How Chinese Is Chinatown DC?

Chinatown DC Chinese New Year

When Chinatown is at its most Chinese — Chinese New Year, January 2012 (Photo By: heydayjoe)

What’s in a place name anyway? If you’ve ever been to Germantown, Md., you’ve probably noticed that it’s not all beer halls, lederhosen and St. Pauli girls. But when you think of Chinatown DC, you expect something authentically Chinese, right? Shiny arches. Red lanterns. Dim sum. Lychee nuts. A Buddhist temple or a dragon-infested arch. DC’s Chinatown has some of these—Chinese restaurants, a handful of souvenir shops and even a traditional Chinese gate—but it also has a major-league sports arena, a Hooters, an Ann Taylor Loft and a Bed Bath and Beyond. And despite the inclusion of Chinese names on all the shop signs, Chinatown still falls short on one key measure of authenticity—Chinese residents. It wasn’t always that way though.

The first Chinese immigrant arrived in Washington City in 1851. Many Chinese had moved east to escape the violence perpetrated against them in the West, but upon arriving in our nation’s capital, they found they weren’t exactly welcomed here either. Racism was rampant, and its power coalesced here in DC.

Chinatown-Chinese-Exclusion-Poster-DCIn 1877, a joint special committee of the Senate and House of Representatives released a report on the “character, extent and effect of Chinese immigration.” It contained the following testimonial:

“The burden of our accusation against them is that they come in conflict with our labor interests; that they can never assimilate with us; that they are a perpetual, unchanging, and unchangeable alien element that can never become homogeneous; that their civilization is demoralizing and degrading to our people; that they degrade and dishonor labor; that they can never become citizens, and that an alien, degraded labor class, without any desire of citizenship, without education, and without interest in the country it inhabits, is an element both demoralizing and dangerous to the community within which it exists.”

Soapine ad

A late 1800s ad for Soapine, produced by the Kendall Manufacturing Company of Providence, R.I.

White folks must have been easily demoralized back then, although they certainly had no problem with using Chinese laundrymen or eating Chinese food. As still happens today, fear of the “other” and concerns about “racial purity” ruled the day. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, restricting any new immigration from China and barring the Chinese who were already here from ever becoming U.S. citizens. This marked the first time in American history that the U.S. restricted immigration based explicitly on race. (The Chinese remained ineligible for citizenship until the Exclusion Act was finally repealed in 1943!)

Chinatowns in America were extreme forms of racial segregation created in response to congressionally mandated racism. So it was that Chinatowns came into existence not out of collective pride in Chinese heritage, but for group safety. As they had on the West Coast, the Chinese congregated in part to repel anti-Chinese attacks.

Washington, DC’s original Chinatown took shape in the 1880s on Pennsylvania Avenue, between 3rd and 7th streets NW. Pennsylvania Avenue was a major commercial hub at the time, catering to Congress members and other VIPs. Greeks and Italians ran most of the nearby businesses, hotels and restaurants, but the Chinese did have some shops in the area, mostly laundries.

Excluded from not only neighborhoods, but also many trades, the Chinese had turned to the service industry, taking on work that was deemed undesirable by whites and that required little training and capital. In DC, this work included groceries, restaurants and laundries. In 1881, the DC Directory listed four Chinese laundries. A decade later, this number had grown to about 40.

Chinatown DC Pennsylvania Ave

Commercial buildings along the south side of Pennsylvania Ave., including the Nam Kee and Hop Sing laundries, circa 1890 (Courtesy of Washingtonia Division, DC Public Library – Photo By: L.C. Handy)

The Chinese were seen mostly as quiet and law-abiding, but their rights were still limited. In 1929, the feds kicked out the entire population of Chinatown to build the cultural and government buildings known as Federal Triangle.

The displaced Chinese residents and businesses were resilient though. In 1931, nearly 400 of the Pennsylvania Avenue Chinese moved several blocks north to H Street NW, between 5th and 7th streets. The area’s white residents and businesses opposed the mass relocation and launched a petition to prevent the migration. It failed, and DC’s Chinese had a new Chinatown.

Germans had originally populated the H Street NW site (it’s still home to the Washington branch of the Goethe-Institut), but the name Germantown never really caught on, and the Germans had left well before the Chinese arrived on the scene. By 1936, 800 Chinese lived in the new Chinatown.

