hoover. Arlington Memorial Bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

Today Arlington Memorial Bridge is a major entryway and commuter route into the city. But the years of heavy use have taken their toll, and although the bridge has received various relatively minor repairs over the years, it has never had a major overhaul or restoration. In a report two years ago, the Federal Highway Administration called for a complete overhaul of the bridge. And after a major inspection of the bridge, the National Park Service transportation division head Charles N. Borders, II, stated “The bridge … is really at the end of, and beyond, its life cycle.”

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