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]

Wish We Were Here: DC Postcards #11

Our latest hand-altered DC postcard reflects how having more guns on the streets of DC would simply require more Dirty Harrys on the grounds of the White House. Last weekend, U.S. District Judge Frederick J. Scullin, Jr. struck down DC’s ban on carrying handguns outside of a person’s home, which is just fine with Dirty Harry’s brand of vigilante justice.

Dirty Harry White House

(Image By: heydayjoe)

“Go ahead. Make my day.”

Summer Whites & Summer Nights: Navy Band Concert

Springfield rifles, disco, precision drills, bayonets, the presenting of the flag and “Jersey Boys” — how’s that for a hot date on a hot summer night? The Navy band concert is part of a long tradition of live military concerts in DC, and a perfect storm of summer whites and summer nights.

The Concert on the Avenue series features the United States Navy Band and Navy Ceremonial Guard playing live in concert on select Tuesday evenings this summer at the U.S. Navy Memorial on Pennsylvania Avenue. The next shows are July 22, July 29, August 12 and August 19.

If the Navy’s top brass kicking beats isn’t enough to float your boat, get a load of the Sea Chanters, the official chorus of the U.S. Navy. The Chanters’ repertoire includes sea chanteys, patriotic songs and even pop ditties. In the Heyday video below, the Sideboys ensemble (part of the Sea Chanters chorus) performs “Sherry” as part of its “Jersey Boys” medley during a concert at the U.S. Navy Memorial on June 17, 2014. Musician 1st Class Michael Webb, a native of Reston, Va., sings lead.

The Navy loves pop music!

When the Village People released “In the Navy” in 1978, the Navy contacted the group about using the song as a recruitment tool in a TV and radio ad campaign. The band’s manager agreed, on the condition that the Navy help them shoot the music video. The Navy provided the Village People with the warship USS Reasoner in San Diego, several aircraft and a crew with strict orders not to dance. The Navy later canceled the campaign after protests about the use of taxpayer money to support a group that some thought might have ulterior motives for joining the Navy. Here’s the official video. You decide.

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.

Folklife Festival 2014 Features “America’s No. 1 Enemy” and “Obama’s Birthplace”

Folklife Festival Kenya thatch hut

Peeping Tom at the Kenyan thatch hut (Photo By: heydayjoe)

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival is the annual event in which America feigns interest in cultural traditions that are not her own, typically from countries we consider to be our pals. But not this year. Throwing caution to the five winds, organizers decided to fulfill the most paranoid delusions of the Tea Party faithful – that Obama is a Muslim, Kenyan-born, kowtowing Commie – by bucking tradition and featuring the cultural folklore of Kenya and China. (Congratulations, China, on surpassing Iran this year as our No. 1 enemy!)

Launched during the Summer of Love in 1967, the free-of-charge Folklife Festival is the largest cultural event in DC, drawing more than 1 million visitors to sweat together under tents each year.

Held outdoors on the National Mall for two weeks every summer, Folklife over the years has brought more than 23,000 artists, musicians, performers, craftspeople, cooks, workers, storytellers and others to the Mall to demonstrate their creative traditions. To help us remember America’s still No. 1, though, the festival always overlaps the Fourth of July. (NOTE: Our tradition of eating BBQ, drinking beer, wearing the American flag and blowing sh*t up will always trump your quaint costumed dances and soapstone hippo carvings.)

Folklife has featured tradition bearers from more than 90 countries and is “an international exposition of living cultural heritage,” according to its producer, the Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. It’s a chance for Americans to see other cultures without having to leave America, like visiting Chinatown or going to the Bronx.

Folklife Festival Tian Tian Xiang Shang Gateway

Danny Yung’s comic figure Tian Tian points to his Tian Tian Xiang Shang Gateway. Yung is the founder of avant-garde arts group Zuni Icosahedron and is revered as the “cultural godfather” of Hong Kong. (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Programs at Folklife are usually divided into a nation, region, state or theme. Some are more exotic than others. Topics have included Workers at the White House, King Island Eskimo Dancers, Streetplay, Portuguese-American Fado Musicians, Iroquois Confederacy, American Trial Lawyers, Meat Cutters and Butchers, Unfolding the AIDS Memorial Quilt, Bhutan: Land of the Thunder Dragon, Gateways to Romania, Organ Builders and Iowa: Community Style.

To bring these programs to life, the Festival has built an array of cultural re-creations, including an Indian village with 40-foot-high bamboo and paper statues, a Japanese rice paddy, a New Mexican adobe plaza and a horse racetrack that stretched from the Washington Monument to the U.S. Capitol Building.

This year, Folklife constructed the enormous Tian Tian Xiang Shang Gateway at the western entrance to the festival, to remind festivalgoers that China has a lighter side, one that it plans to employ when it crushes America with its growing economic power. Rather than showing off its more recent traditions of cultural repression and citizen intimidation, China instead featured such cultural customs as clay sculpture, traditional Inner Mongolian music and kite-making. If you want a taste of real Chinese economic influence, visit DC’s new Walmart at 1st and H Street NW.

The video below features Inner Mongolian ensemble Ih Tsetsn performing at the Moonrise Pavilion on July 5. The band’s name means “broad, inclusive and wise” in the Mongolian language, and their music was just that – showcasing the morin khuur (horse-head fiddle), topshuur (two-stringed plucked instrument), long song and khoomei throat-singing. We dare you not to belch along.