Chinatown DC pagoda phone

Bring back the pagoda phones! In 1981, there were two pagoda telephone booths in Chinatown on the northeast corner of 7th & H streets NW. (Courtesy of the Washington Post – Photo By: Tim Dillon)

For a few decades, the re-established Chinatown developed a thriving cultural community. Then came the 1968 race riots. Although many of the businesses north of Chinatown were torched and looted, Chinatown was untouched. The neighborhood, however, suffered from its proximity to the rioting, and businesses suffered along with it. Most of Chinatown’s Chinese followed their German predecessors out to the suburbs.

By the mid-1970s, Chinatown had so little Chinese flavor that when the city opened a Metro station in the heart of the neighborhood, it was called Gallery Place (for its proximity to the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery), with no mention of Chinatown. By the late ’80s, only a quarter of all Chinatown businesses were Chinese owned.

So how do you reinvigorate a disappearing Chinatown when all the Chinese have left? You make it look like a Chinatown.

Foreseeing the threat of a complete disappearance of Chinatown in our nation’s capital, the remaining local Chinese community took action. With some funding from the feds, they built the Wah Luck House, an affordable housing complex for low-income Chinese residents. It was a good start but not much of a tourist destination. So the community pushed for the creation of some sort of visible attraction, like an archway, that would draw visitors to Chinatown. Mayor Marion Barry sprang into action. In 1984, he helped establish Beijing and DC as sister cities, and the Friendship Arch, a traditional Chinese gate, was dedicated by Barry and the mayor of Beijing in 1986. This dazzling $1 million work of public art includes seven roofs up to 60 feet high, 7,000 glazed tiles and 272 painted dragons.

Chinatown DC arch construction

Looking east at construction of the Chinatown Friendship Archway in 1989. To the right of the arch is a parking lot that today is the site of Gallery Place. (Courtesy of Zinnia “DC Changes” Photograph Collection)

With its 35,000 separate wooden pieces decorated with 23-karat gold, the Friendship Arch was a gleaming beacon of hope for a new Chinese presence. But the rest of Chinatown was rundown and falling apart, and soon the arch was falling apart, too. In June 1990, one of the 100-pound dragons fell off and landed on a passing soda truck. By Chinese standards, this was an ominous sign, usually portending the fall of a great emperor. Sure enough, that same night, “Mayor for Life” Marion Barry announced that he would be stepping down from office at the end of his term, following his recent arrest for possession of crack. Eight years later, the mayor of Beijing would be found guilty of corruption and forced to resign. Both mayors went to jail. And Chinatown still struggled to remain Chinese.

Chinatown Friendship Arch

There be dragons! (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Even though Chinatown now had the largest single-span Chinese archway outside of China, the neighborhood still needed a little more Chinese flavor. To preserve what was left of the character of Chinatown, local ordinances required that all signs appear in English and Chinese. A $200 million renovation in the 1990s brought in more restaurants, stores and entertainment but, ironically, most of the new businesses were national chain restaurants and stores. This created some interesting juxtapositions. Places like Hertz Rental Cars and Starbucks attempted literal translations. But the jokey racism of English names like the restaurant Wok n’ Roll transformed into “Hall of Precious Flavor.” And Chinatown Gifts became something completely different in translation: “Service Center for People Leaving the Country.”

Today, less than 15 percent of Chinatown residents are ethnic Chinese. Only a few hundred residents live in their ethnically named enclave, and most of them live at Wah Luck House. The superficial homage to Chinatown’s Chinese past lives on though, in the Chinese-character signs that grace Fuddruckers, Legal Seafoods and Urban Outfitters. Transforming a neighborhood and translating the names of its shops can be a tricky business, but even if it doesn’t promote authenticity, it adds character. For all we know, the Chinese characters on the Friendship Arch may actually say “Welcome to Germantown.”

Veterans Day — Celebrating Those Who Served

Major hostilities of World War I ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the time at which the Armistice with Germany was signed. Along with Europe, the United States originally observed Armistice Day, remembering those who died in the “war to end all wars.” Turns out, it didn’t end all wars. Along came another world war (enough already, Germany — you had your chance!) and then another war (Korean War) and Armistice Day evolved in 1954 into Veterans Day. Congress, and our veterans, realized that we’d be better off creating a day to remember American veterans of all wars, since these wars just seemed to keep on coming.

