This summer has been so busy for so many reasons that I have not had much time to do what I had been doing quite a bit of before this summer – and that is spending a day, or a good part of the day, roaming the city. Today, my calendar was empty, so I decided to take advantage of a small lull. I left the house about 9:30 this morning, and returned about 4. As to my roaming skill – I think I’m a little out of practice.
It was a pretty nice day – a bit too humid, but not too hot. My walk to the Van Ness was not out of the ordinary. My only stop was at the mailbox at Connecticut and Albemarle, where a young woman and her do dogs were communing in front of the mailbox and had to step aside. I escalated into the station, and found four young men – I would guess in their twenties – looking like sort of the type you wouldn’t want your sister to marry. Their English was none too good, and their comprehension of the Metro fare structure and system was worse; the Metro lady trying to help them was having a difficult time communicating with them. I decided that there was nothing I could add but more confusion, so I went on.
I had decided to go to the National Portrait Gallery, to see a Matthew Brady exhibit, so I stayed on the train until it got to Gallery Place/Chinatown, where I got off at the 9th street exit. I had forgotten that this museum, located right there, didn’t open until 11:30 – almost an hour later – so I needed to decide what Plan B was. I thought about the Hirshhorn, so began to walk south from the station. I was surprised by what I saw – several homeless people camped out on 9th street, on the west side of the museum, with all their worldly goods scattered about, including one who was living in a bright orange tent. Then I saw that, on the museum side of the complex, on the other side of the low wrought iron fence, there was an extraordinary amount of trash. What’s going on here?
When I got to the corner of 9th and F, I looked at the Marriott Courtyard Hotel, the old Riggs National Bank Building, now also the home of a Gordon Biersch restaurant. Built in 1891, it is one of my favorite buildings in downtown DC. I took a nice photo, and thought that maybe I should photograph the buildings in DC that I find architecturally distinctive. There is so much mediocre design here, that sometimes you forget the good stuff. This building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places over 45 years ago. The architect was James Hill, who also designed the General Printing Office Building on North Capitol Street (which I walked by today) and St. Margaret’s Church on Connecticut Avenue, which I pass all the time.
I crossed F Street and turned left towards 7th (the Hirshhorn is at Independence and 7th), walked past the Spy Museum, and decided to duck into the gift/book shop of that museum. It’s a shop I really like, with a very large selection of books dealing with the spy and intelligence biz, every single one of which I would like to read. I’ve never bought a book there, however, since they sell them at full retail, and even their sale books average about $20 each. But I looked around for a while and realized it still was not 11:30.
I walked by the Hotel Monaco, crossed 7th Street, and continued south, until I got to Constitution. The Monaco, by the way, is located in an old Post Office Building, constructed in the 1830s and designed by Robert Mills, who also designed the Treasury Department building, and the Patent Office Building, which now houses the National Portrait Gallery and the American Art Museum. Then, I changed my mind, and decided that I would save the Hirshhorn for another day and instead go to the National Postal Museum where they had an exhibition on the National Park System. The Postal Museum is located next to Union Station in the city’s main post office building. Like the National Portrait Gallery, it’s a Smithsonian Museum.
I like the National Archives, located at 7th and Constitution, but decided to exclude U.S. Government buildings from my architecture project. I turned left on Constitution, and walked past the United States Courthouse (a particularly unattractive building) and a fine statue of early Chief Justice John Marshall. At the east side of the courthouse, there is a statue that I had forgotten about – a statue of William Blackstone. 18th century English judge and legal scholar who, surprising when you think about it, died in his mid-50s, before his work was really completed. This statute was completed in 1920 by Paul Wayland Bartlett, a well known American sculptor. He also designed some of the historical pediments on the Capitol (not completed until the early 1900s), and a couple of statues found inside the Library of Congress. For my continuing project of photographing DC outdoors sculpture, I took a picture of Blackstone, which I will post on Facebook.
I crossed the street for a brief detour because I noted a sculpture on the eastern side of the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art, a sculpture by well known artist Frank Stella. Took a picture of that too, for Facebook. Stella is still around; he is 81.
From there, I noted two buildings on the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue. The first houses the apparently financially stressed Newseum; I decided that, although it is new and rather unique, it was not a building that I feel distinguished. Next to it is the Canadian Embassy; it is, to me, a very nicely designed building, but I decided I had to take its photo between December and March, but the trees surrounding it kept me from getting the view I’d like.
Crossing back and continuing to walk past the uninspiring Frances Perkins Building housing the Labor Department (how many people can identify her and her good work today?) to a much nicer building housing Washington Gas Light (maybe it’s now only WGL), the local gas utility. This structure is not beautiful from all angles, but it is from some, so I took a picture to add to my architecture project (I now have 2 photos – in my statue collection, I have more like 250 photos), as I turned the corner up Louisiana Avenue.
But rather than continuing up Louisiana to Union Station (I decided the food court here would have my lunch), I decided to take another detour to the Robert Taft Memorial and Carillon across the street. It’s a 100 foot tall marble tower with 27 bells (I had heard a few of them ring at the 11:30 mark). Another two photos – I could not remember whether or not I already had these in my statue collection. Robert A. Taft, son of William Howard, Senator from Ohio, “Mr. Republican”, competitor to Eisenhower for the 1952 Republican presidential nomination. I am sure that no one under 60 knows anything about him (except perhaps in Ohio).
