The Corcoran Gallery of Art

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After Octagon House detour, backtrack east on New York Avenue to State Place to 17th Street NW. Turn right on 17th and walk south. The impressive Beaux Arts building hugging the street on the right is The Corcoran Gallery of Art.

Pink Millford granite covers the basement level; brick faced with white Georgia Cherokee marble covers the upper levels.  It exudes elegance, inside and out.

Walk midway down 17th Street NW to the entrance. Make your way past the 8 foot bronze Canova Lions lounging in the sun to experience the rotating exhibits inside – of one of the finest collections of 18th, 19th and 20th century American art anywhere, as well as an impressive collection of European art – plus the Salon Doré, an entire gilded Louis XVI salon transported here from Paris by way of the home of donor, Senator William Andrews Clark of Montana.

The American exhibits include fine 18th century portraiture; Remington’s action-packed bronzes; distinctive paintings of Whistler, Sargent and Homer; landscapes from the Hudson River School; and the contemporary art of Warhol and Rothko.

The European exhibits include the works of Dutch and Flemish artists and French Impressionists gifted over the years by Senator Clark and other generous benefactors.

Since The Corcoran Gallery of Art began exhibiting its wonderful collection, first in 1871 in the 2nd Empire gem, now the Renwick (Site #33) , and later in 1897 in this magnificent building, it has remained true to the objectives of its founder, 19th century banker and philanthropist William Wilson Corcoran: to have a public gallery “for the purposes of encouraging America Genius.”

Allow about 1 hour to enjoy the gallery. It’s open Wed-Sunday 10-5. Plan to lunch at the Café des Artistes inside, open 11-2 Wed-Sat.  For a real treat, try it for brunch on Sundays – and tour the gallery before or after.

Telephone: 202-639-1700

Web: https://www.corcoran.org/

Address: 500 Seventeenth Street NW, Washington, DC

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Lafayette Park

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Lafayette Park, interchangeably referred to by its old name, Lafayette Square, is a 7-acre green space north of the White House across Pennsylvania Avenue.  It’s a nice place to walk, with five historically interesting, dramatically unique and artistically complex statues to see.

Enter the park from the center of the south side (Pennsylvania Ave.)  You can’t miss the two large 5 feet high, 4 feet wide fronze urns on top of tall pedestals.  These are the Navy Yard Urns, named for the place they were cast in 1872, the U.S. Navy Yard in Washington.

Of interest – the urns were cast in the same furnaces used during the Civil War to cast the Navy’s brass cannons.  Some speculate Civil War cannons were melted and used to cast the urns, but there is no documentation.  Speculation also surrounds their origins.  Circumstances link them their creation to landscape architecte Andrew Jackson Downing. They were in his 1852 plan for the park, but not placed here until 20 tears later.

With the exception of the prominent equestrian statue in the center – a memorial to Major General Andrew Jackson – the statues in Lafayette Park are in keeping with the federal-era neighborhood.  In each of the four corners, dramatic groupings memorialize Revolutionary War heroes, foreigners who came to the timely aide of a struggling Continental Army – a Pole, a Prussian, two Frenchmen.

An inscription on the north side of the pedestal of the de Rochambeau statue in the southwest corner of the park explains this unique bond:

“We have been contemporaries and fellow laborers in the cause of liberty and have lived together as brothers do in harmonious friendship – Washington to Rochambeau, February 1, 1784.”

Lafayette Park was first intended to be the grand front lawn of the President’s House.  L’Enfant’s original 1791 city plan called for a grand park extending north from the President’s House. President Jefferson, finding this too aristocratic for his taste, cut off the Executive Mansion from the green space to its north by an extension of Pennsylvania Avenue.

In 1821, Charles Bulfinch (see Bulfinch Gatehouse, Site #3) designed a plan for the separate square which was named for the Marquis de Lafayette, Revolutionary War hero and first foreign guest to stay at the White House.

Throughout the first half of the 1800s, the neighborhood around Lafayette Square was the fashionable place to be.  It was home to vice-presidents, members of Congress and diplomats.