While Memorial Day celebrates our veterans who died while serving, Veterans Day celebrates all U.S. military veterans.

When Banks Were Good: The Oldest S&L in America

Oriental Building Association

The Oriental Building Association in its latest incarnation (Photo By: heydayjoe)

McCain reveals his true gnomic character during the 2008 presidential debates

McCain reveals his true gnomic character during the 2008 presidential debates.

Long before their predatory practices were scandalously defended by presidential hopeful and secret gremlin John McCain, the savings and loan association was a godsend to families who needed a leg up in the world.

In the early 1800s, most folks didn’t need a bank unless they had boatloads of money. Barter was still common, and if people did have some extra cash, they stashed it in a safe or under a mattress.

Along came the savings and loan association (S&L). Also known as thrifts, savings and loan associations were for the little guy. They were cooperative organizations that lent money to people to buy a house, make home improvements or build on their land. Before the birth of the S&L, it was the insurance companies that provided home mortgage services, with short-term deals highly in their favor. Needless to say, many people lost their homes and their shirts.

The S&Ls, however, were different. The goal was to help develop communities. Anyone who deposited money into the association was a shareholder and received dividends in proportion to the organization’s profits. A member’s saving account was, therefore, an investment in the community.

DC’s oldest S&L, the Oriental Building Association, was founded in 1861. Located at 600 F Street NW in Penn Quarter, the Oriental Building Association No. 6 Building, also known as the OBA Federal Savings & Loan Association, until 2003 housed the oldest continually operating savings & loan association in America.

Located just two blocks from the heart of today’s Chinatown, the bank would presumably have been founded by Chinese businessmen. But the Chinese did not call themselves “Oriental” (Westerners did), Chinatown until 1929 was actually located several blocks away (along Pennsylvania Avenue between 1st and 3rd streets NW) and what we think of today as Chinatown was known then as Germantown.

600 block of F Street NW Washington DC

The 600 block of F Street NW in 1900, looking west, taken in front of what would become the Oriental Association Building. The buildings on the right were replaced by Verizon Center, with the exception of the U.S. Patent Building in the distance (now the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum).

The four German businessmen who founded the Oriental Building Association were members of the Oriental Lodge, a fraternal organization of the Freemasons. Derived from the Latin for “east,” Orient is a common term among Freemasons; the regional governing body of a Freemason group, a Masonic “Grand Lodge,” is also referred to as a “Grand Orient.”

Oriental Building Association

Oriental Building Association – get your chicken wings here (Photo By: heydayjoe)

The Oriental Building Association Building was designed in the Italian Renaissance Revival Style by Albert Goehner in 1909 and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. (Goehner also designed the Concordia German Evangelical Church and Rectory, at 20th & G, which was posted to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.) The OBA Building is one of the last remnants of the original downtown DC to survive from the neighborhood’s turn-of-the-century heyday as a thriving downtown business sector.

Today the OBA Building is home to ground-level retail tenant Fuel Pizza & Wings, office tenant Terra Eclipse and upstairs event rental space The Loft at 600 F Street.

Despite federal deregulation in the 1980s, the massive subsequent (and expected) bank fraud and the ultimate failure of nearly half of all S&Ls in the U.S., the Oriental Building Association lives on. In 2003, it moved a few blocks to 700 7th Street NW, and the Oriental Building Association remains the oldest continually operating S&L in the nation.

DC as Canvas: International Graduate University Sculpture

  International Graduate University sculpture

Buchanan School (International Graduate University) numbers sculpture (Photo By: heydayjoe)

The placement of this Brutalist sculpture next to an elementary school looks as if it may have been intended to enhance the learning environs by bringing some whimsy to the playground. Hey kids! Hulking blocks of concrete can be fun! Just look at those jaunty integers! Or it may have been a reminder to the young students that school isn’t fun at all – numbers are serious business!

The truth is, this sculpture is a small part of what was a massive redevelopment of a deteriorating inner-city school’s playground facilities. This sculpture and two others are practically all that remains of what was once one of DC’s greatest playgrounds.

Built in 1895, the Buchanan School (1325 D Street SE) was old and run-down by the 1960s. The schoolyard was a barren site hemmed in on two sides by a chain-link fence. It was of little use to students or the local residents.

