Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way
Walnut Room? This way, please.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building

 Architect Edward Larrabee Barnes created
...a shining beacon of modernism...that incorporates vast shining waterfalls of glass with a five-story atrium filled with trees...which is ...the biggest destroyer of migratory birds among the structures studied by City Wildlife. (Metcalfe, 2011, Bird impact kills in DC ranked by order of deadliest buildings)
Wow, that was really not what I was expecting to find when I looked up this building that I had noticed near Union Station while on my bus-top tour.  It seems that, although stunningly beautiful, the glass-fronted building (and others like it) when illuminated at night, attract migratory birds with deadly results.  For reasons that are not known, as the birds in a migratory path over the city spot them, they either fly into the glass walls, breaking their neck, or fly around the buildings until exhaustion sets in and they fall to the ground and die from impact or are killed by predators.
The City Wildlife project conducts studies of the buildings killing the most birds and makes efforts during migratory seasons to get the management to voluntarily reduce the lighting at night.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The World's Ugliest Building*

*  Trippy.com and Reuters
 Sometimes I just get so excited when I figure out something--like spotting this building and thinking it was brutalist...and then confirming it later.  As the bus rolled by, I was just drawn to the structure, almost mesmerized by this big ol' box of a building.  Exactly what the General Services Administration asked for in 1963 for the new headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, designed by Charles F. Murphy and Associates of Chicago:
...traditional box-like structure...incorporated the Bureau's request for a central core of files surrounded by offices.
When the Pennsylvania Avenue Advisory Council got wind of that, they requested the GSA to redesign the building to conform to the Pennsylvania Avenue Plan, which GSA sort of did, but there was that whole security thing in a building designed for the FBI and all.
 Recessed panels along the ground floor were spaced to give the illusion of two-story columns, with an "arcade-like facade" (FBI.gov, on the building's history).  Construction took 7 years.  Thirty-eight years after the first proposal for a separate FBI building was completed, 15 years after Congress approved construction, the last of the employees moved into the building--three years after it was completed.  The wheels of bureaucracy do turn slowly.
President Richard Nixon signed PL 92-520 designating the J Edgar Hoover Building just two days after Hoover's death.  The Washington Post reported in November 2011 that the FBI was "bursting at the seams" and "urgently needs...new headquarters" (O'Keefe).  The building was described as "aging" and "deteriorating" and "in need of serious repairs."  This "aging" hulk is 38 if you don't count the 7 years spent building the thing, just a baby amidst all the really old buildings in DC--like, say the Capitol for instance.  How does a concrete block deteriorate?  Was the concrete just not that well put together in the first place?  It is concrete and steel for crying out loud...not that I would question the judgment of the FBI if they say the building is deteriorating, but serious repairs?

The dcist reported that it could take up to 14 years to renovate, but the building could be demolished and rebuilt in about 7 years.  No wonder we can't get anything done.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Greek Key Brickwork: Falling in love

 You don't see many houses like this in Mississippi; in fact, I will bet there is not even one like this in the whole state.  As we were walking through the neighborhood in search of the Woodrow Wilson house, we spotted this place for sale.  It appears to be four flats, once on each floor.  The upper two floors open onto a small balcony, the first floor opens into a courtyard, and the ground floor opens into the garage--a six-car garage.
 The intriguing Greek Key pattern in the bricks ran the length of the house, front and back and sides.  Terracotta trim was also evident throughout the detail work.
 There were two half-turrets on the side elevation, consisting of a small one near the rear, and a larger one at the front corner of the building.
I do love me some good details!  The Greek Key motif began to take shape in the Early Geometric Period (900-850 BCE), according to jewelry historian Lord Hayden Peters (www.artofmourning.com), although the name Greek fret or key is a modern designation (wikipedia).  The original name is a meander or meandros, and is identified by a continuous line shaped into a repeated motif.  The symbol represents eternal flow, infinity, and eternity.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Russian Cultural Centre

 The Russian Cultural Centre is housed in a building constructed in 1895.  An early occupant was Evalyn Walsh McLean, who owned the Hope Diamond and the Washington Post, according to The Friends of the Russian Cultural Centre.  While the Centre is an agency of the Russian Government, the Friends is the US 501(c) (3) nonprofit which provides support for the Centre.
Restoration, Renovation, and Innovation took 22 months, from 1998-99.
The mansion containing 33 rooms was purchased in the 1950s by the Russian Government as a school for Embassy children.  Later, it was used for the Russian Embassy consulate.

