Posts Tagged ‘President Lyndon Johnson’

A Secret Entrance to the White House

Anyone who has been near the White House when the president or visiting dignitaries were arriving or departing have seen the entrances to the White House in use.  Equipped with security gates, ram-proof physical barriers, armed personnel, electronic surveillance equipment, and other unseen security measures, the entrances are obvious.  But there is another entrance to the White House that few people know about.

Located two blocks away from the White House in the 1500 block of H Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood, the secret entrance to the White House looks like almost any other alley in the city.  Thousands and thousands of pedestrians and vehicles pass by it every day, and I doubt any of them know what is hiding in plain site right in front of them.   About the only thing that distinguishes it from any other alley is a small, unobtrusive booth built into the wall of the building on the right side of alley.  I imagine most people who see it assume the booth is for an attendant collecting money for a public parking lot at the other end of the alley.  But it is actually a bullet-proof enclosure manned by Secret Service agents.

The alley leads south past the back of the Federal Claims Courthouse Building, before ending in an unassuming doorway at the rear of Freedman’s Bank, formerly known as the Treasury Department annex, on Pennsylvania Avenue.   From there, according to archival newspaper reports from before security concerns prevented the publishing of such information, the passageway to the White House passes through two subterranean tunnels.

The first tunnel was constructed in 1919 when the Treasury Department Annex was built, presumably to protect the Treasury and its employees from being robbed of the vast sums of cash with which they worked.  The second tunnel was contracted for President Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II, and lead from the East Wing of the White House to the first Presidential bomb shelter.  The tunnel and bomb shelter were to be a secret throughout the war, but was disclosed to the public in December of 1941 when Congressman Clare E. Hoffman complained about its expense in an open debate in the House of Representatives.

In later years, the tunnel has been used by persons who needed to exit or depart the White House without public or press attention. President Richard Nixon’s daughter, Tricia Nixon, and her husband, Edward F. Cox, departed the White House via the tunnel after their 1972 Rose Garden wedding.  President Lyndon Johnson also used the tunnel to avoid Vietnam War protesters when departing the White House.  Other uses of the tunnel have either been discredited or, like the stories of Marilyn Monroe using a tunnel to sneak into the White House as part of an affair with President John F. Kennedy, remain unproven.

Once the alley and tunnels were connected to provide for vehicular access to the White House, the passageway was modified to end in the parking garage in the White House basement.  And despite the general public’s lack of knowledge of the access way, or perhaps because of it, it remains in use to this day.

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Mama Ayesha and the Presidents

During this lunchtime bike ride as I was riding across the Duke Ellington Memorial Bridge in northwest D.C.’s Adam’s Morgan neighborhood, I saw a mural on the side of a building on the eastern end of the bridge.  So I rode over to get a better look at the mural.  I discovered it was on the side of Mama Ayesha’s Restaurant, located at 1967 Calvert Street (MAP), and depicts the restaurant’s namesake standing in front of the White House.  She is flanked on either side by eleven different presidents standing in chronological order, starting with Dwight D. Eisenhower and ending with Barack Obama. The content of the public artwork is so unusual that I just had to find out more about it.

The mural was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and private donors.  It was created in 2009 by Karla Rodas, also known as Karlísima, who is a native of El Salvador but moved with her family as a child to nearby Alexandria.  After graduating from Annandale High School and Washington University, she returned to D.C. and has since become one of the capital city’s most well-known and respected muralists.

The initial concept for the mural was planned by Mama Ayesha’s family members, who have run the restaurant since its opening in 1960. However, the original plan did not have Mama Ayesha as the centerpiece of the work. Instead, the family wanted Helen Thomas, a renowned White House reporter and regular customer at the restaurant, to be at the center of the mural. She was envisioned to be seated at a desk with pen and paper in her hand. However, Thomas politely declined the family’s request, opining that Mama Ayesha should be portrayed instead.

