Posts Tagged ‘Rosslyn’

Francis Scott Key Park

Francis Scott Key Park

The small but formal park and memorial located at 34th and M Streets (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood was the destination of this bike ride. It is named Francis Scott Key Park, and is adjacent to the Francis Scott Key Bridge, which traverses the Potomac River to connect Georgetown to the Rosslyn neighborhood of Arlington in Virginia. The park honors the man who wrote the poem about the British attack on Fort McHenry in Baltimore in 1814 which was turned into a song called “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and in 1931 became our national anthem.

Francis Scott Key Park features gardens with floral and other plantings, a bronze bust of Francis Scott Key, and a a tall flagpole.  A flag with 15 stars and 15 stripes, a replica of the one that flew over Fort McHenry back on that fateful night in 1841, flies night and day in the park.  It opened in 1993, and was designed by Friedrich St. Florian, the same architect who designed The National World War II Memorial located downtown on the National Mall.

Key was originally from nearby Carroll County, Maryland, where he was born on August 1, 1779. While he spent a lot of time in Baltimore, Key lived a good number of years in Georgetown, where he and his family moved in 1803. They lived in a house at the corner of 34th and M Streets, where the park is now located. Unfortunately, the house was demolished in 1947.

While living in D.C., Key served in the Georgetown field artillery unit.  After the British burned Washington in 1814, Key traveled to Baltimore to help negotiate the release of American prisoners. It was during this trip that he wrote the Star Spangled Banner.

In addition to being an amateur poet, Francis Scott Key was an American lawyer and author. He was a successful as an attorney in D.C. for many years. Upon returning to D.C. after the war, Key assisted his prominent lawyer uncle Philip Barton Key, including in the sensational conspiracy trial of Aaron Burr, and the expulsion of Senator John Smith of Ohio. Key’s extensive trial practice flourished, as did his real estate practice as well. During his time as a lawyer he went on to help negotiate with Indian tribes, assist President Thomas Jefferson’s attorney general in a case in which he appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court, and serve as the attorney for Sam Houston during his trial in the U.S. House of Representatives for assaulting another Congressman.

Key’s legal career culminating with his appointment as the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, serving from 1833 to 1841.  It was during this time as U.S. Attorney that he prosecuted Richard Lawrence, the person who unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate President Andrew Jackson.   He also handled private legal cases as well during this time.

It was also during his tenure as U.S. Attorney that Key, a slave-owner himself, used his position to suppress abolitionists.  Key purchased his first slave in 1800 or 1801, and owned at least six slaves by the time he became a U.S. Attorney.  Mostly in the 1830s, he represented several masters seeking return of their runaway human property.  However, Key also manumitted several enslaved persons, and throughout his career he also represented for free several slaves seeking their freedom in court. Key was also a founding member and active leader of the American Colonization Society, the primary goal of which was to send free African-Americans back to Africa.  However, he was later ousted from the board as its policies shifted toward abolitionist.

There is much more to Francis Scott Key than most people know, just like there is more to D.C. than most people realize. Francis Scott Key Park is an example of this. And just like the man, the park is worthwhile in getting to know better.

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Ben's Chili Bowl

Ben’s Chili Bowl

September’s end-of-the-month restaurant review is of Ben’s Chili Bowl. A D.C. landmark restaurant, it is located in northwest D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood, next to The Lincoln Theatre, in an historic building at 1213 U Street (MAP).  Built in 1910, the building originally housed the city’s first silent movie house, named The Minnehaha Theater. Later, Harry Beckley, one of D.C.’s first Black police detectives, converted it into a pool hall.  A family-run business, Ben’s Chili Bowl was originally opened by Ben Ali, a Trinidadian-born immigrant who had studied dentistry at nearby Howard University, and his fiancee, Virginian-born Virginia Rollins. They were married seven weeks after opening the restaurant.  Today it is run by their sons, Kamal and Nizam.

From the unrest of the late 1960’s race riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., to the tough economic times in the 1970’s and 1980’s that resulted from the destruction of much of the neighborhood’s businesses during the riots, and finally to the revitalization and gentrification of the U Street Corridor beginning in the 1990’s, Ben’s has survived and seen it all. Over 50 years later, Ben’s remains as it has always been, right down to the red booths and bar stools and Formica counters, which are the original ones from when the restaurant first opened. Even Ben’s large neon “Home of the Famous Chili Dog” hearkens back to an earlier time.

Locals and tourists, as well as celebrities including Bill Cosby, Chris Tucker and Bono, and politicians such as President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, have flocked to Ben’s Chili Bowl for decades for its rich history, friendly atmosphere and delicious food.  A sign at the restaurant, however, notifies patrons that only Mr. Cosby and the Obama family eat for free.

The menu at Ben’s includes the traditional hot dogs and hamburgers and fries, as well as more recently added healthier choices such as turkey dogs and vegetarian burgers. But I must confess that I have not tried any of these offerings. It seems almost wrong to go to Ben’s and not have what they are most famous for.

Ben’s namesake chili is still made according to the original recipe, and comes complete with chunks of ground beef, green peppers and onions, and is filled with spices to tantalize your taste buds. The chili is available by the bowl, as well as how I prefer it – as a condiment for the hot dogs, French fries, and just about anything else on the menu. But my recommendation is to try “Bill Cosby’s Original Chili Half-smoke.” Originally made famous by Ben’s in 1958 and a favorite of Mr. Cosby’s since the early 1960s, it is a mouth-watering and juicy half-pork and half-beef smoked sausage, topped with their spicy chili, on a warm steamed bun. It is considered not only Ben’s, but D.C.’s signature dish.

