December 2023 Realty Review
Looking Beyond the Squall
July 17, 2013•
Sometimes, it is a good idea to look beyond the debris left behind by the squall and do an assessment of where things are.
Yes, interest rates have spiked from recent historical lows of several weeks ago when mortgage rates were in the middle three-percent range. However, mortgage rates are now moving in a relatively narrow range with the best execution for thirty-year fixed rate mortgages hovering in the mid four percent range.
Jumbo rates, for loans above $625,000 in the D.C. metropolitan market are priced very competitively to conventional rates. Rates on 15-year fixed rate money are below 4 percent for purchase rates. Adjustable rate mortgages, including seven-year ARMs are below 4 percent.
Today’s rates are similar to rates in late 2011. By historical standards, interest rates are in a very good range. The problem is that most people remember only the lowest of the low rates.
After the release of the mid-September FOMC minutes, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke made a statement in order to calm the wild market reactions to his early speech from a week earlier which had caused a wild spike in interest rates and unease on Wall Street.
In his statement, Bernanke most notably referred to the unemployment rate. He said that the 7.6-percent unemployment rate overstated the strength of the labor market. This is very significant because the announced policy of the Fed has been that they would not think about raising interest rates until the unemployment rate was driven to 6.5 percent. Clearly, there is a long way to go for employment to get close to the Fed’s target.
By making these comments, the stock market regained its footing and the bond markets moderated. This helped mortgage rates go to the lower range of their recent range.
There will be increased volatility this summer. Economic news, good or bad, is likely to cause an occasional spike in the markets which will drive rates a little higher or a little lower depending on the news of the day.
Other economies are slowing, most notably China. The European Union is in the midst of stimulus for its economies. There are clearly a lot of pressures that should help the Fed keep rates in a relative narrow range this summer. ?
Bill Starrels lives in Georgetown and is a mortgage loan officer, who specializes in refinance and purchase mortgages. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 703-625-7355.
The Beauty is in the Details, The Architecture of Gil Schafer
June 18, 2013•
“We live differently today in terms of lifestyle, what people do, family arrangements, than in the past.”
We were talking with the highly in-demand architect Gil Schafer III about “The Great American House,” his Rizzoli published book, subtitled “Tradition for the Way We Live Now.” It is sumptuously beau¬tiful, demonstrating his philosophy and penchant for creating, restoring and building homes and structures right on the spot where history walks through the door, hand in hand with the contem¬porary and with an eye toward the future.
He was driving toward upstate New York at the time, and the tone was conversational and philosophical. From a man who has collected numerous awards and attention for his work after over 20 years as an architect, his journey to suc¬cess seemed almost pre-determined, if only for the fact that he comes from three generations of architects, plus “my parents (who were not archi¬tects) were always building stuff, making things. so I can say I came by my lot naturally.”
But there was more to it than that: the book and the vocation comes from living in numer¬ous places in different parts of the country. “My grandmother had a dark old house in Cleveland, where my brother and I spent time that I still cher¬ish,” he says. “I lived on a farm upstate New York in the Hudson River Valley and also spent a time in California by the beach.”
You can find much of this reflected in the kinds of projects his firm takes on from small things like stables or sheds, to large houses in the country or renovated apartments in Greenwich Village, to island homes. You can see all of this too, and especially in the dramatic, revealing photographs in the book, which give you a seri¬ous case of the wants and desires. While devoid of people, it seems full of a kind of dossier about people, information about the emotional and his¬torical environment in which people want to live.
When he talks, or if you read about his lec¬tures or the commentary and essays in the book, or the content of interviews in major like magazines like “Veranda,” “Town and Country” or “Manner of Man,” as well as the Architectural Digest or the New York Times, some common themes can be found. They arch around the ideas that arise from the tensions that exist naturally (in art as well as in architecture) between tradition and the modern, the historical and the contemporary. Not surprisingly, he has a reputation for being a stylish dresser. Details, those lying in the framework of the big ideas, matter.
He handles the language of architecture and expands it by mixing it with the familiar you’ll find lots of common usage architectural terms in the text and commentary of the book. But the writ¬ing maintains a conversational tone, inviting the reader in much the same way that he talks about such things. For the uninitiated or inexpert, this makes his work and ideas accessible not only to his clients but also to the casual visitor.