Then, during the chaotic Civil War era until the end of the 19th century, the neighborhood began to be developed haphazardly.  It lost its luster. The park deteriorated.  It was at times a zoo, a graveyard, a military encampment, slave market, and a place for protests.  Protesters still gather here, within sight of the White House.

By the turn of the 20th century, the entire federal city was experiencing uncontrolled growth. In an effort to bring architectural cohesion, the McMillan Senate Park Commission was formed in 1901 to develop a plan to ensure the future growth of a classically beautiful federal city closely aligned with L’Enfant’s original plan and George Washington’s vision.  While they succeeded in many areas, their plan for a group of classical government buildings in the Lafayette Square area never materialized.  That proved to be a good thing in the long run..

It was through the efforts of Jacqueline Kennedy in the early 1960s that this treasured federal-era enclave wa saved.  Because of her intervention,  the historic townhouses around the square were spared from demolition and the park was once again re-designed.

Lafayette Statue

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Walk east across the south end of the park to the southeast corner. The heroic bronze grouping is a fitting memorial to General Marquis Gilbert de Lafayette for his role on behalf of America’s quest for liberty.  It graphically tells the story of the involvement of France in the American Revolution.

The assistance of the France in general, and Lafayette in particular, was so important to the success of the American Revolution that Congress commissioned this work by sculptors Jean Alexandre Joseph Falguiere and Marius Jean Antonin Mercie, winners of a competition held to create it.

Lafayette stands atop the marble pedestal, surrounded by dramatic figures on each of the four sides.  He is depicted in civilian dress, but under his draped cloak, his hand rests on a sword. His civilian dress represents his diplomatic role; the sword represents his military role, both essential to his efforts.

It is said he is petitioning before the French National Assembly for help from France for the American cause. The bronze female figure looking up at Lafayette with sword lifted high represents America, pleading for help. France’s involvement in the success of the American Revolution is acknowledged on the east and west sides of the pedestal.

On the west side, Commanders of the French army in America, Comte de Rochambeau (Site #22) and the Chevalier du Portail, discuss ground battle plans. The anchor on the east side provides a clue to the role of the two figures depicted here – Comte d’Estaing and Comte de Grasse, commanders of the naval force sent by France as a result of Lafayette’s petition.

The thanks of a grateful Congress for the services rendered by General Lafayette and his compatriots to the American cause are inscribed on the north side of the pedestal, between two plump little cherubs holding hands.

The story-book quality of this hero is the stuff of legends.

To get to America, 19 year old Lafayette financed his own journey aboard his ship the Victoire, arriving in 1777, ready to fight for the American cause. He served as aide de camp to General George Washington, as major general in the Continental Army, distinguishing himself during the Battle of Yorktown, where he even gained the respect of the defeated British for maneuvering them into a position where no choice by to surrender.  In addition to his battlefield efforts, Lafayette petitioned the French for financial and naval assistance on behalf of the American cause.

He was a frequent visitor to the White House and a welcomed figure in Congress.  The dashing young Frenchman was also received with great honor and fanfare in Washington’s social circles.

St. John’s Church

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The simple, elegant Federal-style yellow church across from Lafayette Park at the corner of H and 16th Streets has been on this site since 1816.  It’s the Church of Presidents, where every president since James Madison has attended on a regular basis or for an occasional service.

Inside is the Pew of Presidents. When Madison attended, he sat in a reserved pew, #28.  During interior enlargements in 1822, it became pew #54, set aside to this day for a presidential visit.

As one of the earliest structures in the federal city, St. John’s Church stood alone with its White House neighbor in a barren landscape. The original Federal-style design by Benjamin Latrobe was in the form of a Greek cross topped by a central lantern cupola, a somewhat boxy appearance.

Typical of Latrobe’s work, it was graceful inside.  Massive pillars were placed at the intersection of the transepts; a circular gallery supported by columns surrounded the interior; aisles of brick provided a unique Federal-era touch.

Between 1820 and 1822, the nave (where the congregation sits) was extended westward towards 16th Street, creating an elongated Latin cross. The columned entrance portico topped by the tall timber-frame steeple fronting H Street today was also added. The church bell, cast by Paul Revere’s son, Joseph, has been in continuous service since it was installed in 1822.