 ...created by Bilateral Agreement between the Governments of the United States and Russian, to develop positive relations in the 21st century--That Our Two Nations Never Again Polarize.
The Mission: provide a forum where the Russian and American people can learn about and enjoy the culture of the other in the areas of Education, The Arts, Commerce, Athletics, and Science.
Interior photographs (click on "The Building" in the menu to the left) illustrate the symbol of the Centre, joined flags, the lamp of knowledge signifying that knowledge of each other's culture is the key to peace.  I second that emotion, a firm believer that knowing each other makes for better relationships, in whatever capacity.

After Ms. McLean, the occupants were the Benjamin Franklin Pilson family; the three Pilson children founded The Friends of the Russian Cultural Centre.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

It's all in the details.

This has been a much needed break this week.  The semester has flown by, and demanded much in a short period of time.  Coming home from DC last week dealt my body a blow I could not shake off.  I'll spare the details, but when I went to the doctor last Friday, she said no 12 hours in a car travel to Texas.

Randy went on alone to see his dad, and J and I stayed here--just us and the 5 dogs and 7 cats.  (Not my cats, at least not intentionally mine, that is.  Strays that wander up and I feed them.)  I do, however, have to claim intentionally having 5 dogs, but pretty much for the same reason.  Organizing and sorting out the feeding, exercise, yard time, play time for 5 dogs, 2 of whom cannot be together at the same time, is no easy task.

In between that, I have managed to do a whole lot of nothing--slept late, cooked superb meals, and done a bit of laundry, but mostly just hanging.  My body thanks me.  In only 4 days, I am well on the road to recovery, feeling great and energetic, and continuing to lose weight.  I have maintained healthy eating and exercise for over 6 weeks now, even while in DC.  Nothing like some success to motivate you to excel. 

I have also been finding time to blog again, and nothing helps bring that on like a trip with new photographs.  DC was an architectural Disneyland, with hundreds and hundreds of incredible buildings in the tiny area in which I was.  I am also getting itchy to head out on another Mississippi road trip once the semester winds down in 2 more weeks...before I head out on another Texas road trip to make up for the non-visit during Thanksgiving.
 Meanwhile, the last of Pontotoc beckons.  I love building details.  This building at the end of the block on East Marion is a fairly recent re-do, and the building itself is estimated circa 1950 (MDAH/HRI database) but I love the detail that helps it seem at home with the other buildings.  In this case, English bond (the alternating rows of headers and stretchers) in the building is interrupted by the 3 spaced soldier stacked bond designs.  Soldier refers to the brick placed vertically rather than on its side, and with the narrow end facing out.  This form of stacked bond (an alternate from the usual stacked with the brick horizontal)
...usually require bed joint reinforcement to give adequate stability (ibstock.com).
 The parapet of this building has decorative brickwork and the facade is divided by pilasters.  According to Sanders (1993) in the National Register nomination for the Pontotoc district,
Brick dentil accents the facade where the roof and parapet meet...small vent in each bay...two belt courses, (only one is visible here) one above second story windows, and one forming the sills for the windows.
Visible just to the right is part of the brickwork detail on the building next door.  Sanders adds,
A belt course of soldier bricks separates the parapet from the window openings. 
 Around the corner, this interesting looking building--which does not show up in the MDAH database or the historic district nomination form--has some type of green tile or glass block embedded in the facade in a diamond shape.
Around the corner on West Marion, vestiges of vitrolite cover the brick underneath a plate glass window.  