“You have to think about how people live today,” he says. “We live differently today in terms of lifestyle, what people do, family arrange¬ments, than in the past. When you’re renovating a large house, for instance, you can see certain spaces the small kitchens, the spaces where the butlers and servants worked, that kind of thing, which are either larger today, or don’t even exist anymore. We live differently today, but we can’t dismiss the attraction and endur¬ance of the past.”
Put another way, what we try to, he said and it’s also one of the themes of the book is to “retain the well-loved proportions, details and character of a traditional house while balancing holistically with the needs of our twenty-first century lifestyle.” He also writes about the “interior architecture and the fabrics, furniture and wall treatments, and how “the landscape surrounding the home must relate to its overall design”
“The Great American House” is Schafer’s first book, although in terms of the writing (with Mark Kristal) it doesn’t feel that way. It is about architecture, by a noted architect, to be sure, but it never seems so technical as to escape the boundaries, energy, and rhythms of daily life. This is perhaps the point.
The book is structured around three ideas and themes, with four projects and homes serving as dramatic, astonishingly beautiful profiles and illustrations of the themes. In the book, the cornerstones of a great traditional house are architecture, landscape and decoration.
One of the profiles includes Schafer’s home in the Hudson Valley, a bucolic, artistically historic setting, as well as the process involved in the design of a “new” farming estate for a young family, the renovation of a historic home in Nashville, originally designed by Charles Platt, and the restoration of an 1843 mansion in Charleston, South Carolina.
Home is where the heart is, but also where the heart was it’s about bringing the past forward, letting it breathe in the here and now, renewing itself in new atmospheres.
When he talks about his grandmother’s house, he talks in some detail how it felt at night, the land, the light, the way he could travel easily around the house as a boy and the dramatic fact that the house was pink. “It was pink,” he said. “It stood out. It had that vivid color. It was a wonderful thing to see.”
In the book, the writer remembers more. “At Melrose, there were all sorts of charm at work. The old horseshoe over the front door placed there for luck, an intriguing doorknob with the face of a man on it, a beat-up bronze bucket, overflowing with cut branches, an old leather satchel with the name Melrose on it filled daily with mail.”
These memories are inspirations for Schafer, because, as he says, “They inspired me to enter the family trade, so to speak.”
But they also find their way into the proj¬ects of his firms, his collaborations, his focus on how his clients live, what they want, and their taste in objects. The motto of his firm, G.P. Schafer Architect, PLLC, is “Creating places that enhance the enjoyment of life.” That’s probably an oversimplification, because the beauty is in the details.
In the book, you can find the details in Schafer’s accessible essays and writing style, as well as in the photographs. Schafer loves not just furniture, but furnishings, those extra details that are tactile in nature: the color of burnished wood, brass knobs, light and lamps. It’s all there in a full-page photograph of the doors on his Greewich Village apartment, fea¬turing brass rim locks with cobalt glass knobs and traditional wood graining. This description doesn’t encompass the feeling that this photo¬graph like almost all of the photographs in the book give off. That sun-baked deep brown stain of the door, the key in the look, the gold of the latches. The frame is a portrait not just of something but of someone.
There are some things you might remem¬ber from the photographs, even though you have never seen them. You remember rooms opening to the sun, thin chairs with decorated cushions, ceiling fans, staircases that make you a little dizzy with their elegance, a Greek bust in a bathroom, plush easy chairs, flowers, a ladder for a book case, gates overrun with ivy, well-worn but orderly books. With Schafer’s designs, you never feel as though you are step¬ping into a museum. You can sense that people live here, come up the driveway through the gate, stride through the rooms, open an elon¬gated, white-framed window and look out at an American landscape.
It is thus natural that Schafer should be who he is: his whole life revolves around his design, his collaborations, his office, the apartment, the Hudson home, the current and ongoing proj¬ects. He is one of those people blessed by doing what he loves. “It’s funny,” he says. “This is not just my work. It’s what I do, period. It’s all the travel, the buying, the scouting, the antiquing, of course, but the end results are the homes, and the best thing is working with the clients.”