When the chancel was extended eastward in 1880, the clear glass windows of the original church were replaced by stained-glass, in vogue during this Victorian era. Today, over 20 stained glass windows depicting the life of Christ and Biblical scenes bathe the sanctuary in a warm glow.

Despite these renovations and additions, many elements of the building’s Federal architecture have been maintained. For a glimpse of a piece of the original church, look behind the steeple to the center of the roof – there’s the shorter, original lantern cupola.

The location of the Church of President’s is historically interesting and the subject of intrigue.  It was placed on 16th street, aligned on the 2nd Washington Prime Meridian.  This Prime Meridian runs straight through the White House, through the center of the Ellipse, and to the Jefferson Pier, the intended site of the Washington Monument. (See #7 Zero Milestone)

Established in 1804 by Thomas Jefferson, the White House-centered Prime Meridian is just one of the many intrigues surrounding the establishment of the early federal city. Was the placement of the Church of Presidents along the White House Prime Meridian a coincidence or purposeful?

Telephone: 202-347-8766

Web: https://www.stjohns-dc.org

Address: 1525 H St NW, Washington, DC

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Basics

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Weather

Washington’s temperate climate is mild compared to many areas in the United States.

Avg. High Avg. Low
January- February 45° 25°
March 55° 33°
April 66° 42°
May 76° 52°
June 84° 62°
July- August 88° 66°
September 80° 57°
October 69° 44°
November 58° 36°
December 47° 28°

Seasons

Washington has four distinct seasons. The most popular for tourists is spring, a lovely time of year. At the first blush of the cherry blossoms at the end of March, the city bursts with activity. Throughout April, the delicate blossom can be seen on walking tours, by bike, on photo safaris, by paddle boat in the Tidal Basin. The flowering is celebrated at events, performances, exhibits, symposiums and ceremonies. Favorites are the Lantern Lighting Ceremony on the Tidal Basin, the Smithsonian Kite Festival on the Mall, and the city’s largest spectator event, the Parade of the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

Summers are warm and humid, with a multitude of things to see and do. Music moves outdoors for the Hottest Smooth Jazz Festival and for the Cinco de Mayo Festival in the Sylvan Theater in the Mall. Shakespeare is performed under the stars in Rock Creek Park; splendid music is enjoyed in the coolness of the National Cathedral. Families with children in tow flock to national landmarks the children

have only seen in school books, delight at the giant pandas in the National Zoo, marvel at dinosaurs in the National Museum of Natural History and enjoy productions in Discovery Theater. Fall, crisp and glorious in autumnal color which peaks in mid to late October, is a wonderful time to visit parks and botanical gardens. Walk down the color-dappled trails of Rock Creek Park; Marvel at the red blaze of the Japanese maples in the Hillwood Museums and
Gardens
; see fabulous specimens in full foliage in the National Arboretum. In Georgetown, the spectacular gardens at Dumbarten Oaks are a must, and be sure to seek out the D. C. Millennium Landmark Tree, a tulip poplar planted more than 200 years ago at Tudor Place and Gardens.

Winter is relatively mild, the perfect time to take in the spectacular array of indoor exhibits, permanent and changing, at the countless museums: the Hirshorn, Freer, American Art Museum, National Gallery of Art, Anacostia Museum, The Phillips Collection, the Kreeger, and ever so many more. During December, the city lights up for the holidays, with the National Christmas Tree and Pathway to Peace on the Ellipse, the season’s crown jewels.

Population

The 2005 census population estimate for the city of Washington, D.C., the “District,” is 582,049. However, during the workweek, 400,000 additional people a day stream in to work from the outlying suburbs of Virginia and Maryland. The cross-section of Americans working in the city, combined with people from all points of the globe working in embassies, for international organizations and attending universities, lends a cosmopolitan atmosphere to the
nation’s capital.

Size

The 68.39 square mile capital city, bordered by Maryland on three sides and Virginia on the fourth, was carved out of land once belonging to these two states. The Potomac River, Rock Creek and the Anacostia River, run through the
city, and some of the district’s land was created by filling in the marshes along their banks. One quarter of Washington is devoted to parks, contributing to its pleasant, open feeling.