 It's also seen in the old newspaper office in Oxford.  Apparently, it is a pre-requisite that at least one piece must be broken or chipped.
Still, it has an interesting look to it, and was used to "modernize" buildings.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

2000 Connecticut: Art Deco Apartments

 This restored nine-story Art Deco building was built in 1936.  The management team of Keener & Squire have interest in historic preservation and have renovated several historic mansions and apartment buildings in the Dupont Circle area of Washington, DC.  Dupont Circle is located in the "old city" of DC, an area planned by architect Pierre Charles L'Enfant.
Hans Wirz and Richard Striner in Washington Deco (1984) described 2000 Connecticut:
...delicate Deco floral patterns in the Calritz illustrates use of limestone and terracotta panels as well as the compact character of Deco floral motifs.
Wentworth Studio describes Art Deco in their Historic Styles/Art Deco Style 1925-1940:
Buildings were richly embellished with hard-edged, low relief designs: geometric shapes, including chevrons and ziggurats, and stylized floral and sunrise patterns.
...architects and developers, especially in Greater Washington, DC, found that the style adapted quite well to apartment buildings...visual interest could be further enhanced by stretching linear forms horizontally and vertically throughout the building...
...frequently done with bands of brick, canopies, or coping.  Doorways are sometimes surrounded with elaborate pilasters and pediments.
Doors were frequently made of aluminum or stainless steel.  These aluminum doors illustrate a chevron design.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

King William Flats

The King William houses 14 flats in the Kalorama Triangle neighborhood.  A 1-bedroom rents for $3250 per month for 700 square feet.  The more economical studio is only $2200. 

 The Kalorama Triangle was originally part of the 19th century Kalorama Estate.  Kalorama is Greek for "fine view."  The terrain was hilly, and rural until development began in the late 1800s.  Primary development occurred between 1897-1931, and the addition of the streetcar line down Connecticut Avenue helped fuel the growth of the area (Kalorama Triangle Historic District brochure, planning.dc.gov).
 The early buildings were mostly in the popular Romanesque style.  A period of downturn halted building in the area, and when it resumed, other architectural styles were more popular and the neighborhood introduced the Georgian and Federal influences.
Although the area was restructured to remove some of the hilliness, much of the original terrain remains, and we did extensive walking up and down hills on the curving and winding streets.  I think DC has replaced New York City as my favorite city now, for the beautiful ambience of the neighborhoods and more relaxed sense.  But, rather like Atlanta, while I would have relished living here in my younger days, it was a tough trip for me physically.  Most of my photographs are from the top of the bus!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Our Lady Queen of the Americas

Our Lady Queen of the Americas is an integral part of this neighborhood.  The building houses the nonprofit school Language ETC, which teaches English and Spanish literacy, computer skills, and Citizenship test preparation.
The building, dating from the early 1900s, has been home to an orphanage, an infant asylum, the Cathedral Latin School, a whites only Catholic boys school, and then Mackin High School, which served primarily African American boys.  Because it was built as a school initially, it does not carry the appearance of a traditional church building, although it houses a worship center.  You can see an interior of the worship sanctuary here.

 We also noted several street art installations in the neighborhood, including this one dedicated to the educational institutions of the district, and which explained some of the prior uses of the Our Lady building.

There is some thing about a building, and an institution, that has remained part of the fabric of a neighborhood for so many years.  Sometimes these institutions have roles in history that might give us pause, but they also help us to understand the evolving nature of our neighborhoods, and our society.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