When you listen to Schafer who studied at Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges and has a master’s degree in architecture from Yale, where he received the H.I. Feldman Prize, you realize he is talking about his own memories, homes he’s lived in and been a part of. They are at his fingertips, and the ideas make them tingle. He is a good memory keeper for himself and others. As he writes, “If a house is going to feel like a home, it has to create opportunities for memories, even in the small¬est moments of life.”
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The Origins of DC’s Landscape
Washington had a lot of lucky breaks in its early history. First of all, the blueprint for the city was drawn up by a genius with dreams of glory for the capital city of a brand new country. Trained at L’Ecole des Beaux Arts, Pierre L’Enfant no doubt was thinking about Paris when he drew the plans for the District, with the two-mile-long Mall and the wide avenues with parks and circles for monuments and statues. It took many years with lots of false starts, but the city finally began to grow into the grand pattern he laid out. In the boom period that ran from the 1880s through the 1920s, hundreds of elaborate apartment buildings were built in the District. There was an unusually talented group of architects available then, many of whom also trained at the L’Ecole in Paris. And they had the same big plans as L’Enfant. One architect in particular was able to build his loftiest idea, thanks to the newly invented method of steel frame construction.
The strange but brilliant Cairo apartment building at 1615 Q Street NW, was created by an ambitious young architect named Thomas Franklin Schneider. It is a jumble of Romanesque and Egyptian Revival with Moorish overtones and, if that isn’t enough, a sprinkling of medieval gargoyles. Built in 1894, it reached the monumental height of 165 feet. Besides its height, there was nothing shy and retiring about the Cairo. It had a ballroom, grand dining room, billiards room, bakery, drugstore and artesian well in the basement for its own water supply. The roof deck was popular because of the incredible views it afforded, but it eventually had to be shut down because guests would drop stones from the deck, causing horse and buggy accidents on the street far below.
The height of the Cairo upset a lot of people and it worried the city fathers, because firemans’ ladders wouldn’t be able to reach high enough to save people in the event of a fire. Then there were aesthetic considerations. Tall buildings would ruin the concept L’Enfant had for the city. It was no less than Thomas Jefferson who first suggested that the capital city should have a low-lying landscape similar to that of Paris, France, which is exactly what L’Enfant created. None of the fine buildings, parks and monuments would be seen if Washington became a city of skyscrapers.
Concern for the beauty of the city and the safety hazards the tall buildings created was great enough for the D.C. Board of Supervisors to set limits on new construction, so they adopted the Height of Buildings Act in 1899, which exists in much the same form today with height limits of about 130 feet, or 10 stories.
As we well know, boom economies don’t last forever. The economic groundswell of the Gilded Era in Washington ended with the Great Depression, and many famous builders bit the dust with the bad times. Harry Wardman, who was responsible for building more dwelling units here than any other single builder, lost $30,000,000 in the depression. Edgar Kennedy and Monroe Warren declared bankruptcy in 1932 and lost the Art Deco masterpiece named after them, even before it was completed. But, Washington’s legacy was all the fine buildings they left for us, most of which were converted to condominiums in the 1970’s.
So we were lucky. The gifted people responsible for literally hundreds of outstanding buildings that expressed every major trend, from Georgian to Beaux Arts and Art Deco, were first and second generation Americans, most of who designed their first projects before they were 30 years old. Thomas Jefferson and Pierre L’Enfant both got their wishes, and we got a cityscape of elegant buildings and monuments in an atmosphere that is unique among American cities.
Donna Evers, email@example.com, is the owner and broker of Evers & Co. Real Estate, the largest woman-owned and run real estate firm in the Washington Metro area. She is also the proprietor of Twin Oaks Tavern Winery and Vineyard in Bluemont, Virginia, and a devoted fan of Washington history.
The Willard: Birthplace of ‘Battle Hymn’
While historians generally believe the term “lobbyist” came from England circa 1800, it is part of our local lore that the term originated in the lobby of the Willard Hotel in downtown Washington. It seems that President U.S. Grant liked to slip away from the White House to enjoy a cigar and brandy at the nearby hotel. People in high places who wanted favors used to lie in wait for him, and hence the Washington version of the term “lobbyist.” Since the hotel’s 1986 period restoration, the lobby is so redolent of the 1860s, that one can easily imagine Grant stretched out in a velvet lounge chair behind one of the potted palms.