The final design depicts Mama Ayesha in traditional Palestinian garb standing in front of the White House. With six presidents on her right and five on her left, she stands in the middle between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, with their arms interlocked. Interspersed throughout the mural are other symbols and additional scenes and landmarks from the national capital city. They include a bald eagle, the city’s famous cherry blossoms, as well as the Lincoln Memorial and its Reflecting Pool, the Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument and the United States Capitol Building.  And representations of the U.S. flag appear on the sides of the painting.

With President Obama’s successor to be determined in tomorrow’s election, I hope the mural will be updated.  There is sufficient space in front of the Reflecting Pool for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.  I very much look forward to the election being over.  And I also look forward to being able to come back to see the updated mural at some point in the near future.

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

The Washington Coliseum

The Washington Coliseum

The Washington Coliseum, originally known as The Uline Arena, is an indoor arena located at 1132 3rd Street (MAP) in the NoMa neighborhood of northeast D.C.  It is just north of Union Station, directly adjacent to the railroad tracks, and bounded by L and M Streets.  The venue once hosted the Basketball Association of America’s Washington Capitols, coached by Red Auerbach from 1946 to 1949, and the American Basketball Association’s Washington Caps in 1969-70. Over the years it also was host to many performances and athletic events of varying types, including ice skating, hockey, martial arts, ballet, music, circuses, speeches, as well as a couple of Presidential inaugural balls.  At one time, it was even used as a makeshift jail for up to 1,200 male and female prisoners arrested during protests against the war in Vietnam.  But it is perhaps most famously remembered as the venue for the first concert in the United States by The Beatles.

On February 11, 1964, less than 48 hours after their now famous appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, the Beatles arrived by train in D.C., where they were to later play before a sold-out crowd at the Washington Coliseum.  In fact, despite the fact that only a few months earlier the group had been largely unknown in the United States, the concert was actually over capacity by approximately 1,000 people according to estimates.

Before the concert, the group clowned it up during a televised press interview in the cavernous Coliseum.  When asked, “Where did you get the idea for the haircuts?” Ringo Starr responded, “Where did you get the idea for yours?”  And later, when asked what they thought of then-President Lyndon Johnson, Paul McCartney quipped: “We don’t know. We’ve never met the man.”  After a pause, he then asked, “Does he buy our records?”  Interestingly, the interview ended with John Lennon being asked if The Beatles were a fad.  He replied, “Obviously. Anything in this business is a fad. We don’t think we’re going to last forever. We’re just going to have a good time while it lasts.”

The concert was supposed to be opened by The Chiffons and Tommy Roe, but they were prevented from getting to D.C. by an East Coast snow storm that blanketed the area in over eight inches of snow that day.  Instead, the replacement acts that night were Jay and the Americans and The Righteous Brothers.  The Beatles then played for approximately 40 minutes, opening with “Roll Over Beethoven.”  Tickets to the show at the Coliseum ranged from $2 to $4. The performance was filmed and later shown in American theatres in March of 1964 as a closed-circuit video feed.  The film, entitled “Live at the Washington Coliseum, 1964,” has recently been released on DVD.

Even with a small stage about the size of a boxing ring, both the audience and the performers were delighted to be there. Every few songs, in fact, the band oriented their setup to face a new part of the crowd. In return, audience members squealed, screamed, and threw jelly beans onto the stage. (Earlier in the week, the Beatles mentioned their fondness for the candy in a New York interview.)

Unfortunately, The Washington Coliseum has seen better days. It was most recently used as a waste management site, and with the building falling into disrepair, the site today is used only for parking.  Despite being listed on the National Register of Historic Places in May of 2007, renovation plans for the graffiti covered building continue to languish.  But 50 years ago, the historic site hosted one of world’s best musical acts ever.

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

UPDATE:  Renovations were recently completed on the former coliseum building, which had been sitting empty and abandoned for years.  It reopened on 10/21/2016 as an REI sporting goods store.