With the goal of reimagining the desolate schoolyard as an adventure playground for the whole community, the Vincent Astor Foundation, a proponent of innovative social projects, provided $428,940 to the Buchanan School as part of Ladybird Johnson’s “Beautify America” program. The results transformed the schoolyard into one of the best playgrounds in DC.

Buchanan School playground

Buchanan School Courtyard, shortly after opening in 1968 — looks like a lawsuit waiting to happen…

Patterned after the Jacob Riis Plaza Playground in New York City, the revamped site included a sunken basketball court, amphitheater and water-spray area with wall-spray jets that transformed it into an outdoor shower during the hot summer months; a community area with picnic tables, game pedestals and benches; play equipment including bridges, towers, swings, cable jungles, ramps and pulleys on wire ramps for sliding and swinging; and art objects – for climbing!

Buchanan School playground

In the upper-left corner of the upper-left photo, you can see the taller Tarr sculpture. In the photo on the right, live-action Q*Bert! (Buchanan School Courtyard, 1968)

“The play section for children is a dense forest of climbing poles, ‘hills’ of granite cobblestones to climb up on and tunnels to crawl under, sliding boards, a tree house, trampoline boards, a ‘spider’ made of radiating cables, a loose cable with a sliding ring to swoosh, like Tarzan, from hill to hill on, and all manner of stepping stones and bridges. All this rises on a deep layer of sand so no one gets hurt if he falls.” (Washington Post – May 8, 1968)

Buchanan School playground

Buchanan School Courtyard, 1968

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for that sand to be filled with garbage and broken glass.

Before the playground was built, the Washington Post called the schoolyard a “mess of broken concrete, weeds and trash.” Two years after the “children’s paradise” opened, the newspaper reported that “it sits among weeds, litter and desolation.”

So what happened?

Maintenance of the community playground was handed over to the cash-strapped DC Department of Parks and Recreation, which did … nothing. Ceaseless vandalism and poor maintenance plagued the playground. One fed the other until the entire site was dilapidated once more. Now, all that remains of the “round-the-clock community playground” are three concrete-block sculptures designed for climbing.

International Graduate University sculpture

Buchanan School (International Graduate University) tall sculpture, with one of the four campus buildings in background (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Created by William Tarr (1925-2006) and erected in 1967, the concrete numerical block (pictured at top of story) is located on the south side of what was originally the James Buchanan Secondary Learning Center, a high school. A larger, 15-foot-tall concrete column (right), also by Tarr, sits directly west of the main school, facing Watkins Field. This one is carved with circles, squares, arrows and rectangles, all laid in random patterns. It’s just as whimsical.

In the 1960s, urban planners were beginning to recognize that the sites of inner-city schools like Buchanan assume greater significance to the surrounding community than suburban or rural sites, because congested urban areas are often lacking recreational facilities within easy reach of their homes. They realized that many schools had taken on the appearance of prisons. They realized that no one likes to be in prison. They also realized that kids like to climb on things – even if they look like totalitarian totems. What they didn’t realize is that playgrounds need regular maintenance and protection from vandalism. Unfortunately, they left those tasks to the District government, which failed on all counts.

William Tarr’s concrete and steel sculptures appear to have been influenced by the anti-bourgeois nature of Soviet era architecture. (The Buchanan School sculptures are reminiscent of Brutalist architecture works in DC, such as the FBI Building and the University of Washington DC). His most famous work in DC is the 5,900-pound bronze “Gates of Hell,” also known as the “Gates of the Six Million,” displayed at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Tarr’s sculptures for schools are still visible in both cities: New York landed the 63-ton welded-steel tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. in Manhattan, and DC ended up with a few concrete totems for a Capitol Hill elementary school.

The secondary school that had since become James Buchanan Elementary School had been slowly deteriorating for decades before it closed around 1994. In 1999, former professor and septuagenarian Walter Boek bought the four-building campus and converted it into the National Graduate University (dubbed the International Graduate University in 2009), saying that he was heeding the call of Congress for instituting such a school.

No one has been able to verify any of Boek’s statements regarding the origin or legitimacy of the university.