What you may not know is that another piece of 1860’s history was born at the Willard, before Grant was president and even before he assumed command of the Union Army. It had to do with the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861, whose 150 year anniversary was celebrated this summer with speeches and re-enactments at the battleground park in Manassas, Va.
Early in the conflict, confident that they could defeat the South, the Union Army marched toward Richmond with the hope of bringing the war to a quick close. The North was so sure of itself that congressmen and dignitaries from Washington packed picnic lunches and rode their carriages behind the army so they could watch their soldiers win the day. Instead, the northerners met with fierce resistance from the strong southern army they encountered in Manassas. This was the battle where Confederate General Thomas Jonathan Jackson earned the nickname “Stonewall” for not giving up his position, and where the first civilian casualty of the war occurred, when the 85-year-old woman who owned the house on Henry Hill was killed in the cannon crossfire. The battle lasted five hours with many casualties on both sides, and ended with the Union army turning back and fleeing toward Washington. The civilians quickly turned their carriages around to head back east, got mixed in with the retreating soldiers, and created a massive traffic jam with panicked soldiers and civilians running in all directions.
As a result of this battle, morale in the Union Army was at low ebb, and the generals had a hard time recruiting soldiers. A New England abolitionist named Julia Ward Howe was afraid that the North might lose and slavery would not be defeated. So, she came to Washington to see if she could help. While Howe was in town staying at the Willard Hotel, she heard soldiers singing “John Brown’s Body” outside her open window. She liked the melody but thought it was a shame there weren’t better words to go with the song. When she awoke up in the middle of the night, she was suddenly wide awake and began writing verses to the melody, which she later sold to The Atlantic Monthly magazine for $5.
“The Battle Hymn of the Republic” became one of our most beloved patriotic songs, and on the front of the Willard Hotel, a plaque commemorates Julia Ward Howe for writing the verses that led Union troops into battle through the next four terrible years, until they were, as the song promised, victorious.
Here is one more story about the Willard: as we celebrate the new memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it’s interesting to know that he stayed at the Willard in 1963, almost 100 years after Howe’s visit, in the days before he gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. When you think of him sitting in his room going over the words of his history-changing speech, you have to believe that inspiration must live in those walls.
Donna Evers, firstname.lastname@example.org, is the owner and broker of Evers & Co. Real Estate, the largest woman owned and run real estate company in the Washington Metro area; the proprietor of Twin Oaks Tavern Winery in Bluemont, Virginia; and a devoted fan of Washington history. [gallery ids="102541,120015" nav="thumbs"]
Under the French Influence of Jules de Sibour
In the 6th arrondissement in Paris, where the rue des Beaux-Arts meets rue Bonaparte, stands a venerable building which was more influential on architecture in Washington than any other institution, present or past. The Ecole des Beaux-Arts was the training ground for so many great American architects in the Gilded Era of Washington, including the charming maestro of Beaux Arts architecture, Jules Henri de Sibour.
Jules de Sibour had an American mother and a French father, who was a direct descendent of France’s King Louis XVI. He grew up between France and the U.S., going to prep school in New Hampshire, then on to Yale, and following in his father’s footsteps, married an American, a Washingtonian named Margaret Claggett.
De Sibour joined his older brother at the renowned architectural firm of Ernest Flagg and Bruce Price, who designed one of the best-known Beaux Arts buildings in the world, the Hotel Frontenac in Quebec. Price convinced de Sibour to go to Paris and get the proper training at the Ecole. He studied there for 18 months. When he came back to New York, he quickly gained a name for himself, and since he began to get more commissions in Washington, moved here in 1910, to make his mark on the city just at a time when merchant princes from all over the country wanted a grand mansion in the nation’s capital.
His interpretations of the Beaux Arts design have never been equaled, especially in the way he fit the buildings to the District’s angular corners, an inheritance from one of de Sibour’s French predecessors, Pierre L’Enfant, also a student of the Ecole. A fine example of de Sibour’s genius is his design of the McCormick Apartment Building, which seems to flow around the corner at 1785 Massachusetts Avenue NW. The perfectly balanced and designed exterior is the best of Classic design with the decoration of Beaux Arts flawlessly incorporated. Now it is home to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a group uniquely suited to appreciate its workplace.