Transportation

Washington is divided into four quadrants: northeast, northwest, southeast and southwest, with the Capitol at its epicenter. You can get around D.C. by car, however parking is difficult to find and the many roundabouts and angled streets can be confusing.

The public Metrorail, convenient and easy to use, operates throughout the city, starting at 5:00am, Mon- Fri and 7am, Sat & Sun, closing at midnight Sun-Thurs, and 3am, Fri & Sat nights. Avoid the workweek rush hour. Fares are based on when and how far you travel and farecards can be purchased from machines at every station. Metrorail offers a One Day Pass offering unlimited rides. Metro Stations are marked by tall columns with a large “M” on each side, with colored strips indicating which Metro lines serve that station (Blue, Green, Orange, Red, Yellow). Another option is the D.C. Circulator, buses which circulate on three routes in and around the busy areas of downtown from 7am to 9pm. Bus stops are designated by the red and gold signs at points along the route.

When you first arrive, a great way to see the city and get around at the same time is on a narrated tour aboard the Old
Town Trolley Tours ® of Washington, D.C
. You’ll be entertained, get oriented and see places and details you might otherwise miss. The orange and green trolleys with great viewing windows provide a wonderful tour of all the
important sights. As an added bonus, you can hop off at any of the 16 stops along the tour route to explore on your own, hopping back on the next available trolley when you’re ready to resume the tour. Purchase tickets through this
website, from the concierge in hotels, or in ticket booths in Union Station and the Welcome Center at 10 th and E.

Accommodations

The list of conveniently located accommodations in Washington is long and varied. There are luxury hotels, landmark hotels, historic hotels, brand-name hotels, suite hotels, boutique hotels and charming inns. Some are pricey; others
moderate. Familiar brand name hotels are plentiful. Suite hotels are popular with families; some hotels are pet friendly. Your hotel can be part of the Washington scene, where diplomats and politicians frequent, or it can simply be a comfortable retreat from days spent sightseeing.

Original Patentees Memorial

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Along the Ellipse, at the edge of the sidewalk on 15th Street, midway between Constitution Avenue and E Street across from the Department of Commerce Building, stands a simple granite shaft with an interesting story.

It was erected by the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) in 1936 for the specific purpose of acknowledging the 18 original owners (patentees) of the “ten miles square” selected to become the federal district. The names of these early settlers who had been given grants (patents) to the land prior to 1700 are etched in the Indiana granite base.

Relief panels on each side of the granite shaft depict the bounty of colonial America – a wild turkey; a fish; and a tobacco plant and stalk of corn.

The gift of the original patentees made possible the selection of a rural, sparsely settled area along the Potomac River as the site for the federal capital of the newly formed country.  Getting there was not easy.

The choice began with a compromise reached over dinner in 1790 between arch rivals Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. The political compromise resolved several long-held contentious issues arising from the formation of the new nation, locating the capital city not in New York, Massachusetts, or even Philadelphia, but midway down the coast, on land along the Potomac River and its tributaries ceded by Maryland and Virginia, and donated by the original patentees.

The story of the patentees is also a reminder of President George Washington’s personal involvement with the planning of the capital city.

On March 29, 1791, Washington held an important meeting between those involved in planning the new capital city and the principal patentees honored by the memorial. That night, as recorded by Washington in his diary, the patentees “mutually agreed and entered into articles to surrender for public purposes one half of the land they severally possessed within the bounds which were designated as necessary for the city to stand.”

The White House / South Façade

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This is it – The President’s House.

Standing silently and stolidly, this graceful house is synonymous with the presidency of the United States of America. During the time a president is in this house, the term “The White House,” embodies the policies and the accomplishments of his administration. At the same time, it represents the stable, seamless transition of power from one president to the next – so important in American democracy.

What you see from this vantage point is the South Façade. It’s the best view there is. This is actually the back of the house. The stately main entrance, the North Façade of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue – the most famous address in the world – is on the walking tour (Site #17)

There is more to the White House Complex than what is visible from here. Artfully obscured by trees to the left is the West Wing; to the right is the East Wing.

