Posts Tagged ‘Southwest Waterfront’

Benjamin Bannekar Park

During today’s bike ride I found myself riding in a traffic circle near the south end of L’Enfant Promenade and the intersection of Interstate 395 and Maine Avenue (MAP), in Southwest D.C.  Located within the traffic circle is a little used and rather neglected park.  Although I had been there before, I knew almost nothing about the park other than it’s name, Benjamin Bannekar Park.  So I decided to find out more about it.

Operated by the National Park Service, it was designed by modern landscape architect Dan Kiley and constructed in 1967.  But the small park that comprises the terminus of L’Enfant Plaza initially had no name.  However, after Congress passed legislation in 1998 authorizing a memorial in D.C. to Benjamin Bannekar, the park was chosen and named in his honor.

The 200-foot wide elliptical park sits atop a hill with grassy expanses surrounding it.  It’s elevated location offers of the D.C. Waterfront to the south, including The District Wharf and the Maine Avenue Fish Market.  The park’s circular plaza forms a conical central water feature of more than 30 feet in height when in operation, and combined with concentric rings of London plane trees and low concrete walls make the setting makes for a nice respite from the city, especially to workers in the numerous office buildings along L’Enfant Plaza.

The park’s namesake, Benjamin Banneker, was born on November 9, 1731, in Baltimore County, Maryland, to Mary Banneky, a free black, and Robert, a freed slave from Guinea, who became a primarily self-taught astronomer, mathmetician, naturalist, farmer, almanac author, abolitionist, writer and surveyor.  Banneker’s knowledge of astronomy helped him author a commercially successful series of almanacs.  He also corresponded with Thomas Jefferson on the topics of slavery and racial equality.  Abolitionists and advocates of racial equality promoted and praised his works.  Unfortunately, most of his written works were lost due to a fire that occurred on the day of his funeral.

What he is best known for, and the reason for a memorial in his honor here in D.C., is that Bannekar was part of a group, led by Major Andrew Ellicott, that surveyed the original borders and set the original boundary stones of the District, thus helping Pierre Charles L’Enfant design the national capital city.

Sadly, years of neglect have caused Benjamin Bannekar Park to fall into a state of severe disrepair.  And the numerous renovation discussions that have occurred in the past have not resulted in any significant changes.

But that is now changing. With the opening of the first section of The District Wharf, the National Park Service, in cooperation with the National Capital Planning Commission, began constructing an improved pedestrian connection between the National Mall and Memorial Parks and the waterfront along Maine Avenue, which includes a stairway and ramp between the overlook at Benjamin Banneker Park and the southwest waterfront.  The rest of the renovation project, which is currently underway, also includes landscaping, improvements to pedestrian crosswalks, lighting installation, universal accessibility, and stormwater management.  If all goes as proposed, the park will not only be restored to it’s former glory, but exceed it. I look forward to going back and seeing it again once the renovation is completed.


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


Saint Dominic’s Catholic Church

Whenever I’ve been anywhere near the Southwest Waterfront during one of my middle of the day bike rides, I have been able to hear church bells ringing out at noon.  So on this ride I decided to track down the source.  As a result, I ended up at Saint Dominic’s Catholic Church, which is a Roman Catholic and Dominican parish, located in D.C.’s Southwest Waterfront neighborhood at 630 E Street (MAP), which is adjacent to the L’Enfant Plaza Metro Station, and just two blocks south of the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum. 

The parish of Saint Dominic was first established in 1852 under the care of the Order of Preachers, popularly known as the “Dominicans.”  Two years later, in March of 1854, the original parish church was dedicated during the feast of St. Joseph, the patron of the province of Dominicans serving St. Dominic’s parish.  A decade later, just months after the conclusion of the Civil War, the cornerstone was laid for a new church building, designed by the now famous architect, Patrick Charles Keely, who designed nearly 600 churches and hundreds of other institutional buildings for the Roman Catholic Church or Roman Catholic patrons in the eastern United States and Canada.  The new and larger English Gothic church was dedicated in 1875, and it is that church that remains today.

The outside of the church building looks much like it did when it was originally built.  But the inside of the church is very different,  And the neighborhood and surrounding area where it is located is also unlike it was.

