Posts Tagged ‘Washington Monument’

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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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The Jefferson Pier

When tourists on the grounds of The Washington Monument gaze up at the tribute to our nation’s first President, they seldom are aware of the other, smaller but similarly-shaped stone monument that is also located there on the same grounds, in the shadows of the 555-foot obelisk that towers over the National Mall.  Or if they do happen to notice it, they have no idea what it is.  It is called the Jefferson Pier, and it is only 391 feet on a northwest diagonal from the center of the Washington Monument. However, it pre-dates the Washington Monument. In fact, the original stone monument served as a marker, aiding surveyors and serving as a benchmark during construction of the monument.

On December 18th, 1804, a simple granite obelisk was erected at the intersection of lines from the front doors of the White House, known at that time as the Executive Mansion, and the U.S. Capitol Building. That intersection is etched on the top of the stone marker. The stone was located along 16th Street, almost due south of the center of the White House, due west of the center of the Capitol building, and due north of the center of the Jefferson Memorial (MAP). It was intended as part of a meridian system used to align city streets and in the development of the young nation’s new capital.  It was also the destination for this lunchtime bike ride.

President Thomas Jefferson wished for the new national capital to be a new “first meridian,” the longitude (0′ 0″) from which distance and time would be measured. But the 16th Street meridian never became the official prime meridian. Instead, a meridian on 24th Street did.  Then in 1884, the world recognized the longitude of Greenwich, England as the prime meridian, and it remains so today.

To understand how the meridian stone came to be known as “The Jefferson Pier” it is necessary to first understand that the geography of the city was originally much different than it is now. Tiber Creek flowed through that area of the city, and the entire Mall area west of where the Washington Monument is now located was under water. Tiber Creek, along with several other small streams, were eventually transformed into the Washington City Canal, a system that connected the Washington Waterfront, the Capitol Building, the White House and other areas downtown with The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and Towpath‘s first lock in Georgetown during the mid to late 1800’s. Boats and barges navigating the Washington City Canal via the C&O Canal and the Potomac River routinely used the meridian stone marker as an anchoring post. Although it was never officially designated so, the name used by boat captains and others stuck, and the prime meridian marker they used as an anchoring post for their boats came to be referred to as the Jefferson Pier.

The original stone marker was destroyed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1874. But the spot was recovered and a replacement marker was erected December 21, 1889. This is the stone that remains today. The stone reads, “Position of Jefferson Pier Erected Dec. 18, 1804. Recovered and Re-Erected Dec. 2, 1889. District Of Columbia.” A line has also been etched out on the face of the stone to indicate where the shoreline of the Potomac River once reached the Pier Stone.

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The Washington Monument

I most often tend to ride to and then write about the D.C. area’s lesser-known, off-the-beaten-path monuments, memorials and other attractions. But for this lunch time bike ride I chose to do the opposite. I visited one of the most well known and widely recognized monuments in not only D.C., but the entire world – the 555-foot and 5-inch obelisk known as The Washington Monument. But what I find most interesting about the monument are details about it that are not well-known. Not only did the simplistic appearance of the monument turn out significantly different than what was originally envisioned, it is not located in the place where it was originally intended. And it isn’t even the first Washington Monument in D.C.

Just days after Washington’s death in 1799, a Congressional committee proposed that a pyramid-shaped mausoleum be erected within the Capitol which would also serve as a monument to the nation’s first president. However, a lack of funds, disagreement over what type of memorial would best honor him, and the Washington family’s reluctance to move his body from his Mount Vernon home prevented progress on the proposed project.

Years later, on the 100th anniversary of President Washington’s 1732 birthday, the Washington National Monument Society was formed by former President James Madison and then current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Marshall, and began accepting donations to build a monument. Four years later, a renewed interest in construction a monument resulted in a design competition being held by the Society. The winning design came from architect Robert Mills, who also designed a number of Federal buildings in D.C., including the Department of Treasury building, the U.S. Patent Office Building, and the old General Post Office. Mills’ design featured a flat topped obelisk topped, with a statue depicting a Roman-like Washington in a chariot in front of it, along with a rotunda and colonnade, all surrounded by 30 statues depicting the country’s Founding Fathers and Revolutionary War heroes. Excavation and initial construction of the monument began on July 4, 1848.