The West Wing houses the Oval Office, the office of the President, offices of the President’s senior staff, the Cabinet Room, the Situation Room and the Press Briefing Room. The office of the First Lady and her staff, as well as offices of the social secretary and correspondence staff, are in the East Wing.

What you see here, the focal point of the complex – the historic Residence – is the home of the President and his family.  Their private quarters are on the 2nd floor. Additional bedrooms, sitting rooms, workout rooms, game rooms and offices are on the 3rd floor.

The external double staircases on either side of the columned South Portico lead to the first floor, the State Floor, whose elegant rooms are used for receptions, ceremonial occasions, and for entertaining dignitaries. The oval Blue Room, situated behind the curved portico, is flanked by the delicately hued Green Room and the gilded, color-drenched Red Room. The East Room and the large formal State Dining Room are on each end of the first floor, connected by Cross Hall.

The oval Diplomatic Reception Room, the MAP Room, the China and Vermeil Rooms, and the main kitchen are all on the ground floor.

The trees around the periphery of the property provide shade and privacy to the pool and tennis courts used by the First Family. Some of the larger trees, including the magnolias on either side of the South Portico, were planted by President Andrew Jackson.

The famous South Lawn, stretching between the fountain and the Residence, has been used by Presidents and First Ladies to host events, many involving children.  The annual Easter egg roll is a White House favorite. Parades for visiting dignitaries are sometimes held on the South Lawn.  It’s also the landing spot for Marine One, the presidential helicopter, a familiar television image.

The timeless composition beyond the fence has not always looked this way.  Its graceful balance has evolved through two centuries of alterations, additions, rebuilding and renovations, including a complete interior gutting and reconstruction

Although presidents and their families are but transitory caretakers of this historic home, from the moment they arrive it takes on their character and style.

Beginning with George Washington, who never lived in the President’s House but was involved in its architectural design, Presidents and their First Ladies have left something of themselves behind, each adding another layer to the history of this remarkable house.

The area was rural at first. Master planner L’Enfant’s intent was to have the President’s House situated in a large area he called President’s Park which included the land just to the north, now Lafayette Park (Site #18).

However, when Thomas Jefferson moved in, he disliked the grandiose implications of the huge lawn. He reduced it in size by having a new stretch of Independence Avenue cut between the White House and what is now Lafayette Park.

Construction on both the President’s House and the Capitol began in 1792, seven years before the government actually moved to the new city. Both were constructed from soft Aquia Creek sandstone, readily available and easy to transport by barge from nearby Virginia.

Over time, much of the Capitol was changed to marble (see East Mall Waking Tour App), however, the exterior of the White House is the original fragile material. While sandstone has a gray/beige hue, the building has always been white – achieved by whitewash in the early years; lustrous layers of white paint in later years.

The original neoclassic Federal-style design – a balanced, rectangular mass – was grand yet austere, a reflection of both the period and personal background of architect James Hoban.

The nation’s 2nd president, John Adams and his wife, Abigail, were its first residents, moving in the unfinished building on November 2, 1800.  The significance of the President’s House, undoubtedly felt by all those chosen to occupy it, was expressed by John Adams in a letter to his wife which was later engraved on the mantel of the State Dining Room during the administration of 32nd president, Franklin Roosevelt:

“I pray Heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house and all that shall hereafter inhabit it, may none but honest and wise men rule under this roof.”

Thomas Jefferson, who succeeded Adams, found the house to be a “very agreeable country residence,” but far too big and lacking in the design feature he believed to be fundamental element of architectural design – the Roman order of columns.

He sketched plans for graceful columned pavilions on each side of the main building to soften its appearance.  However, it was famed architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe who designed the pavilions and other additions to the grand house, including the distinctive South Portico, whose smooth columns of Doric order were so elemental to Jefferson.

During the War of 1812, the British torched the President’s House. Only a thunderstorm kept it from being totally destroyed. The ruined interior was gutted and restored as it was by the original architect, James Hoban. During that reconstruction, between 1814 and 1819, President James Madison and his wife Dolley Madison lived in the Octagon House (Site #36), the first residence in the neighborhood.