On March 12, 1885, a fire destroyed the entire interior of the Saint Dominic’s.  But the church’s interior was restored thanks to fund raising efforts of Catholic and Protestants alike.  As part of the parish’s new interior, a Hilborne Roosevelt Organ was installed.  Today it is one of the few surviving organs made by the cousins of President Theodore Roosevelt, and the sound quality remains largely unchanged since its installation.  Although no photographs of the original interior are known to exist, it is said that the new interior is even more beautiful than the original.

The area surrounding the parish has changed even more than its interior.  In 1954 much of Southwest D.C. was demolished and rebuilt in accordance with the District of Columbia Redevelopment Act of 1950.  The convent, school, and original priory which were originally part of the parish were demolished to make room for the Southwest Freeway and frontage road.  The main church building itself, however, was protected and saved as a result of an official act of Congress.  During the intervening years since the church was built, everything else in the neighborhood has changed too, either being developed or torn down and replaced with large buildings housing either government offices, such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Headquarters, or private businesses such as the Hyatt Place DC/National Mall Hotel.

Hopefully the parish bell tower’s large bronze bell, which was installed in March of 1889 and has been ringing each day for the past 127 years, will continue to draw people like me to experience this unique and beautiful church, which remains consistent in the midst of change.

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[Click on photos above to view full size versions]

Town Center Park

The Southwest Duck Pond, also known as Town Center West Park

For this lunchtime bike ride, I rode to D.C.’s Southwest neighborhood to go to the Southwest Duck Pond, also known more formally as Town Center West Park. Located at the corner of Sixth and I Streets (MAP) and just a couple short blocks from D.C.’s Southwest Waterfront, the park functions as a green counterpoint to its urban surroundings by filling up a square block with greenery and a pond meant to attract wildlife.

The park was originally designed by William Roberts of Wallace McHarg Roberts & Todd for the National Park Service as part of the early 1970’s urban renewal projects in the Southwest Washington Redevelopment Area. Completed in 1972, the park served as an urban retreat, providing a quiet spot among the city’s hustle and bustle for local residents, office workers, and students of an adjacent school for exceptional children, and was part of a larger effort to enhance and increase recreational space in the neighborhood.

For the next few decades the park was generally well-maintained by the National Park Service in conjunction with the National Mall and Potomac Park. Then, in 2007, after ownership and responsibility for the park was transferred to the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation, the park began to fall into disrepair. Eventually, overgrown landscaping caused the grounds to appear unkept, the brick retaining walls showed significant deterioration, and even the water circulation pumps and the fountains in the pond stopped working. The park was in such bad shape that a case of West Nile Virus was thought to be caused by the stagnant water in the park, which because of the lack of circulation in the pond caused mosquitoes to breed in the area and spread disease.

After efforts by the city and private developers failed to result in improvement, some local residents formed an organization called Neighbors of Town Center West Park to care for the park and serve as an advocacy group. The group of volunteers began by picking up trash and doing other maintenance at the park. Over time, the group was designated by the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission as the official community representative for the park. With this designation, the group now participates in the city’s Park Partners program.

Today, the condition of the park stands in stark contrast to its recent history as it has been returned to it’s earlier days’ prominence. The pond’s water circulation and four fountains have been replaced. The pond’s naturalistic shoreline, broken by three promontories edged with river rocks, is surrounded with native riparian plants. The interior of the park is planted with large shade trees, and lined by repaired or replaced low brick retaining walls which give it a sense of enclosure. And a circulating walkway connects each of these areas. New park benches line the paths, along with new sidewalks, streetlights, and even some bike racks.

Additionally, the Neighbors of Town Center West Park group, which recently changed its name to Neighbors of Southwest Duck Pond, hosts activities in the park, including The Little Farm Stand farmers market, community open houses, ice cream socials, holiday parties, and neighborhood happy hours. The park is now more than a place just for nearby neighbors, it has become a destination location for everyone.

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The Maine Avenue Fish Market

The Maine Avenue Fish Market

On this ride I chose to ride along the waterfront in Southwest D.C. During the ride I stopped by the Maine Avenue Fish Market, which is located at 1100 Maine Avenue (MAP) just under the bridge for Interstate 395 connecting D.C. and Virginia. Also known as the Fish Wharf, or simply, the Wharf, the Maine Avenue Fish Market is quite popular with locals for its vast array of quality fresh seafood, including Chesapeake Bay blue crabs, soft shells, oysters, clams, shrimp, and more types of fish than you can count, all piled on top of mounds of ice. However, it is mostly unknown to the throngs of tourists who flock to the National Mall and monuments just a few blocks away to the north.