International Graduate University sculpture

The abandoned International Graduate University (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Given its mysterious origins, it’s not surprising that International Graduate University has a very weird history, with at most one or two rooms ever being used for classes on its massive campus. DC Councilmember Tommy Wells said of Boek in 2012 “… the guy creeps me out.” In November 2012, Boek died at age 89, leaving the fate of the International Graduate University in limbo. The William Tarr sculptures still grace the school grounds, just waiting to greet the next batch of students and haunt their dystopian dreams.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was updated after a reader notified us of factual in accuracies in the original. Thank you, friend of Heyday. You know who you are!

DC’s Oldest Apartment Building Hangs On — Barely

DC's oldest apartment

The Harrison Apartment Building — DC’s oldest surviving apartment building (Photo By: heydayjoe)

In the late-nineteenth century, DC residents weren’t too keen on living in apartment buildings. Washingtonians at the time associated “apartments” with New York City’s festering, crime-ridden tenements – filthy, overcrowded buildings packed with recent immigrants and lacking the basic amenities of civilized society.

When tasked with designing an apartment building, architect Charles E. Gibbs (co-founder of local architectural and contracting firm Johnson and Company) decided to disguise his apartment building as row houses, which were more acceptable to DC dwellers. The idea is akin to designing new “loft apartments.” Completed in 1890, the Harrison Apartment Building at 704 3rd Street NW (corner of 3rd & G NW) is the earliest extant example of the row-house style in DC – and the city’s oldest known surviving conventional apartment building.

The Harrison was built for Harvey Spalding, a prominent Washington lawyer who also had an eye for real estate investment. Conveniently, Spalding’s law specialties were “Government Claims, Land and Patent Cases, Postmasters’ Claims under ‘Spalding Act,’ and Claims of Soldiers Charged with Desertion.” Spalding likely named the Harrison in honor of Republican president-elect Benjamin Harrison, who defeated Democrat incumbent President Grover Cleveland in the 1888 election.

Harrison Apartments oldest DC apartment

The original-arch entryway on the east side (3rd Street) of Harrison Apartments, looking north (Photo By: heydayjoe)

The Harrison was constructed in two sections in 1888-90. The southern section was apartments in the form of super-size row houses with projecting bays. Just as the residences were being completed, however, the federal government decided to lease the building from Spalding to use as an executive office for the Census Bureau, which was ramping up its staff for the 1890 census. The feds offered to pay Spalding handsomely for the rental if he agreed to build a northern addition, to be completed by the end of the year. The Census Office stayed for only a few years before the entire building reverted to its intended use as apartments.

The five-story brick Harrison features 79 apartments and a Romanesque Revival façade, with classical Roman arches, cavernous entryways and rounded towers. (The Smithsonian Castle, c. 1847-55, is the first American representation of the Romanesque Revival, predating the second revival that began in the 1870s.)

In the late 1880s, the neighborhood around 3rd & G NW consisted of row houses that surrounded the commercial center of DC. The Harrison was the first multi-family building in the area, with a single apartment entrance that led through a spacious vestibule to a reception room and a public dining room. Originally, a barbershop and drug store also occupied space on the first floor, with their own separate entrances. The basement level served as a café around this time.

Harrison-Apartments-Bliss-Native-Herbs-DCIn 1899, Spalding sold the Harrison to Alonzo Ogilvie Bliss, who thoroughly renovated the place and renamed it the Astoria. Bliss had served in the 10th New York Calvary in the Civil War and later became a businessman, marketing the popular cure-all “Bliss Native Herbs” and owning and managing about a dozen apartment buildings in DC.

After 1941, the name was changed to the Canterbury. Today referred to as the Harrison, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. Sadly, the interior of the building is not designated historic, and the non-loadbearing walls, which delineated the apartments, were demolished years ago.

Harrison-Office-Rendering-PQLivingFrom 2006 to 2011, the building changed ownership three times. At one point it was slated to become part of an office development (see rendering at right). The Harrison’s current owner has proposed to construct a 12-story hotel addition to the landmark apartment building, keeping only the exterior walls of the historic building – but nothing’s happened yet. Our guess is that the owner is waiting to move forward until the massive nearby Capitol Crossing project is completed.