A few years later, in 1824, Hoban added the grand, curved South Portico, based on Latrobe’s design.  The North Portico was added five years later. The next additions: running water in 1833; natural gas lighting in 1848; electric lighting in 1891.

President Ulysses Grant left his mark with an ornate, high Victorian interior renovation which included Tiffany glass everywhere. He added the circular pools centered by fountains on the South and North Lawns. In keeping with Victorian decorative excess, the south fountain at the time featured classical fish figures spouting water. Large glass conservatories – indoor gardens – in vogue at the time, were added to the east and west sides of the house.

Theodore Roosevelt was the next president to make changes – major ones.  He had Grant’s Victorian décor removed and returned the interior to a more Federal style, as it was initially. In 1902 he replaced the huge glass conservatories with the West Wing addition to meet the expanding needs of the Executive Branch. It is linked to the Residence by a colonnaded gallery walkway – Thomas Jefferson’s graceful west pavilion.

The first Oval Office was built in 1909 by William Howard Taft, but not in its present location. The much photographed Oval Office of today was added to one side of the West Wing in 1934 by Franklin Roosevelt.  It overlooks the familiar Rose Garden, a lovely backdrop for White House ceremonies, which had been created in 1913 as an outdoor extension of the West Wing.

The East Wing is separated from the Residence by the Jacqueline Kennedy Gardens. The East Wing was initially built as an elegant entrance for formal White House functions. The building, as it stands today, was added to the White House in 1942 to act as cover for the secret construction going on below – a war time underground bunker. It is connected to the Residence by the glass-enclosed East Colonnade, created from the east Jefferson pavilion.

Time, use, and weight-bearing additions weakened the timber-framed sandstone building so much that in 1948, during the tenure of Harry Truman, the Residence was declared uninhabitable. The only way to fix the crumbling structure was to completely gut the interior, leaving only the exterior shell.

Newer, load-bearing steel framework was constructed inside, maintaining the plan of the interior rooms as they had been. Unfortunately, much of the historic interior finishes were lost along with the crumbling plaster and had to be reproduced.

Throughout this major renovation, the Trumans lived across the street in the Blair House. (Site #32)

During John Kennedy’s presidency, Jacqueline Kennedy spearheaded a major interior restoration to bring a museum grandeur to the historic house. With funds from private donors, the interior design elements of many of the rooms were researched, restored, refinished.  Rooms were re-decorated with antiques, art and artifacts, many original pieces that had once been in the house.

Since Mrs. Kennedy’s amazing effort, subsequent First Ladies have worked with curators to enhance and expand her work.

Telephone: 202-456-1414

Web: https://www.whitehouse.gov

Address: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC

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Alexander Hamilton Statue

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On the south patio of the magnificent Treasury Building stands an elegant bronze statue dressed in the typical attire of an 18th century gentleman:  ruffled shirt, knee breeches, buckled shoes, a dress coat.  He is holding a tri-cornered hat.

The fine statue by sculptor James Earle Fraser memorializes Alexander Hamilton, no ordinary gentleman. Military aide to George Washington and highly regarded financier, he was appointed the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury in 1789.

An ardent proponent of a strong federal government, he was in constant disagreement with Thomas Jefferson over the reach and powers of the federal government and the independence of the Department of the Treasury. He believed the department should not only collect and allocate public revenue, but also promote the country’s economic development.

His initial focus as Secretary of the Treasury was to institute a revenue system to repay the debt incurred by the Revolutionary War. He was successful, and in doing so established confidence in the young country, so necessary to its economic viability.

He established the First Bank of the United States as the financial agent of the Treasury Department – a place where public funds were deposited.  He introduced plans for the U.S. Mint to be part of the Treasury Department, but lost out to Jefferson when it was established in the State Department in 1792.  It was finally transferred back to Treasury in 1873.

The donor of the statue is unknown.  Gossip of the day attributed the statue to a mysterious, veiled woman.

Address: 1555 Alexander Hamilton Pl NW, Washington D.C.