De Sibour’s accomplishments go on and on, including the Thomas Gaff House (Columbian residence), the Wilkins house (Peruvian Embassy), the Jefferson Hotel, the French Embassy, the original Folger Theater Building and the Clarence Moore house at 1746 Massachusetts Avenue, NW (now the Uzbekistan Embassy). De Sibour became friends with Clarence Moore, who was also Master of Hounds at the Chevy Chase Club, and who commissioned de Sibour to design the main building for the club. Moore famously met an early demise, when he went to England to buy hunting hounds and decided to come back on the R.M.S. Titanic.
De Sibour went on to be a regular at the club. The descendent of Louis XVI became its star baseball player and — between designing buildings — spent many happy summer days enjoying the ultimate American pastime.
Donna Evers, email@example.com is the owner and broker of Evers & Co. Real Estate, the largest woman owned and run real estate firm in the Washington Metro area; the proprietor of Twin Oaks Tavern Winery in Bluemont, Virginia; and a devoted student of Washington history. [gallery ids="100457,115459" nav="thumbs"]
The Iconic Obelisk
The Washington Monument is the single most recognized icon in our cityscape, yet its creation had a turbulent beginning, middle and end. And it’s not over, as the federal government has just committed over $7 million to repair the cracks caused by the 2011 earthquake.
To start at the beginning, in 1783, Congress decreed that an equestrian statue should be built to honor the father of our country. So in 1791, Pierre L’Enfant chose the perfect triangulated site in relation to the rest of the National Mall to honor George Washington’s initial career as a surveyor.
Fundraising discussions ensued in 1799, and in 1836 a contest was held to choose a design for the monument. Architect Robert Mills won with a design of a simple obelisk surrounded by a fancy rotunda, topped off by Washington at the helm of a chariot led by a team of charging horses. The fundraising goal of $1 million was slow getting off the ground, with only $30,000 collected by 1836, but construction started
anyway in 1848. It stopped six years later when they ran out of money.
The whole city made fun of the 153-foot stump that dominated the Mall until 1876, when construction resumed, but with a different color of stone (just in case Washingtonians needed a reminder of what happens when Congress starts a project).
The obelisk was completed in 1884, but not without controversy. For one thing, it was built on a completely different spot than L’Enfant had chosen. It turned out that the Mall was so swampy, the cornerstone Jefferson originally laid sunk and disappeared into the mire. So, a more solid site had to be found.
Then there was the incident involving Pope Pius IX, who donated a stone to the monument that was subsequently stolen by the infamous Know-Nothing Party in a wave of anti-Catholicism. At the same time,
two new variations of design were proposed. One involved creating an Italian bell tower at the top of the
obelisk and the other idea was to make it into a copy of “one of the better Hindu pagodas”, to quote a
local newspaper article.
The plans for pagodas, bell towers and rearing horses were scrapped and the simple monument stands as one of the best in the city. At 555 feet and 5 1/8 inches high – give or take a fraction after the earthquake – it remains one of the tallest masonry structure in the world, perhaps an inadvertent tribute to George Washington, who was a devoted Freemason.
Donna Evers, DEvers@EversCo.com, is the owner and broker of Evers & Co. Real Estate, the largest woman owned and run real estate firm in the Washington Metro area; the proprietor of Twin Oaks Tavern Winery in Bluemont, Virginia; and a devoted student of Washington area history. [gallery ids="100517,119152" nav="thumbs"]
At 100, the Cherry Trees: Enduring and Fragile Sign of Spring
This spring marks the 100-year anniversary of Japan’s gift of cherry trees to beautify the Tidal basin and National Mall. This was one of the better years of perfect weather for the blossoms, though they came too early for most. They are the official sign of spring and also the beginning of the tourist season in Washington. Their clouds of pink blossoms offer a brilliant picture that is quite different from the project that faltered many times along the way.
The plan to have cherry trees in and around the Mall came from a Washington socialite who worked hand-in-hand with President Taft’s wife — First Lady Helen “Nellie” Taft — to get the trees here from Japan, both as a symbol of our two countries’ friendship and as a way to beautify the swampy, derelict Mall area. But the sacred trees, called Sakura in Japan, went through a series of mishaps which very nearly killed all these ambitious plans. When the first shipment of 90 trees arrived and were planted, they turned out to be the wrong variety and had to be dug up. Then a shipment of 2,000 trees arrived as a gift from the government of Japan, but when the Department of Agriculture inspected the trees, they were found to be diseased, so President Taft himself ordered them to be burned in huge pyres. The governments exchanged letters, and the deeply embarrassing incident was fixed diplomatically.
