Posts Tagged ‘The Tidal Basin’

The Ice Skating Rink at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden

The Ice Skating Rink at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden

The circular reflecting pool at the center of the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden is transformed during the cold winter months each year into an outdoor ice skating rink. It has become an extremely popular winter destination, particularly for skating enthusiasts. And although I am not an ice skater myself, it was also my destination, at least for this lunchtime bike ride.

Ice skating has been a popular activity on the National Mall for well over a hundred years, with unofficial skating sites located at the Tidal Basin and The Reflecting Pool in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. However, the actual ice skating rink did not open until 1974. And it did not open in its current form until 1999. Because the ice rink had been operating at the site since for more than twenty years, it was included in the National Gallery of Art’s plans for the Sculpture Garden when it was conceived in 1996.

In its current location as part of the Sculpture Garden, visitors have the opportunity to skate while surrounded not only by the grand architecture of national museums and monuments, but by large outdoor sculptures and exhibits displayed by the National Gallery of Art. These sculptures include works by world-renowned artists, such as “Four-Sided Pyramid” by Sol LeWitt and Claes Oldenburg’s “Typewriter Eraser, Scale X“, to name just a couple. In all, there are nineteen works of modern and contemporary sculpture on the richly landscaped grounds surrounding the ice rink.

The ice rink can accommodate more than two hundred skaters, with a music system that brings vibrant sound to visitors on and off the ice. And at night, lighting further contributes to the festive atmosphere. This year, the gallery’s guest services will offer both skating and ice hockey lessons, for which students can register individually or with a group. There is also a snack shop named the Pavilion Café, which offers a panoramic view of the Sculpture Garden and ice rink in addition to a variety of food and beverages.

Located just off the National Mall at 700 Constitution Avenue (MAP) in downtown, D.C., the ice rink opened in mid-November and will remain open through March 16, 2015, weather permitting. The rink is open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. On Sunday, it’s open from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. The ice-skating rink will close at 5:00 p.m. Christmas Eve, and will be closed on December 25 and January 1. Admission for a two hour session costs $8 for adults. And if you don’t have your own skates, they can be rented for an additional $3. A season pass that covers unlimited access to the ice rink is also available for $195.

Whether you’re an avid skater or have never tried it before, I highly recommend visiting the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden Ice Skating Rink at least once this winter. Who knows, you may enjoy it so much that, like many other people already have, you’ll want to make it an annual winter tradition.

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The Jefferson Memorial

The Jefferson Memorial

On this day in 1939, the 32nd President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, laid the cornerstone of the memorial to our nation’s 3rd President, Thomas Jefferson. Construction of the memorial had begun the previous December, and would not be completed until 1943. The 19-foot tall bronze statue of Jefferson by the sculptor Rudulph Evans was subsequently added four years later, in 1947. Then, 75 years after the laying of the cornerstone, I rode to the memorial on this lunchtime bike.

As a public official, historian, philosopher, lawyer, businessman and plantation owner, Thomas Jefferson served his country for over five decades. In addition to being our country’s 3rd President, he was also one of America’s founding fathers, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, Vice President of the United States, the first U.S. Secretary of State, member of the Continental Congress, a state legislator and Governor of Virginia, United States Minister to France, and the founder of the University of Virginia.

The Memorial to Thomas Jefferson is a neoclassical building which features circular marble steps, a portico, a circular colonnade of Ionic order columns, and a shallow dome.  It is located in West Potomac Park, on the shore of the Potomac River Tidal Basin (MAP), and is enhanced with the massed planting of Japanese cherry trees, a gift from the people of Japan in 1912. Because many of the well-established cherry trees had to be removed for construction, there was significant opposition to its being built at that location. However, construction continued amid the opposition.

In addition to the domed building which is open to the elements and the prominent statue of Jefferson, the memorial prominently features quotes and exerpts from Jefferson’s writings.  On the panel of the southwest interior wall are excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, which reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men. We…solemnly publish and declare, that these colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states…And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

On the northwest interior wall is an a panel with an excerpt from “A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, 1777”, except for the last sentence, which is taken from a letter of August 28, 1789, to James Madison.  It reads, “Almighty God hath created the mind free…All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens…are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion…No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion. I know but one code of morality for men whether acting singly or collectively.”

The quotes from the panel of the northeast interior wall are from multiple sources, and reads, “God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than these people are to be free. Establish the law for educating the common people. This it is the business of the state to effect and on a general plan.”

The inscription on the panel of the southeast interior wall is redacted and excerpted from a letter of July 12, 1816, to Samuel Kercheval.  It reads, “I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”

The monument is not as prominent in popular culture as other D.C. buildings and monuments, possibly due to its location well removed from the National Mall and its poor approximation to the Washington Metro subway system and accessibility to tourists. The Jefferson Memorial hosts many events and ceremonies each year, including memorial exercises, the National Easter Sunrise Service, and the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival.

On the American Institute of Architects list of America’s favorite architecture, it ranks fourth behind the Empire State Building, The White House, and Washington National Cathedral. The Jefferson Memorial is managed by the National Park Service under its National Mall and Memorial Parks division. The monument is open 24 hours a day but park rangers are there only until 11:30 p.m. However, the monument is only a few hundred yards from the National Park Police D.C. Headquarters in East Potomac Park.

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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.

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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.

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East Potomac Park and Hains Point

East Potomac Park and Hains Point

East Potomac Park is a section of Potomac Park located south of the Jefferson Memorial and the 14th Street Bridge, and sits on a peninsula that drives a grassy wedge between the Washington Channel and the Potomac River on the south side of the Tidal Basin (MAP). The 328-acre finger of land is bordered on the east by the Washington Channel, on the west by the Potomac River, Hains Point at the southern end, and is separated from West Potomac Park by the iconic Jefferson Memorial.