The Maine Avenue Fish Market is not just one of the few surviving open air seafood markets on the east coast of the U.S., but the oldest continuously operating fish market in the country. Founded in 1805, it is seventeen years older than New York City’s Fulton Fish Market, and decades older than Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. The market almost met its demise in the 1960’s, when the original 19th-century Municipal Fish Market building was demolished to make way for a waterfront urban renewal project. However, the seafood vendors refused to leave. They were able to exercise a clause in their leases allowing them to stay for 99 years. So although it may continue to change as it has over the years, it won’t be closing down any time soon.

The Maine Avenue Fish Market is comprised of over ten stores, where the fresh seafood is sold on floating barges that line the pier along Water Street. The barges are a tribute to the original system in which fishing boats would journey back and forth from Colonial Beach, Virginia, where they would harvest the bay. Later, refrigerated trucks became more efficient and the “buy boats” were permanently docked. Eventually, they were replaced by the steel barges which exist today. The market is open each day of the week, but the largest selection of fish is on display Friday evening through Sunday.

In addition to being able to get some of the freshest seafood available without actually driving to the beach, customers at the Maine Avenue Fish Market can also choose from an array of ready-to-eat choices. From fried seafood platters to steamed crabs covered in Old Bay Seasoning, the take-out choices are seemingly endless. Other offerings include New England clam chowder and Maryland crab soup, raw oysters, fried clams, Jumbo lump crab cakes, ceviche, and fish sandwiches, to name just a few. The choices go on and on. And you don’t even need to be a seafood lover to enjoy the informal character of the place that sits just a short walk away from the Tidal Basin. It’s another side of D.C. that you might not get to see too often, but is well worth it.


UPDATE:  If you plan to travel to the fish market anytime soon, exercise extreme caution.  The significant amount of construction going on to revitalize the waterfront is resulting in changing traffic patterns and various intermittent road and sidewalk closures.



The Maine Lobsterman

If you go for a bike ride along D.C.’s Southwest Waterfront, you are likely to happen upon one of the most obscure, unusual and seemingly out of place memorials in D.C.  Located adjacent to the Cantina Marina and near Water Street and Maine Avenue (MAP) sits a statue entitled “The Maine Lobsterman.”   The statue serves as a memorial and was dedicated as “a tribute to all Maine lobstermen who have devoted their lives to the sea.”

The original Maine Lobsterman sculpture was cast by Victor A. Kahill, who was commissioned by the state of Maine to create a monument epitomizing the fierce independent spirit of Maine’s people and their contribution to the national economy.  The statue was commissioned to serve as the centerpiece of the Maine exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York.  The sculptor decided a lobsterman at work pegging the claw of a newly caught lobster would be an ideal subject, and selected H. Elroy Johnson to pose for the piece.  Johnson lived in Harpswell, Maine, and earned a living as a lobsterman.  He also frequently visited the State House, where he was known to participate in discussions regarding fishing policies, and was well-known throughout the state as a spokesman for lobstermen’s interests.

“The Maine Lobsterman” was supposed to be cast in bronze, but the state failed to raise enough money for its completion.  So the artist just put a coat of bronze paint over the plaster model and shipped it to New York.  After the Fair ended, the fake bronze statue returned to Maine and was placed on display in Portland, where the painted plaster statue eventually fell into disrepair.  No one seemed to want the man and his lobster, so it ended up being put in storage.  It spent the next several decades in a warehouse, where it was gnawed on by rats.

Shortly after Johnson’s death in 1974, renewed interest in the statue resulted in the Maine Legislature appropriating money to cast three bronze copies of the statue. One stood in the entryway of the building housing the State library, museum and archives in Augusta.  Another was on Casco Square in Portland.  And the remaining statue was located at Land’s End, the southern tip of Bailey Island, where Johnson spent his entire life.  Inspired by their leader, Ruth Heiser, the Cundy’s Harbor Camp Fire Girls later raised enough money by selling cookies and soliciting contributions to move the Harpswell statue to D.C.  According to the Senate Congressional Record, U.S. Senators Edmund Muskie and William Cohen subsequently sponsored a joint resolution to authorize the erection of the Maine Lobsterman statue on Maine Avenue, where it has been located ever since.