Two years later, 3,000 disease-resistant cherry trees arrived and with great ceremony, were planted and thrived to the delight of the whole city. Fifty years after that, when Lady Bird Johnson beautified the city with her pocket parks, the government of Japan sent 3,800 more to be planted around the Washington Monument.
These trees have always brought an emotional response from Washingtonians. In 1938, during construction of the Jefferson Memorial, workers started to clear some of the cherry trees for the construction site, and an angry group of women protestors chained themselves to the endangered trees to stop them from being cut down. The government intervened and promised to replace any trees that had to come down.
While the blossoming trees look tranquil, they are very high-maintenance. They last a maximum of 30 to 50 years, so the government is constantly replacing dying trees. The heavy limbs are susceptible to wind, hail and snow storms, and these damaged trees also have to be periodically replaced.
In 1912, during the ceremony of the tree planting, the Japanese ambassador predicted, “Almost all the world is at peace today, and there will be peace for thousands of tomorrows. War has had its day.” Of course, that’s not how things turned out, and during World War II, Washingtonians took to calling the cherry trees “Oriental” instead of “Japanese.”
Each spring, Washingtonians wait and worry, because they can remember years when the buds and blossoms froze or were decimated in wind and sleet storms. In Japan, and for the last 100 years in Washington, the clouds of blossoming trees which appear magically almost overnight, symbolize the precariousness of nature and of our own existence, all the things that are most important and over which we have the least control.
Donna Evers is the owner and broker of Evers & Co. Real Estate, the largest woman-owned and -run real estate firm in the Washington area, the proprietor of historic Twin Oaks Tavern Winery in Bluemont, Va., and a devoted student of Washington history. E-mail her at Devers@Eversco.com
Riding through Washington
Captured in bronze, forever surveying the field of action and gearing up for battle, the Civil War generals are with still us. They are, of course, all Union generals. The brilliant Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson are not here because “to the victor goes the spoils”. Also, to the sculptor goes the spoils, since many of these
projects were competitions with good pay for the winning artist.
One of the most dramatic statues is of Philip Sheridan, whose action pose dominates Sheridan Circle on Massachusetts Avenue. “Little Phil” as he was known to his troops was indeed short and had long arms, which prompted President Lincoln to remark that Sheridan’s arms were so long that if his ankles itched, he wouldn’t even have to bend down to scratch them. Cast in bronze by Gutzon Borglum in 1908, Sheridan sits astride his faithful horse, Rienzi, who took him through 85 battles, including the one portrayed here. Sheridan had left his men in the Shenandoah Valley to attend to matters in Winchester, when Early attacked and almost won the day. Sheridan rode hard for twenty miles to get to his troops, saying, “if I had been with you this morning, boys, this would not have happened.” In the statue, he is shown bending down and waving his hat at his men, urging them on in battle. His success in the Valley campaign, coupled with Sherman’s success in Georgia, is credited with turning the tide for the Union’s victory.
Another diminutive general, George McClellan, was the Commander of the Army of the Potomac from the beginning of the war in 1861 to November 1862. Many historians argue that he should have been removed a lot sooner, because of his recurrent reluctance to send his soldiers into battle. Lincoln said he had a case of “the slows,” but kept him on for almost two years, because he was a great strategist and an even better recruiter. The reluctant general, however, thought a lot of himself, as evidenced in his letters to his wife, where he frequently describes himself as the savior of the nation. This is also clear in his equestrian statue by sculptor Frederick MacMonnies, at the intersection of Connecticut Avenue and Columbia Road, where McClellan sits squarely on his horse, chin up and right hand placed confidently on his hip.
At Pennsylvania Avenue and Seventh Street, the tall majestic statue of General Winfield Scott Hancock pays tribute to his victory at the Battle of Gettysburg, where he continued to lead his men successfully against a gigantic Confederate assault, even after being shot off his horse. On Thomas Circle, the beautiful statue of General George H. Thomas shows him sitting at ease, pulling the reins with on hand, holding his horse’s head high and surveying the field of battle, probably also capturing him in one of his finest moments, at the Battle of Chickamauga.