In the meantime, the grand old Harrison continues to deteriorate. Since it’s had so many owners, the City doesn’t know whom to blame for the Harrison’s neglect. Boarded up and vacant for the past 11 years, the property is currently the squat of some of DC’s homeless population. Here’s to hoping that the grand old Harrison Apartment Building can retain some of its past glory and live on as a historical reminder of DC’s past.

Black Israelites DC: Hating and Berating at Gallery Place

Black Israelites outside Gallery Place in Chinatown DC

The Black Israelites want to make you cry. (Photo By: heydayjoe)

If you’ve ever walked by the corner of 7th and H streets in Chinatown on a Friday afternoon, you probably heard the amplified tub-thumpings of the Black Israelites of DC long before you saw their shoulder pads and flowing black robes. Although they may look like a gothic super-hero tribute to Earth, Wind and Fire, their ultimate vision is the impending bloody demise of whites and other enemies at the hands of a vengeful returning Christ.

The Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK), Inc. (yes, they are incorporated, as a nonprofit) is a sectarian faction of the Black Israelites, whose members believe they are direct descendants of the ancient Israelites. The Black Israelites follow the teachings of the Kings James Bible and adhere in varying degrees to the religious beliefs and practices of mainstream Judaism. The guys from ISUPK, though, are a far cry from the Judaism of Eric Cantor or Drake.

Given what these particular Black Israelites profess not to like, it’s hard to imagine what would make these radical rabbis smile. The Black Israelites hate homosexuals, “fraudulent” Jews, Asians, abortionists, promiscuous black women, Martin Luther King (“a no-good, low-life traitor”), Jesse Jackson, Barack Obama, the Virgin Mary and Santa Claus. (No word on how they feel about puppies and babies.) They have a special hatred for the white man, who is believed to be evil personified and deserving of only death or slavery.

Next time you see them on the streets, you can try asking them about it (tip: bring your own megaphone). Or you can do what gay rights activist Qween Amor did. S/he tangoed with the Black Israelites at Gallery Place, foiling their bigoted bluster as a dancing David to their blow-hard Goliath.

The first time Qween Amor danced in front of the group, s/he was arrested for indecent exposure. But s/he kept coming back to dance, and the Black Israelites didn’t appear on the corner for months. Amor has since moved to New York, and the Israelites are back! You can catch their next show on any given Friday around rush hour, live and uncut, on the southeast corner of 7th & H NW. But remember, according to their preachings, God hates the sin, the sinner and this world in general — yes, that means you. Enjoy!

[dropshadowbox align=”center” effect=”lifted-both” width=”500px” height=”” background_color=”#f3e7fd” border_width=”3″ border_color=”#39006b” ]BONUS: Here’s a list of famous people that most folks think are white but that, according to the ISUPK, are actually black: Beethoven, Mozart, Shakespeare, Tom Jones and Henry VIII, to name a few.[/dropshadowbox]

DC as Canvas: Bohemian Caverns Mural – Miles Misses Shirley

Bohemian caverns mural

What’s left of the Bohemian Caverns mural by Alonso Tamayo (Photo By: heydayjoe)

The Bohemian Caverns mural is half the mural it used to be. Created by artist Alonso Tamayo in 2000, the original artwork spanned the entire north side of the famous restaurant and jazz nightclub at 2001 11th Street NW and featured both Miles Davis and Shirley Horn. If Miles’ portrait could speak, he would probably encourage you to look a little deeper, to see beyond what’s in front of you and find what’s not there (i.e., Shirley).

Bohemian Caverns mural 2007

The Bohemian Caverns mural as it appeared in 2007 (Photo By: Holley St. Germain)

Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there.” – Miles Davis

During Prohibition, the Bohemian Caverns (aka Club Caverns, then Crystal Caverns) was the swingingest jazz joint in DC, operating out of the basement of what was then the Davis Drugstore at the corner of 11th & U Street. Guests of all colors gathered for brined pork chops, liquor served in teacups and jazz jams that blew their socks off. Everyone who was anyone played the Caverns – not only Miles and Shirley, but also Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Billie Holliday, Pearl Bailey, Ramsey Lewis, Bill Evans, Eric Dolphy, Charles Mingus and John Coltrane.

When Bohemian Taverns commissioned Alonso Tamayo to create the outdoor mural, he was in his final year at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore. Soon after, he moved to New York to earn an MFA in Digital Communication and Media/Multimedia from Pratt Institute, followed by motion graphic and web design work for MTV Networks, CSTV/CBS and Armani Exchange.