However, if you haven’t seen The Maine Lobsterman Memorial yet, you may want to do it soon.  Recent approval for the development of the Southwest Waterfront and soon-to-begin construction will result in the removal of the memorial, at least temporarily.  Wording to protect the statue was included in the statute authorizing the waterfront’s redevelopment.  But the memorial will be back in storage again, where it will remain until the multi-billion dollar construction project wraps up in a decade or so.

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The USS Barry Museum Ship

If you go for a bike ride along D.C.’s southwest waterfront, and I highly recommend that you do, you should proceed east on the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail until you get to the waterfront at The Washington Navy Yard.  Located on the north shore of the Anacostia River just east of Nationals Park, you will find the Navy’s oldest shore establishment. Known as “The Yard,” it is the former shipyard and ordnance plant of the U.S. Navy in southeast D.C., and currently serves as a ceremonial and administrative center.

On the waterfront at The Yard you will find the USS Barry (DD-933) moored at Pier 2 (MAP).  She was one of the Navy’s eighteen Forrest Sherman-class destroyers when commissioned in 1954.  She supported the 1958 Marine and Army airborne unit landing in Beirut, Lebanon.  And in 1962, she participated in the Cuban Missile Crisis as a member of the task force that quarantined Cuba in response to evidence that Soviet missiles had been installed on the island.   She spent most of her career in the Caribbean, Atlantic, and Mediterranean, but also served in the Vietnam War, for which she was credited with destroying over 1,000 enemy structures and earned two battle stars. During the final portion of her active career, in the 1970’s, she was home ported in Athens, Greece as part of the Navy’s forward deployment program.

Decommissioned in 1982, she began her new career as a museum ship and permanent public display two years later when she was brought to The Yard.  She currently lies moored in the Anacostia River and serves as a distinctive attraction for visitors to the historic area, with some of her internal areas opened for visitors to tour. Some of the museum ship’s areas open for viewing include the machine repair shop, the crew berthing room, the ward room, the mess deck, the bridge, and the combat information center.  She is also used for training and shipboard familiarization, and as a ceremonial platform.

Many local residents think the ship was named after “D.C. Mayor-For-Life” Marion Barry, but she was actually named for the illustrious Revolutionary War naval hero, Commodore John Barry.  An officer in the Continental Navy during the American Revolutionary War and later in the United States Navy, John Barry is widely credited as “The Father of the American Navy,” sharing that moniker with John Paul Jones.  As most naval historians note, Barry can be classed on a par with Jones for nautical skill and daring, but he exceeds him in the length of service to his adopted country and his fidelity to the nurturing of a permanent American Navy.   He had great regard for his crew and their well being and always made sure they were properly provided for while at sea.  Barry was also a religious man, and began each day at sea with a reading from the Bible.

I have been to the waterfront at The Yard several times, and each time I practically had the place to myself.  It is one of D.C.’s true hidden gems.  And although I know there are some people who’d prefer to keep it that way, this is another place worth knowing about and visiting that is just too good not to share.


UPDATE:  Unfortunately, after 34 years in D.C., the USS Barry is no longer at the Washington Navy Yard.  Unable to move under its own power since the ship’s internal systems were in layup and out of commission, on May 7, 2016, tugboats towed the ship to Philadelphia, where it was dismantled and sold for scrap.


The U.S. Postal Service Headquarters

On this day I rode to the U.S. Postal Service Headquarters because on this day in 1792, President George Washington signed legislation creating the U.S. Postal Service. The USPS headquarters building is located in southwest D.C., at 475 L’Enfant Plaza (MAP).

In 1707, the British government established the position of Postmaster General to better coordinate postal service in the colonies. In 1737, a 31-year-old American colonist named Benjamin Franklin took over as Postmaster General. He was later fired for subversive acts on behalf of the rebellious colonies in 1774. Franklin then returned to America and helped create a rival postal system for the emerging nation. The next year he was reappointed postmaster general by himself and other Continental Congress members.