The leader of the infamous march to the sea, William Tecumseh Sherman, is found on the elaborate monument at the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and Fifteenth Street. The bold general has one hand on the reins and the other holding his field glasses. He has probably just looked toward his goal of reaching the sea, ready to destroy everything in his path if it would bring the Union victory. Dominating McPherson Square, and portrayed also with binoculars in hand and uniform scruffy from his and Sherman’s long march, is the statue of General James Birdseye McPherson. His statue was cast from Confederate cannons captured in Atlanta.
At Logan Circle, the statue of John A. Logan sits on horseback with his sword in hand, commanding a view of the beautiful residential circle where he himself lived for so many years, and where he got the idea of preserving one day a year to honor the war dead, the special day we call Memorial Day.
Finally, there is the largest and most important Civil War monument of all on the east end of the Mall honoring Ulysses S. Grant, the general who was able to bring the Union to victory and the war to a close. In a greatcoat and broad brimmed hat that perpetually keeps his eyes in shadow, Grant sits calmly and impassively on his horse, Cincinnatus, among the two sets of massive statuary honoring the cavalry and artillery soldiers. This ambitious project was the work of a little-known sculptor, Henry M. Shrady. As James M. Goode says in his book, “Washington Sculpture”, in 1902, when Shrady won the competition over 23 other well-known artists for the $250,000 project, his competitors demanded an investigation. Nevertheless, he ended up with the job and devoted the next twenty years of his life to the creating the monument, which was brilliantly executed with exquisite and painstaking attention to detail. But, when the dedication of the monument took place in 1922, Shrady was not there to take a bow. He died two weeks earlier from the strain and exhaustion of having to complete a project of such astounding magnitude.
Donna Evers, firstname.lastname@example.org, is the owner and broker of Evers & Co. Real Estate, the largest woman-owned and run real estate firm in the Washington area; the proprietor of Twin Oaks Tavern Winery in Bluemont, Va.; and a devoted student of Washington history.
Like the cathedrals of Europe, many of our monuments in Washington are rich with symbolism, and can be “read,” especially the great favorite of both residents and tourists, the Lincoln Memorial. This majestic monument took nearly 50 years from its inception to its dedication, and one of the biggest problems was site selection. For much of its early history, the National Mall was nearly empty and fairly swampy. In fact, the actual site for the Lincoln Memorial was under water up until shortly before it was chosen. It was only after the Army Corps of Engineers dredged the river to deepen it and deposited the silt on the shore, that the area where the memorial now stands was created. When this location was first proposed, the then Speaker of the House Joseph Cannon said that he would never let the memorial be erected in that “g—d— swamp”. However, after the area was planted and landscaped, it began to look like a real possibility. It lined up beautifully across the Mall from Congress, just as Pierre l’Enfant would have wished it.
The architect Henry Bacon was chosen to build the memorial and his friend, Daniel Chester French was selected to create the stature of Lincoln. Bacon designed the building with the Parthenon in mind and the 36 columns of the structure represent the 36 states that made up the newly reunited Union at the end of the Civil War. The states’ names are inscribed over the tops of the columns and above them are all the states added up to the time of the memorial’s dedication in 1922. The three-chambered monument is embellished with eagles and wreaths, symbolizing bravery and victory, as well as cypress trees, which stand for eternity and it is decorated with marble from Colorado, Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia, limestone from Indiana and granite from Massachusetts, incorporated into the monument to symbolize the union of states.
The statue of Abraham Lincoln is 19-feet tall and 19-feet wide, which creates the overwhelming impression of the solid resolution President Lincoln maintained to preserve the Union above all. French spent years studying photos of Lincoln, so he could depict him as he looked during the Civil War. His large head is bent slightly forward and his sunken eyes seem to look down at the people parading in front of the statue, and at the same time, they look out over the Mall toward Congress. His large hands rest on the square arms of the massive ceremonial chair decorated with ancient Roman emblems of authority and draped with the flag, another reminder of the union. Lincoln’s one hand is clenched to show strength, and the other is open to show compassion.