Washington D.C. Overview

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Washington, D.C. – symbol of democracy, a magnet to people and causes, a place of power and prestige – is inspiring and interesting. Take the time to take it all in.

Washington is part history, part history in the making. The seats of power – the Capitol,the White House, and the Supreme Court – are testaments to the democratic process. In massive, often ornate, government buildings, the work of America is conducted. Extraordinary museums hold the tangible evidence of American achievement.

Visually, Washington, D.C. is lovely. Its horizontal scale is humanizing and appealing. Open space, manicured parks, and grand avenues converging at landscaped circles serve as an elegant canvas for a range of exceptional architecture spanning over 200 years.

As architectural specimens, Washington’s museums, memorials, federal buildings and historic homes chronicle the nation’s history. Through them the story of a fledgling nation unfolds as it gained stature, prominence and identity to become a global power. As repositories of the American experience for all to see, they are fascinating and moving.

Washington did not always look as it does today. Created out of farmland, swamp and forest, it began as an artificial city – as an idea of the founding fathers to build a “federal city” amid the independent-minded states. The location was chosen in 1790 by political compromise and, upon first seeing the site on which he was to plan a magnificent city under the guidance of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, the architect Pierre L’Enfant described his task as “turning a savage wilderness into a Garden of Eden.”

Although influenced by the Europe’s grand cities, the sheer vastness of the new country determined L’Enfant’s vision: “We must show the breadth of our nation with the width of our avenues and the lengths of our parks.” However, this grand vision did not materialize all at once. Growth spurts in the fledgling city were tied to key historic events, and with each crisis the city transformed itself, taking root and gaining importance and prestige.

As the plans took shape, streets were laid out and in 1792, construction began on the Georgian neoclassical “President’s House,” and the Classical Revival “house of the people,” the United States Capitol. However, the nascent capital had yet to develop an inherent identity – it was small, had dirt streets and was without sewer or water systems.

In the early city, private residences reflected the balanced simplicity of the reserved Federal architecture of the period. Wonderful examples of this distinctively American architecture can be seen in the elegant homes and in a parade of row houses, the signature residential dwellings of Washington, along the narrow, tree-lined streets in the Georgetown Historic District. Others are in Lafayette Square, across from the White House, where the first structure built was the small, simple St John’s Episcopal Church, where pew 54 has been reserved for all sitting presidents since Madison. In the 1830s, a time fraught with partisan politics, the government grew. Austere federal buildings were constructed, notably the columned Greek Revival U.S. Department of the Treasury, at the time one of the largest office buildings in the world.

By a stroke of good fortune, the Smithsonian Institute was established in 1848. James Smithson, a British scientist who had never set foot in the country, bequeathed his considerable wealth to America with the proviso that it be used to found an “establishment for the increase & diffusion of knowledge among men.” The first of its 16 spectacular national museums, the picturesque, medieval looking Smithsonian Institution Building, “The Castle,” was completed on the National Mall in 1855.

Civil War transformed Washington into a city teeming with people. It still had minimal infrastructure, was overrun by the military whose encampments were everywhere, by war wounded brought to rudimentary hospitals set up anywhere there was space, by runaway slaves who came by the thousands seeking refuge. It was chaotic, dirty and violent.

When America reunited there was a realization that her capital did not reflect stature. Massive efforts were undertaken to modernize the city whose population had doubled its pre-war size. Streets and sidewalks were paved; water and sewer system installed.

By the late 1800s and early 1900s, America was making great industrial strides, fast becoming a world economic player. Personal fortunes and increasing world prestige led to wholesale efforts to beautify America’s capital to become the cultural equal to Europe.

Power and wealth moved in and the Gilded Age of architecture in Washington began. Palatial homes were built on individual wealth accumulated through America’s success in the Industrial Revolution, and today entire neighborhoods showcase the grandeur of the time. The Dupont Circle Historic District is an immersion into a virtual museum of mansions in the decorative Beaux Arts, Victorian Queen Anne, massive Richardsonian Romanesque, baroque Spanish Colonial, and gracious Georgian Revival architecture. The Massachusetts Avenue Historic District, today’s “Embassy Row,” is a showcase of the elaborately ornamented Beaux Arts style, in vogue at the time.