J and W Smokehouse, Mound Bayou

Thursday, November 15, 2012, the J & W Smokehouse hosts the grand opening of this new business in Mound Bayou, Mississippi.  We got a preview today, when they hosted lunch for the partners in the Taborian Urgent Care Center project, which will restore the historic Taborian Hospital to medical use.  The restaurant is located at 401 Dr. T R M Howard Highway (formerly Edwards Street) in the building that housed Mayor Johnson's father's furniture store and laundromat.
Regular readers know of my admiration for Mayor and Mrs. Johnson, and this community.  Just type "Mound Bayou" in the search box for the blog, and you will see what I am talking about.  This past week, my friend and colleague, DJM, and I were in Washington, DC doing a workshop about our work with Mound Bayou, and sharing the history and accomplishments of this remarkable community. It is a story that needs to be told again and again, for it is the story of a community that established itself, and then invented itself over and over again as circumstances changed, and will continue to rise to whatever challenges it faces.
I have had the joy and privilege of working with this community in the past 1 and 1/2 years, and with Ms. Margo Christian-Brooks, the Taborian Urgent Care Center project director--who loooooovvvvves her some catfish.  She inspires me with every meeting.  She helps me focus.  She is relentlessly positive, yet speaks truth.  Today, as we stood in a circle--lopsided though it may have been, and reflecting our lopsided lives--she prayed over our lunch and this community and its First Family and the future of this community that represents so much of what is good and right and needed in the world, and I was reminded yet again of our many missteps in the efforts to, in the words of Booker T. Washington in 1912, "work out our destinies, side by side."  But, in the words of Suzassippi in 2012, "thank you Mound Bayou, for being part of my destiny, and allowing me to be part of yours."

Monday, November 12, 2012

Road (er, sky) Trip: Washington DC

This morning as my friends and colleagues (one and the same) were preparing to check out, I stepped to the window of our hotel room for the last glance this week of our view of the DC skyline at sunrise.  We have laughed and cried, shared stories and meals, presentations and education, and I like to think, moved us and the world a little further along the road to understanding.

 When we arrived in our room the first night, I spotted this magazine on the desk, and whooped with delight, opening it to see what opportunities might be waiting.  We had reservations for Filomena Ristorante in Georgetown, and they did not disappoint.  The meal was wonderful--without a doubt the best Italian cuisine I have ever eaten anywhere.  I splurged on a bottle of chianti reserve recommended by our wait person, after my first two picks were not available.  (I confess, I questioned this, but...)  Not only was I totally impressed, my two non-wine-drinking friends were so enamored that I ordered a second bottle.  I have had the two that were my first picks, and there is no doubt that the one recommended by our enchanting wait person was superior.

After the meal, and our lovely desserts, their custom is to bring a closing complementary after-dinner liqueur and coffee beans.  One is to place three beans in the glass--one each for health, wealth, and happiness--and pour the liqueur over it.  
We toasted our friendship, our common work, and the adventures of the next few days together.  Sometimes, in spite of the things that separate us, there are many more things that bind us together.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Churchill Hotel: DC

Source: Churchill Hotel History.
The Churchill Hotel opened its doors in 1906 as the "Highlands" on Connecticut Avenue.  It was designed by architect Arthur B. Heaton and was originally an apartment house serving diplomats and legislators.  Construction began in 1902, and at that time, the view of the Potomac River was visible from the site.  At a cost of $200,000, it was one of the most expensive apartment houses in the city.  The Beaux Arts building was the first and only apartment in DC to provide a basement level garage until the late 1920s.


The facade was designed with a "heavy rusticated two-story base, while a series of fourteen oriel windows ranged between the third and sixth floors."
 The building was sold in 1955 and the building was gutted and rebuilt from 69 apartments to 104 efficiency apartments and 40 one-bedroom units, with inappropriate renovations.  In 1977, the building was converted to a hotel, and additional incongruent changes made to the building.

The Churchill is located in the Kalorama Heights section of DC, Greek for "beautiful view."  The neighborhood has been home to Presidents Taft, Harding, Hoover, Roosevelt, and Wilson.  Other noted residents have been Ted Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, Donald Rumsfeld, and Robert McNamara.

We selected the hotel for its historic qualities, as well as the beautiful neighborhood.  Next post, I'll give you the scoop on the lack of AC, open windows in DC smog, and cranky room service staff, all of which have combined to make this a memorable trip.  In the words of our room service waiter tonight (which commands a 22% automatic gratuity) after we had to call down and ask for silverware and when she brought them back up, smirked enjoy!