The peninsula on which the park is located was created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  After a disastrous flood in 1881, the Corps of Engineers dredged a deep channel in the Potomac and used the material to create the current banks of the river and raise much of the land near The White House and along Pennsylvania Avenue.  Much of the dredged material was also utilized to build up existing mudflats in the Potomac River as well as sandbars which had been created by resultant silting, including the peninsula which led to the creation of Potomac Park on March 3, 1897.

In addition to providing terrific views of the city, East Potomac Park also features many of Washington’s famous Kanzan cherry trees.  These double-blossoming cherry trees line Ohio Drive and bloom about two weeks after the single-blossoming Toshino variety that attracts throngs of tourists to the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin during the National Cherry Blossom Festival each spring.

Ohio Drive, which is a six-mile loop that runs the perimeter of East Potomac Park, is a popular route with bicyclists, runners and walkers, and inline skaters.  And a scenic riverfront sidewalk, which winds around the park’s shoreline, remains a popular place for fishing, despite falling apart and literally sinking into the river in places.  The park is also home to one 18-hole and two 9-hole public courses at the East Potomac Park Golf Course, a driving range and a miniature golf course, a public swimming pool (the East Potomac Park Aquatic Center), tennis courts, picnic facilities, a playground, and a recreation center.

The southern end of the park at the end of the peninsula is known as Hains Point.  This location offers stunning views of the river, as well as Fort McNair and the National War College in D.C. to the east. To the west, visitors can watch planes take off and land at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, located across the Potomac River in Virginia.  Hains Point was also formerly the home of a popular public artwork entitled “The Awakening,” a 70-foot sculpture depicting the arousing of a bearded giant who is embedded in the earth.  However, the sculpture was sold in 2008, and the new owner moved it to its current location at National Harbor in Prince Georges County, Maryland.

It is rare for anything in D.C. to lack controversy or intrigue, and East Potomac Park is no exception.  In 2004, an area of four acres adjacent to the National Park Service offices at Ohio and Buckeye drives was enclosed by a 10-foot high security fence and large beige metal buildings were constructed. The action, initiated by the U.S. Navy, bypassed normal multi-agency review procedures usually required for the use or taking of Federal parkland.  The Navy, which operates the site, calls the work a “utility assessment and upgrade” and will not say if the project is classified or whether it has a name.  Nor will the Navy say how much it cost, how many people were on the job or why it was needed.

When questioned about activity at the site, D.C.’s non-voting delegate in the House of Representatives, Eleanor Holmes Norton, advised that she “is aware of what’s going on but cannot comment.”  Similarly, Frederick J. Lindstrom, acting secretary of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, advised that he had been advised that it would be illegal for him to discuss the matter.  Lindstrom went on to state, “Let’s just say when they’re finished, you’ll be glad they’ve done what they’ve done.”

Athough the Navy originally advised that work at the complex would last approximately four years, a decade later the ongoing activity and construction that goes on inside the security fence, involving regular arrival and departure of dump trucks, remains a mystery.  Amid the secrecy, theories about the four-acre complex and hangar-like structures abound.  In a city which contains radiation tracking instruments atop the Federal Reserve building, biowarfare sensors analyzing the air on the National Mall in front of the Smithsonian Institution castle, and antiaircraft systems on a rooftop next to the White House, the Navy’s secretive activity on East Potomac Park is presumed by many to be related to national security.

Although we may never know the details of the Navy’s activity there, that should not prevent visitors from enjoying the remaining 324 acres of this active yet pastoral park.

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The Cherry Blossoms Around The Tidal Basin

The Cherry Blossoms Around The Tidal Basin

Of the numerous and varied attractions worth visiting in D.C. and the surrounding area, most are permanent fixtures.  The monunments and memorials, the statues and museums, the buildings and parks – all are available and routinely visited year round.  But one of the capitol city’s biggest attractions is one of the few that is temporary in nature.  Occurring for only a few days each spring, the blooming of the cherry trees surrounding the Tidal Basin is one of the biggest attractions in the city, bringing in visitors from around the country and around the world.

The cherry trees have been a fixture in D.C. for just over a century, but not as long as originally planned.  In the summer of 1909, the Embassy of Japan informed the U.S. Department of State that the city of Tokyo intended to donate 2,000 cherry trees to the United States.  However, when the trees arrived the following year, the inspection team from the Department of Agriculture found that the trees were infested with insects and roundworms, and recommended that the trees be destroyed.  President William Howard Taft subsequently gave the order to burn the trees.

Two years later, a total of 3,020 replacement cherry trees consisting of 12 different species were shipped on Valentines Day, and subsequently arrived in D.C. on March 26.   In a ceremony the following day, First Lady Helen Taft and the wife of the Japanese ambassador planted the first two of these trees on the north bank of the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park.  Today, these original two trees still stand at the terminus of 17th Street Southwest, marked by a large plaque.  A few years later, the United States government responded with a gift of flowering dogwood trees to the people of Japan.

From 1913 to 1920, trees of the Somei-Yoshino variety, which comprised 1800 of the gift, were planted around the Tidal Basin. Trees of the other 11 species, and the remaining Yoshinos, were planted in East Potomac Park.  In 1965, Japan gifted additional Yoshino trees, many of which were subsequently planted on the grounds of The Washington Monument.  Since then, the number of trees has expanded to approximately 3,750 trees of 16 species in three National Park Service locations – the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park, East Potomac Park, and on the grounds of the Washington Monument.

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