Bohemian Caverns mural Miles Davis

Miles Davis detail, Bohemian Caverns mural (Photo By: heydayjoe)

After returning to his native Bolivia, Tamayo earlier this year founded Abstrakt Studios in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, where he spends his time as Creative Director of multimedia projects. You can see Tamayo painting his last known mural at the beginning of this BBC video. The mural was created in August 2013 at the recently whitewashed graffiti landmark 5Pointz in Long Island City, Queens.

Like his 5Pointz mural, the Bohemian Caverns painting has also suffered. In 2009, half of the piece was lost to weathering and wall repair. Workers repaired the west end of the wall and painted over Shirley Horn’s face with a layer of gray. The owners have said they plan to restore the Caverns mural, but as of July 2014, Miles stands alone.

Today Washington DC Became Capital of the United States

The U.S. Capitol as it appeared circa 1800, when DC became capital

The U.S. Capitol as it appeared circa 1800 when DC became capital, in a watercolor painting by William Russell Birch (Image Courtesy of Library of Congress)

On June 11, 1800, DC became capital of the United States, leaving the country’s former capital of the previous decade, Philadelphia, to the fate of Pennsylvanians. While Washington, DC, was a young upstart, Philadelphia was the largest city in America at the time, with nearly 50,000 residents.

George Washington never saw the city named after him become the capital of the new nation; he had died more than six months before – his last words: “Tis well.”

In 1800, the U.S. Capitol building consisted only of the Senate’s north wing. The Senate and House members shared this wing until a temporary wooden pavilion was built for House members. Their south wing was finally completed in 1811, but the House members didn’t wait – they left their pavilion and moved into the unfinished wing in 1807.

At this time of the capital move from Philly, there were only about 125 federal employees newly bound for DC, and official documents and archives were transferred by ship via inland waterways.

President John Adams had to move, too, but the “President’s Palace” – which wouldn’t be called the “White House” until 1811 – was still under construction. Instead, Adams took a room over Tunnicliff’s, a Capitol Hill tavern at the corner of 1st and A NE. Good to know that our first DC resident President lived over a bar…

Union Station Roman Legionnaires: Behind the Shields

More than 90,000 visitors pass through Union Station daily and, thanks to a group of foresighted railroad officials now long dead, most of those visitors will never have to see a Roman legionnaire’s sculpted man parts.

Back in 1906, American sculptor Louis Saint-Gaudens was under contract with the railroads to create a series of interior and exterior statues for the massive Union Station train depot being developed a few blocks north of the U.S. Capitol. Louis was the brother of famed American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who created the bronze Adams Memorial in Rock Creek Park.

As the Roman legionnaire symbolized the far-flung reaches of the Roman Empire, so these figures symbolize the far-flung ribbons of steel of the vast network of the American railroads reaching every part of the United States.” — George J. Olszewski, “Construction History of Union Station, Washington, D.C.”

For Union Station’s interior, the main sculptural theme was to be Roman legionnaires, to complement architect Daniel Burnham’s Beaux-Arts style modeled after the Roman baths. Upon official railroad approval of a plaster model to be submitted in advance, Saint-Gaudens would then complete 46 carved soldiers. Perched atop the arches over the entrances and exits of the main waiting room, these larger-than-life statues of Roman legionnaires would dutifully watch over the Union Station travelers below.

When Saint-Gaudens submitted his plaster model of the legionnaire, though, there was one small problem: You could see his package. And it wasn’t wrapped. To be clear, the soldier’s wee willy wasn’t even a proper Roman penis — more of a nubbin really. But the officials of the Baltimore & Ohio and Pennsylvania Railroads were having none of it – there would be no sexy soldier legs or any other bareness beneath the belt.

Although the pants-free lifestyle was typical of the Roman legionnaire, railroad officials believed it would cause undue embarrassment for little old ladies visiting Union Station to be exposed to the towering genitalia of rock-hard Roman legionnaires. They felt Union Station was designed to be a noble transportation hub for our nation’s capital, not a giant Roman bathhouse with leering legionnaires gone commando. Louis Saint-Gaudens was urged to alter his model.