Although the Articles of Confederation written in 1781 authorized Congress to establish and regulate post offices from one State to another, the formation of an official U.S. Postal Service remained a work in progress until February 20, 1792, when President Washington formally created the U.S. Postal Service with the signing of the Postal Service Act. The act outlined in detail Congressional power to establish official mail routes. The act also made it illegal for postal officials to open anyone’s mail. In 1792, a young American nation of approximately 4 million people enjoyed federally funded postal services. The cost of sending a letter ranged from 6 cents to 12 cents. Under Washington, the Postal Service administration was headquartered in Philadelphia. Later, in 1800, it followed other federal agencies to the nation’s new capital in Washington, D.C.

The Postal Service was transformed from a Federal agency into a corporation run by a board of governors in 1971 following passage of the Postal Reorganization Act. Today, the modern USPS sorts and delivers more than 700 million pieces of mail each day, except Sunday. It has the nation’s largest retail network, which is larger than McDonald’s, Starbucks and Wal-Mart in this country, combined. It is the nation’s 2nd largest civilian employer, with more than 211,000 employees. It has the world’s largest civilian fleet of vehicles, with approximately 212,000 cars and truck, at last count. The Postal Service also moves and delivers mail using planes, trains, boats, ferries, helicopters, subways, float planes, hovercraft, mule, and by foot. There are even some routes in the country where the mail travels by bicycle.

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


The Titanic Memorial

The Titanic Memorial on D.C.’s southwest waterfront is in a great location for going for a bike ride.  Located on the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail next to the Washington Channel (MAP), the thirteen-foot-tall statue is sculpted from a single piece of red granite and depicts a partly clad male figure with arms outstretched.  It should be noted that any similarity to Kate Winslet’s much-imitated pose at the helm of the ship in the 1997 film Titanic is purely coincidental, inasmuch as the memorial was dedicated in 1931, decades before the movie.

As stated in the inscription on the front of the memorial, it is dedicated “to the brave men who perished in the wreck of the Titanic – April 15, 1912.  They gave their lives that women and children might be saved.”  The memorial was erected by the Women’s Titanic Memorial Association.

Despite their efforts, more than 1,500 people were killed after the ship collided with an iceberg during her maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York City.  It remains one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in modern history.

The Titanic Memorial was unveiled on May 26, 1931, by Helen Herron Taft, the widow of President Taft.  The statue was originally located at the foot of New Hampshire Avenue, in Rock Creek Park along the Potomac River.  However, it was removed in 1966 to accommodate the construction of the Kennedy Center. The memorial was re-erected without ceremony in 1968 at its current location.

After enjoying a ride and visiting the memorial, consider riding over to the Thai Tanic Restaurant  for some of their house famous Soft Shell Crab Pad Thai or Goong Lava.  They are located at 1326 14th Street in northwest D.C. (MAP).

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


The Old Friendship Baptist Church in southwest D.C.

As I’ve ridden bikes around the city over the past few years, I have taken notice of a number of D.C. churches for a various reasons – their architecture, their history, or their role in the community. I’ve also come across some churches that caught my attention because of the church’s unusual name. But on a recent ride I found a church that is unlike any other I’ve seen before.

The old Friendship Baptist Church building, located at 700 Delaware Avenue (MAP) in the Southwest Waterfront neighborhood of D.C., is an abandoned church building built in the late 1800s by James A. Boyce, which has recently been used as a canvas for a contemporary street art exhibition. Created by an Atlanta-based artist known as HENSE, the large scale composition features all sorts of sprayed elements, large dots, stripes and a wide array of colors. The end result is a mixture of color and pattern with a mural style all on the exterior of the building. The mural installation was a private commission by an arts club named Blind Whino, and is located directly across the street from a planned museum for emerging artists, a hotel, and other hot spots in this up and coming area of D.C.

The day I found this church was a near perfect day for a ride, especially for the middle of winter, with temperatures reaching almost 70 degrees. It felt good to get out and enjoy the unseasonably pleasant weather, particularly in light of the fact that it has been an otherwise harsh winter.

The church, the unusual weather and the ride itself made me think about how you should enjoy what you have while you have it, because often it will be gone too soon.

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Note:  The colorful church building is now the home of Blind Whino, a non-profit arts club and event space dedicated to the principal that art is a catalyst for change in a community, and providing inspiration and motivation for those that encounter its power.