Recently, Ben’s Chili Bowl has also expanded by opening a new restaurant and bar called Ben’s Next Door, in addition to outposts at Nationals Park and FedEx Field, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, and across the river in Rosslyn neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia. And although the food is the same, there is something about the original location that makes everything just a little bit better.  But don’t take my word for it.  You don’t even have to believe the prestigious James Beard Foundation, which named Ben’s one of the “down-home eateries that have carved out a special place on the American culinary landscape.”  I recommend that you stop by and try it for yourself.

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Book Hill Park

While I was riding around northwest D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood on a recent bike ride I happened upon Book Hill Park, which is located at the corner of Reservoir Road and Wisconsin Avenue (MAP). From the southern entrance it appeared to be just another D.C. park, but I discovered that there’s to it than meets the eye. The Georgetown branch of the D.C. Public Library is located at the top of the hill at the northern end of Book Hill Park.

The location of the park was formerly the site of the original Georgetown Reservoir from 1859 to 1932. This reservoir was part of the larger Washington Aqueduct, America’s first public water system. This system, created between 1853 and 1863, still collects water from the Potomac River far upriver at Great Falls, and feeds the city through the original aqueduct system. Just down Reservoir Road from Book Hill Park is the newer and larger Georgetown Reservoir, which holds water from this system today.

After being converted into a park, it eventually fell into a state of neglect and disrepair. Book Hill Park had become a mess of overgrown brush and was lacking amenities. But local community members organized to do something about it. Forming The Friends of Book Hill Park in 2000, they cleaned up the property. Then in 2005, the remaining sections of the original 1871 fence were restored, and the signs were placed. Numerous flowers and trees have since been planted on the hillside, including thousands of daffodils and even some several cherry trees donated by the Japanese Embassy.

There is a set of stone steps leading to the top of the hill, where visitors can enjoy sweeping views of Georgetown and across the Potomac to nearby Rosslyn. Offering a quiet repose from the busy streets of Georgetown, the park provides benches and shade for library patrons for reading or resting. Passers-by, people from the neighborhood, and everyone else are also welcome at the public park.

In recent years this small neighborhood park has become known locally for being home to an annual Fourth of July Doggie Parade. To promote the park, the Friends of Book Hill Park began this tradition in 2002. It is an “all-American” family-oriented event which has grown to include many area canines, who are judged for their good looks and talents in seven categories, as well as Best in Show. For the parade the canines and their owners descend down the park’s grand staircase and then parade down Wisconsin Avenue, All led by Uncle Sam. It’s not one of the city’s larger celebrations, but it is one of the most unusual ones.

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The Marine Corps War Memorial, commonly referred to as The Iwo Jima Memorial

I frequently use the anniversary of an historical event as the basis for my choice of a destination for my daily bike ride.  Since today is the anniversary of the beginning of the U.S. Marines’ invasion during World War II of the island of Iwo Jima, I chose to ride to the Marine Corps War Memorial, also commonly referred to as the Iwo Jima Memorial.

It was on this day in 1945 that the Marines’ invasion of Iwo Jima, named “Operation Detachment”, began.  At the time, Iwo Jima was a barren Pacific island guarded by Japanese artillery.  But to American military minds, it was prime real estate on which to build airfields to launch bombing raids against Japan, only 660 miles away.

The battle began with an American military aerial bombardment of the Japanese defenses on the island.  This lasted 74 days and was the longest pre-invasion bombardment of the war.  Underwater demolition teams known as “frogmen” were then dispatched by the Americans just before the actual invasion. When the Japanese fired on the frogmen, they gave away many of their “secret” gun positions.  The amphibious landings of Marines subsequently began on the morning of February 19th.

As the Marines made their way onto the island, seven Japanese battalions opened fire on them. By evening, more than 550 Marines were dead and more than 1,800 were wounded. The capture of Mount Suribachi, the highest point of the island and bastion of the Japanese defense, took four more days and many more casualties. When the American flag was finally raised on Iwo Jima, the memorable image was captured in a famous photograph by Joe Rosenthal of the Associated Press that later won the Pulitzer Prize.  It is this photograph upon which the Iwo Jima Memorial was designed and built.

The Iwo Jima Memorial is a military memorial statue located just outside of the walls of Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia (MAP).   As inscribed on the front of the memorial, it is dedicated “In honor and memory of the men of the United States Marine Corps who have given their lives to their country since November 1775.”  The location and date of every major Marine Corps engagement up to the present are inscribed in chronological order around the base of the memorial, including the battle of Iwo Jima.

The official dedication of the memorial by President Dwight D. Eisenhower occurred on November 10, 1954, the 179th anniversary of the Marine Corps.  In 1961, President John F. Kennedy issued a proclamation that flag of the United States fly from the memorial 24 hours a day, one of the few official sites where this is required.

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Dark Star Park

Across the Potomac River from D.C., in the Rosslyn neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia, is Dark Star Park (MAP).  Both a park and a commissioned art project by Nancy Holt, it contains large spherical stones that are designed to resemble fallen, extinguished stars.  In additional to the spheres of varying sizes, the park also contains shadow-images inset in the ground, two reflecting pools, four steel poles extending upward some 15 feet, and two cylindrical tunnels, all scattered across the small park situated amidst numerous high rise buildings and the rush of several intersections.  Each year on August 1, the day (in 1860) when William Henry Ross originally deeded the land that would become the thriving urban village that is his namesake, the actual shadows align with the inset shadow-images at precisely 9:32 am.  This day is known as Dark Star Park Day, and is an annual celebration of all of Arlington’s public art efforts.

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