Continuing up the street, I saw an unusual cigarette package on the sidewalk (yes, that’s another collection). This one was an Italian Benson & Hedges package, with a picture of a naked man curled up on a bed, and (in Italiano) stating that smoking can lead to impotence. A bit weird, to put it mildly, and certainly worth keeping.
A few more homeless people hanging out in front of Union Station, designed by Daniel Burnham (he also designed the well known Flat Iron Building in New York) and opened in 1907, but remodeled several times, and now a food and shopping facility as well as a busy railroad station (and Amtrak’s headquarters). The latest upgrade has recently been completed, and I haven’t looked at everything, but it does look pretty spiffy. The main lobby is now less crowded, because the central restaurant has been removed, and there are attractive benches for people to relax on. It does seem that the retail business has slowed down a bit – although the only vacant stores seem to all be in the process of being converted for a new tenant, but there is more food on the main floor where there had been more retail establishments. There is still the large Victoria’s Secret and H & M, and a number of other specialty shops, to be sure, but it looked like several stores are gone – like the Swatch watch store (just to name one example). In addition, some of the shops that were specialty shops have now been enlarged so that the food shops at the next parallel level (there are four parallel corridors – the lobby, the specialty shops, the tickets, the train doors) move through to the ticket corridor. For example, the Einstein Bagel shop has been increased and now has an eat-in section.
None of this is very interesting, I know, and besides that I didn’t study it so I might be wrong in what I say (who cares?), but what is most surprising are the changes at the downstairs food court. There seem to be fewer eating establishments and less seating. An entire section is gone (where the Indian and Chinese place used to be). Also, the high end coffee bar is gone (maybe it’s been gone for a while). And, there is now a Walgreen’s Drug Store on this level, and – even more oddly – a large Samsung Galaxy Gallery in the middle of the food court. There are still multiple places to eat (how many? 20?). as there are throughout the building.
Surprisingly, I haven’t been able quickly to find a computation of how many food or other stores there are in the building. But it looks like there are more than 90 on the Union Station website. At any rate, I skipped the fancy restaurants on the main and second floors, and the new casual places on the west side of the main floor – which include Chopt, Roti, Potbelly, and Chipotle. I went down to the food court, and stopped at the first place, Lotus Express and asked for the orange chicken and two sides special, for about $6.50. It turns out that you don’t get a choice of sides (according to the young server), but have to take fried rice and a cabbage/broccoli combination, along with the orange chicken pieces, which look not so much like normal orange chicken, but more like tater tots. At any rate, I’d give the meal a B-, which is better than I thought it would be when I saw it being put on the plate.
I through away the trash and started towards the escalator, when I ran into my friend Bert Foer who was there with his son Jonathan Safran Foer, and two of his grandchildren (who look very big), who were apparently passing through town on their way to Colorado.
Leaving Union Station, I walked just next door to the Postal Museum. I went through the metal detector, walked around the exhibits for a few minutes, and walked out. I really like this museum, but I must admit that I don’t enjoy it. It’s very well done, it has a lot of valuable stamps, and more than that has a lot of information about postal history (with supporting items and relics). But I like the fact that it’s there much more than I like actually being there. Now that I am home at night, I say to myself “I’d like to go to the Postal Museum soon”. Go figure.
What to do after leaving the museum? First, I walked up North Capitol Street, to the Government Printing Office, a building I have always admired. It was built in 1903 and designed by the sames James Hill who designed the Riggs National Bank Building on 9th Street. (I just read, by the way, that Frederick Douglass’ son was the first African-American typesetter at the GPO – interesting.)
Walking by the GPO, having turned left off North Capitol, I realize that I was close to one of the District’s Walmart. I had not been in any of them, but I needed (or rather, I wanted) a new inexpensive brief case (I had thrown out two of them within the last month) and I thought they might have something, which they did. A nice black cloth (?) briefcase made in Cambodia, of all places.
The Walmart is very near one of the city’s largest and oldest male homeless shelter. Like a lot of shelters, they don’t let you hang around inside during the day, so the surrounding area is filled with homeless men talking and sleeping. A little disconcerting. As to Walmart, it was very busy, with a very mixed clientele (and a very mixed group of employees, it seems). I felt like I had entered a different culture. I had to ask a couple of employees where the luggage and cases were, and each time they told me in ways that I found hard to understand. “See where that sign that says ‘Home’ is? Well, don’t go that way, but go this way until you see where that woman is and turn left and then walk past the ‘Home’ sign and turn right and you’ll find it.” [That didn’t work]. “Go through the baby section and turn to the right.” [That didn’t work.] Eventually, I did find it. But there was no price tag, and someone else told me I had to go to the microwaves and then look for the machine that would read the bar code and give me a price. Very sophisticated, I thought.
Then, when I got to the cashier, who was very pleasant, I was told that the store could not process credit cards, only cash or debit cards. No one knew why, but it hadn’t been fixed yet.
From Walmart, I walked back to Union Station and took the Metro to Dupont Circle, to do my normal review of the outside books at Second Story. They were just taking down last week’s suggestion and putting in the new selection, so I went down the street to Emissary Coffee, and sat outside with an iced coffee writing a letter to Donald Trump (if you’re my Facebook friend, you understand this). Then back to Second Story, where I bought a signed copy of Gloria Vanderbilt’s autobiography, and a harder to find biography of David Francis, the man who chaired the St. Louis 1904 World’s Fair.
Then walked down to 18th and Connecticut, an L2 bus home, looking at the mail, taking my car to get washed and picking up some food for supper.
That’s it, folks.