Jarrett Hendrix (@briliantartistry) takes a photo of a Roman legionnaire's junk. (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Jarrett Hendrix (@brilliantartistry) takes a photo of a Roman legionnaire’s junk. (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Louis tried to convince the prudish railroad officials of the architectural significance of the symbolic figures, but they were adamant that no sculpted man-bits would appear in their new train station. After many meetings (for which we wish we had the transcripts), Saint-Gaudens proposed a solution: Why not place a shield in front of the legs of each legionnaire, held by his right hand (so station travelers would know what that right hand was up to), and thus covering the objectionable hint of phallus the whole way from feet to hips, just to be sure. The railroad officials conceded that this was an adequate manhood cover, and the shields were incorporated into the final design.

The 46 legionnaires were hollow cast in plaster with a sand finish and arranged in pairs over arches. Of these, 36 appeared in the main hall: 10 facing inward from the north gates to the concourse, 10 over exits from the station and eight each on the east and west sides. Six soldiers appear under the main portico above the doors to the main hall, with four more in the west hall. In addition to these figures, Saint-Gaudens created the six enormous stone statues on the façade facing Union Station Plaza and the U.S. Capitol. The more than 50 statues he created for Union Station are considered his life’s masterwork.

Within six years of his contract, Saint-Gaudens had completed carving all of the statuary for both the interior and exterior of Union Station. He was paid $52,044.10 for his work. In 1913, the Roman legionnaire statues were set in place. That same year, Saint-Gaudens died, a victim of pneumonia. Was it Legionnaires’ disease?

Behind the shield revealed (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Behind the shield revealed (Photo By: heydayjoe)

BONUS: You may have noticed that all 46 Roman legionnaire statues look fairly similar in face and build. They are. The model for Saint-Gaudens’ legionnaires was Helmus Andrews, a student from Pomona College in Claremont, Calif. All 46 Roman legionnaires have Helmus’ features, though we’re not sure about the nether-nubbens. According to Carol Highsmith and Ted Lamphair’s “Union Station: A Decorative History of Washington’s Grand Terminal,” Helmus visited the station nearly 50 years later and was not impressed. The statues look “pretty crummy,” he said, and he was probably right. By the 1960s, the statues were in dire need of cleaning. One was wearing a Santa hat.

To see more great behind-the-scenes photos of Union Station and the Roman legionnaires, check out the hashtag #UnionStationTour on Instagram and Twitter.

United House of Prayer Has Sweet Daddy of a Parade

(Photo By: heydayjoe)

(Photo By: heydayjoe)

Not to be confused with IHOP, UHOP is a big deal in DC. Bigger than all-day pancake breakfast. Big enough to have its own parade. IHOP doesn’t get its own parade.

With a dozen brass bands, gospel singers and cheerleaders for Jesus, UHOP takes the almighty word of God to the streets each year on Memorial Day weekend with its “Christian Saints” marching parade. The video below shows one of several blocks filled with church members preparing for the parade.

The United House of Prayer for All People (also known as the United House of Prayer for All People of the Church on the Rock of the Apostolic Faith) – let’s call it UHOP – was founded in 1919 by “Sweet Daddy” Grace, a Cape Verdi immigrant also known as Bishop Charles Manuel Grace and born as Marcelino Manuel da Graca. Let’s call him “Sweet Daddy.”

Once a railway cook, Sweet Daddy began using the title bishop and built the first UHOP church in Wareham, Mass., for 39 bucks – ecumenical and economical. The church was incorporated in Washington, DC, in 1937, and its national headquarters is located in the Shaw neighborhood at 601 M Street NW. Members refer to the headquarters as “Sweet God’s White House.” (Its gold dome can be seen in the still for the video above.)

In addition to its renowned cafeteria, which serves inexpensive soul food, UHOP headquarters is also famous for it mass street baptisms, in which hundreds of congregants dressed in white, many wearing shower caps, are baptized by fire hose.

According to UHOP documents, the church now has between 25,000 and 50,000 members, with 145 houses of worship in 29 states.

For its annual parade, UHOP busses in congregants from all over the country. After about an hour of preparation, in which shout-band cacophony fills the streets near the church, the parade kicks off in royal fashion. Led by long columns of male church elders in black robes, UHOP’s current bishop, C.M. “Sweet Daddy” Bailey, rides in a chariot throne with members of his family.