However, a lack of funding resulted in the need to redesign the monument. In 1876 the current obelisk design was proposed. It was also during that year that President Ulysses S. Grant signed a bill for the Federal government to fund completion of the monument, which had been stalled by the Civil War. The monument’s construction took place during two phases, from 1848 to 1856, and from 1876 to 1884. A horizontal line of different colored marble from Massachusetts which was used when marble from the original quarry in Maryland was not available is visible approximately 150 feet up the monument, and indicates where construction resumed in 1876.  There is actually a third, less-noticible shade of marble that was used when the builders, dissatisfied with the Massachusetts marble, switched to another quarry in Maryland for the final marble used in the monument.  Thus, there are actually three shades to the exterior of the monument.

In addition to a change in design, a change in location also occurred. Originally, Pierre Charles L’Enfant, the city’s architect, had planned for the memorial to be placed due south of the President’s Mansion (now known as the White House), and directly West of the Capital Building. However, the soil at that spot proved too unstable to provide the necessary support for the massive obelisk that had been proposed. So the planned site was moved. The present day monument is 119 meters southwest of the planned site, which is marked by a stone and plaque called the Jefferson Pier.

Delays in construction of the Washington Monument were due to the halting of construction between 1854 and 1877 due to a lack of funds, infighting within the Washington National Monument Society, and the intervention of the American Civil War. It was finally completed in 1888 after more than 40 years of construction, which had begun in 1848. During the interim, however, a comparatively modest monument in the form of an equestrian statue depicting Washington riding his horse during the Battle of Princeton was constructed.  Now known as The Lieutenant General George Washington Statue, it was completed in 1860, more than a quarter of a century before the completion of the more well-known monument.

Located at 2 15th Street (MAP) near Madison Drive in downtown D.C., there are many other details and things you may not know about the monument that has become a centerpiece of the National Mall. For example, it held the title as the tallest structure in the world at the time it was completed. It lost that title in 1889 with the completion of the Eiffel Tower. However, the Washington Monument remains the world’s tallest stone structure as well as the world’s tallest obelisk. The monument stands as the tallest structure in D.C., and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future because, by law, no other building in the national capitol city is allowed to be taller than Washington Monument.

Some other interesting facts about the Washington Monument include the following.  The Masonic gavel previously used by George Washington in the laying of the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol Building in 1793 was also used in the Washington Monument’s 1848 cornerstone ceremony, that had an eclectic guest list which included three future presidents, James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson, as well as Dolley Madison and Alexander Hamilton’s widow, Betsey Hamilton and, of course, the then-current President, James K. Polk. Also, there are numerous items and copies of important documents contained in a zinc case in the recess of the monument’s time capsule-like cornerstone, including: the Holy Bible; copies of the Constitution of the United States Declaration of Independence; a portrait of Washington; a map of the city as it was at that time; the 1840 United States Census; all national coins then in circulation including the $10 gold eagle; an American flag; the Washington family coat of arms, and; newspapers from 14 states.

Additionally, the obelisk rests on an artificially constructed knoll that was designed to hide the original foundation. The monument is hollow on the inside, but its inner walls are set with 189 carved memorial stones, which were donated by individuals, cities, states, Native American tribes, companies, foreign countries, and even the pope. There are 897 steps in the staircase that leads to the top of the monument. The walls at the monument’s base are 15 feet thick. The Monument’s 36,491 white marble ashlar blocks, weighing a total of 90,854 tons, are held together by just gravity and friction, and no mortar was used in the process. And lastly, there are lightning rods at the top to protect the structure from lightning strikes, as well as eight synchronized blinking red lights, two on each face, which serve as warning lights to keep aircraft from striking the structure.

So now that you know a little more about the monument that is not quite as simple as it initially appears, I recommend you go see the Washington Monument for yourself.  Whether it is your first time or you have seen the monument before, you may find that you have a new appreciation for it.

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The Old Post Office Pavilion

Located approximately halfway between the White House and the U.S. Capitol Building, at 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), is the Old Post Office Pavilion, an historic building of the Federal government.  Also known as the Old Post Office and Clock Tower, the Romanesque Revival style building is an iconic structure and one of the most recognized buildings in D.C.  Built between 1892 to 1899, upon its completion it was used as the U.S. Post Office Department Headquarters and the city’s main post office until 1914.  It has been used primarily as an office building since then.