Legend has it that the back of Lincoln’s head is actually a profile of Robert E Lee, looking backward at his former home, the Custis-Lee mansion in Arlington Cemetery. The National Park Service discredits that story as well as the much more believable tale that Lincoln’s left hand is finger spelling an “A” and his right hand an “L”. This is credible because Daniel French had already designed the statue in front of Gallaudet University which shows teacher Thomas Gallaudet signing the letter “A” for student Alice Cogswell. Furthermore, it was Lincoln who approved the bill that made Gallaudet the first college for deaf people, and finally, French knew sign language and used it often since his own son was deaf.
It is appropriate that there should be mystery surrounding the statue of Lincoln, because it is one of the most inspirational in the city. The memorial is one large homage to the union of the states and one of its beautiful murals celebrates the Emancipation Proclamation. However, the memorial dedication ceremony in 1922 was presented to a racially segregated audience. The eternally patient expression that French managed to carve into Lincoln’s face conveys the feeling that he understood all too well the irony of the situation. After all, here was a man who was able to convey the necessity of the terrible sacrifices of war to save the union of our country in the ten sentences that make up the Gettysburg Address, whose words carved in stone share the sanctuary with him.
Donna Evers, email@example.com, is the owner and broker of Evers & Co. Real Estate, the largest woman owned and run real estate firm in the Washington Metro area; the proprietor of Twin Oaks Tavern Winery in Bluemont, Va.; and a devoted student of Washington area history.
One Hero’s Sad Fate
Unfortunately, we live in an era where heroes are suspect. Larger-than-life figures like Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln have been deconstructed and put in their place by professors and writers, and it doesn’t look like this trend will be over anytime soon.
There are also heroes who do themselves in, with no help from their audience.
One doesn’t have to wait until they’re dead and gone to hear about their sins and mistakes, because their fall from glory takes place during their own lifetimes. Such was the case of Charles Lindbergh.
In 1927, Charles Lindbergh was the first person to fly non-stop and solo across the Atlantic Ocean. The 27’ plane he flew can be seen at the Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles Airport, where it seems much too small to have made the 3600 mile journey. The flight lasted 33 1/2 hours and during that time, the 25-year old Lindbergh flew from New York to Paris with a few bottles of water and some sandwiches. He had to fight to stay awake and there were times, he wrote later, when his plane was barely 10’ above the waves of the Atlantic. When he landed at the Le Bourget airport outside of Paris, the cheering crowds nearly trampled the skinny young man as he climbed out of his airplane.
He won a $25,000 prize for his historic feat, which at that time, was enough money to make him rich. He married a woman he loved and he was adored everywhere he went, with ticker tape parades, postage stamps in his honor, and endless awards. Then, the young couple endured a terrible tragedy. Their baby son was kidnapped from their home and murdered. The “crime of the century” as it was called, meant that now the grieving Lindberghs were in a limelight that was unendurable for them.
They moved to England to escape and have some privacy. During their stay abroad, Lindbergh became an isolationist, opposing any U.S. involvement in the growing storm that became World War II. He made several visits to Nazi Germany, and was enamored with their military and air force. He seemed to admire Hitler, who took it upon himself to award Lindbergh an Iron Cross complete with decorative swastikas. Lindbergh gave speeches that were anti-Semitic, and by 1940, appeared to be an apologist for the whole Nazi regime. Soon, he was criticized and ridiculed in the U.S.. Even Lindbergh’s home town in Minnesota took his name off the water tower. When Lindbergh returned from abroad, there was no hero’s welcome awaiting him.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Lindbergh changed his mind. He volunteered in the military and flew 50 combat missions in the Pacific. Although he threw himself into the war effort, he never recovered his reputation or regained his status with the American public.
F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, “Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.” One of the most published photo’s of Lindbergh shows the thin young man with the shy smile after he had just completed the record-breaking flight that would change people’s perceptions about what a single individual could accomplish. With his luminous and inspiring flight succeeded by his spectacular fall from grace, Lindbergh wrote his own tragedy.
Donna Evers, firstname.lastname@example.org, is the broker and owner of Evers & Co. Real Estate Inc., and a devoted student of Washington area history.[gallery ids="102483,120319" nav="thumbs"]