Public buildings also heeded this elaborate trend. Mansard roofs and ornate granite distinguish the grand Second Empire Old Executive Office Building (1871-1888). Within its walls, Presidents had offices, dignitaries visited, and historic events took place. It now holds the Office of the Vice President and the National Security Council. The opulent gold-domed Italian Renaissance Library of Congress opened in 1897 with the intention of surpassing its European counterparts in style and substance.

Washington was the place to be, worldly and cultured. Visitors flocked in through the magnificent gateway to America’s capital, Union Station (1907), gloriously gilded, arched and columned. Concert halls and elaborate museums housing the personal collections of America’s wealthy were built and are still in place today. The Beaux Arts Corcoran Gallery of Art (1897), opened as a public gallery to exhibit William Wilson Corcoran’s personal collection of American art, one of the most comprehensives in the world. The Duncan Phillips family opened their Georgian Revival home in 1921 to exhibit their remarkable collection to the public as the Phillips Collection, thus becoming the first museum of modern art in America. The Freer Gallery of Art (1923), a low-rise neo-Italian Renaissance palazzo, opened to exhibit its benefactor’s extensive collection of American and ancient Asian art. The Japanese Cherry trees, a gift from the people of Japan, were planted around Tidal Basin in 1912.

The size of government also increased, initiating the country’s largest public construction program. The Federal Triangle, between the Capitol and the White House, was set aside to provide buildings for new agencies, each one uniformly dressed in limestone facades, red tiled hip roofs and classic colonnades. The first congressional buildings, the Cannon & Russell Buildings were completed in 1907 and 1909 in elaborate Beaux Arts style; notables stayed at the Willard Hotel, renovated on a grand scale 1904.

Having achieved prominence and confidence, America gained historic perspective and sought to honor the contributions of those key to the American experience by building classical monuments to memorialized leaders and heroes in contemplative silence. The serenely moving Lincoln Memorial was completed in1922; the cornerstone of the Jefferson Memorial, in the neo-classical design first introduced to the country by Jefferson himself, was set in 1939. The highest court in the land finally found a permanent home in 1932 in the dignified Supreme Court Building and the monumental National Archives, repository of the foundations of the nation: the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence was completed.

By 1941, Washington’s population was over 1 million, and the federal government kept growing. This expansion of government is chronicled in the authoritative neoclassical federal offices built at that time. The nation’s cultural wealth continued to grow as the blocks-long neoclassic West Building of the National Gallery of Art, exhibiting Western art spanning centuries, opened that year.

Bond drives in World War II brought glamour and publicity to the capital, energizing patriotism. A huge civilian work force supported the enlarging government; the massive, sprawling Pentagon punctuated America’s position as a super power. Victory in World War II firmly established Washington as the nation’s capital and the center of the world.

Washington was forever changed. In ensuing years, and with energy and purpose, more federal offices were built and additional exciting cultural venues with sleek lines emerged, offering awe-inspiring exhibits. Existing venues were enhanced or expanded, and moving memorials were erected to honor America’s 20th century heroes.

At the core of this remarkable city is The National Mall, an open 2-mile swath of green, stretching from the Capitol to the Washington Monument. Bordered by America’s cultural icons honoring America’s sacrifice, highlighting her diversity and representing the ingenuity of her people, this national public space – open, accessible and unpretentious – symbolizes all that is America.
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Bridge of Lions

Category: St. Augustine   Published by

The Bridge of Lions spans the Intracoastal Waterway and connects downtown St. Augustine to Anastasia Island. Lions made of marble guard the bridge, begun in 1925 and completed in 1927 across Matanzas Bay. From its earliest days, it was hailed as “The Most Beautiful Bridge in Dixie.” It has long been a symbol of the nation’s oldest city.

It gets its name from two Carrara marble lion statues that are copies of those found in the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence, Italy. The statues were a gift of Dr. Andrew Anderson (1839-1924), the builder of the Markland House. The lions reference the name “Leon” in Ponce De Leon, which means “Lion” in Spanish.

Address: Bridge of Lions, Saint Augustine, FL 32084

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