At 315 feet tall, the Old Post Office’s clock tower ranks third in height among the buildings in the national capital city, behind the nearby Washington Monument and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. From an observation deck at the 270-foot level, the tower offers incredible panoramic views of D.C. and the surrounding area. Beneath the observation deck is the tower clock, which is now more than a century old. Below that, on the tenth floor, are the Bells of Congress. These bells are replicas of those at London’s Westminster Abbey, and were a gift from England during the U.S. Bicentennial celebration in 1976, commemorating friendship between the nations.  They are rung at the opening and closing of Congress and for national holidays.

At times the building has had a precarious existence, and came close to being torn down on more than one occasion.  It has also undergone a number of changes and renovations over the years.  In the 1920’s the building was nearly demolished during the construction of the Federal Triangle complex.  In 1964, the President’s Council on Pennsylvania Avenue recommended the demolition of all but the clock tower.  The recommendation was subsequently approved by Congress. But as a result, local citizens banded together, and with the help of advocates in Congress, were able to convince Congress to reverse its decision.  Helping to ensure its future, the building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.  It is also a contributing property to the Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site.  Despite this, it again faced demise when it was nearly torn down in the 1970s to make way for completion of massive Federal Triangle development project.  However, it was once again spared.

Major renovations to the building occurred in 1976 and 1983, with the last renovation resulting in the addition of a food court and retail space on the ground level, and private and government office space in the upper levels. At that time, this mixed-use approach garnered national attention as a innovative approach to historic preservation.  Most recently, in 1991, an addition was added to the structure which contained more retail space.  However, the biggest change to the Old Post Office Pavilion is yet to come.  At the beginning of this year the food court and stores were closed down.  And earlier this month the remaining offices in the building and the clock tower closed.  This was done to begin the next chapter in the building’s life.

In 2013, the U. S. General Services Administration leased the property for the next 60 years to Donald Trump.  The Trump Organization said it would develop the property into a 250-plus room luxury hotel, to be named Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C.  Along with the hotel, the development is slated to include an upscale spa, art gallery, café, bar, three high-end restaurants, a fitness center, library, lounge with fountain, several luxury retail shops, and a large-scale meeting and banquet facility.  The company also pledged to create a small museum dedicated to the history of the building, and to maintain the Bells of Congress and the building’s historic exterior.  The National Park Service will retain control over the clock tower and observation deck and it will keep them open to the public for tours.

It is hoped that the building’s next incarnation will help spark an economic renaissance in D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood.  But much like the history of the Old Post Office Pavilion itself, only time will tell.

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

 

The Lieutenant General George Washington Statue

The Lieutenant General George Washington Statue

The monument that towers over the National Mall in downtown D.C. is universally recognized as our nation’s memorial to the ‘father of our country” and first President, George Washington.  Although it was initially proposed over one hundred years before its completion, it languished in the planning and construction stages for decades.  Finally, on February 21, 1885, The Washington Monument was official dedicated.  But few people know that the 555-foot and 5-inch obelisk was not the first monument built in D.C. to honor the new nation’s first leader.  Twenty-five years earlier, on February 22, 1860, a statue to memorialize Washington was erected in D.C.  On today’s bike ride, I went to that earlier Washington monument.

The momentum to honor George Washington first surfaced before he died in 1799. The Continental Congress of 1783 passed a resolution to erect a monument to this hero of the American Revolution in the soon-to-be-built Federal capital bearing his name.  But when a frustrated President Washington was struggling to finance and oversee construction of the new capital city on the Potomac River, he pulled the plug on funding for his own memorial.  The project resumed when plans for a memorial were adopted during the centennial of Washington’s birth in 1832.  Work on the project was interrupted by political quarreling in the 1850s, and construction ceased entirely during the Civil War. Finally, in 1876, inspired by the United States centennial, Congress passed legislation appropriating funding for completion of the monument.  It was completed almost a decade later.

By this time, however, the more modest monument, The Lieutenant General George Washington Statue, had already been installed almost a quarter of a century earlier.  The bronze equestrian statue of Washington riding his horse during the Battle of Princeton depicts him in the heroic, idealized Romantic style.  It was installed where the Foggy Bottom and West End neighborhoods meet, in the center of a park in the traffic circle at the intersection of 23rd Street, K Street, New Hampshire Avenue, and Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP).

The statue is part of the “American Revolution Statuary“, a group of fourteen statues in D.C., and are scattered across the city, mainly in squares and traffic circles.  They are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.

This monument may not be the most well known, or the biggest, but it does predate the more well-known monument on the National Mall.

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