The Kenya programs at Folklife featured natives dressed like Marion Barry during his African-garb phase, wild booty-shaking percussion music and fantastic huts made of recycled bottles, tin, bottle caps, broken tiles and glass.

The video below features Makadem, a Kenyan artist specializing in Benga music, performing with his band at the Ngoma Stage on June 29.

Check out the photos below for more highlights of the Folklife Festival 2014.

Click here to see more 2014 Folklife Festival videos on Heyday DC’s YouTube channel.

Temperance Fountain: Nobody Knows How Dry It Was

Temperance Fountain DC

Located near the southeast corner of Indiana and 7th NW, the Cogswell Temperance Fountain is the only intact fountain of its kind. (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Dr. Henry Cogswell often wondered why anyone would choose an alcoholic beverage over a nice cool drink of water. In his mind, the solution was simple: Build water fountains across America.

Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.” – Ogden Nash

While most dentists rail against the harmfulness of sweets and candy, Doc Cogswell warned about the evils of distilled liquor. It makes sense if you consider that most alcohol is the adult version of candy – fermented sugar. But that wasn’t the real issue for Cogswell. A devout Christian, he felt that the ungodly temptations of alcohol were destroying not only the family, but also man’s connection to God.

To Cogswell, the choice of what to drink was simply a matter of easy access: Offer a man in search of a saloon a drink of water instead of whiskey, and he will rightly choose the healthful, thirst-quenching water. Needless to say, Cogswell was not a drinker.

Henry Cogswell

Henry Cogswell, c. 1850-52

Born in New England, Henry Daniel Cogswell began his first dentistry practice at age 26 in Providence, Rhode Island. When gold was discovered in California, he went, spending five months aboard a clipper ship before landing in San Francisco on October 12, 1849. No 49er himself, he immediately set up shop to become the first practicing dentist in San Francisco. As a teetotaling tooth-puller, he made a mint from the gold miners, often decorating their terrible teeth with gold dental fillings made from their own finds. He also pioneered the use of anesthetic chloroform in dental operations in California. (Chloroform has since been shown to be carcinogenic – it’s like laughing gas without the laughs.)

I do not believe in people being compelled, whether they wish it or not, to go into a saloon to slake their thirst.” – Dr. Henry Cogswell

Cogswell got the last laugh though. He wisely invested his dental earnings in stocks and real estate, becoming one of the first millionaires in San Francisco. He retired from dentistry and put his money to good use, founding the Cogswell Polytechnic Institute, the first school of its kind west of the Mississippi. His real passion, though, was for curing the working classes of their drinking problem. His plan: to provide free drinking fountains in American cities, one for every 100 saloons. What the great unwashed really needed was cool clean water.

A strident supporter of Prohibition, Dr. Cogswell built his first fountains in San Francisco and then set his sights on the sinfully thirsty in the rest of the country.

His fountain at the junction of California and Market Streets [in San Francisco] was crowned by a full-length statue of the fountain-giver philanthropist until the close of the last year. On the first of the new year certain citizens found no better way of relieving the exuberance of their spirits, or of attesting their dislike of the statue as a work lacking art, than to hitch a rope about the neck of the good doctor’s image and pull it to the ground.” The New York Times, January 14, 1894

Cogswell designed his donated fountains himself, often incorporating a giant statue of himself in a frock coat, holding a cup and dispensing water to the parched masses. The recipients of Cogswell’s magnanimous gifts, however, often quenched themselves by other means and didn’t hesitate to express their true feelings about his monuments to temperance. One “silent gang of hoodlum miscreants” in San Francisco (as the San Francisco Morning Call put it) hitched a rope around the neck of the dentist’s bronze doppelganger and toppled the statue in 1894.

The residents of DC weren’t too keen on Cogswell’s monuments either, but as often happens in our nation’s capital, Congress overruled them and passed a bill in 1882 granting the dentist permission to donate the unwanted fountain. His original design for the DC fountain was, like the San Francisco monuments, topped with a statue of a man eerily similar to himself. But in DC, where statues of great men abound, that design didn’t sit well with the powers that be. Instead, the DC monument – located only blocks from the U.S. Capitol – is topped with a life-sized heron with a single reed growing next to it. (Although the heron appeared on a few cities’ fountains, others were adorned with gargoyles, frogs, pigeons, horses and sea serpents.)

Temperance Fountain heron

The bronze heron atop DC’s Temperance Fountain (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Installed in June 1884, DC’s Cogswell Temperance Fountain is located near the southeast corner of Indiana and 7th NW. Cogswell built about 15 of these anti-alcohol monuments nationwide – in Boston, Buffalo, Rochester, San Francisco – but DC’s is the last remaining intact Cogswell fountain (although restored and reconstructed fountains exist in New York City, Pawtucket, R.I., and Rockville, Conn.). For years, the monument stood squarely on the corner of 7th and Pennsylvania NW, across from the Apex Liquor Store, before it was moved a half-block north. Now it stands across from a Starbucks.

Apex Liquor Store DC

Apex Liquor Store, with Temperance Fountain in front

Made of granite and bronze, the fountain was chiseled at a Connecticut foundry, with the words “Faith,” “Hope,” “Charity” and “Temperance” cut under the stone canopy. Cogswell had patented a device to produce cool water and air from ice. Blocks of ice were placed in a sort of well around the central column, and the city pipes flowed through tube coils under the ice. In the fountain’s heyday, this ice water flowed from the mouths of two intertwined scaly dolphins, which look more like Chinese carp. A brass mug dangled by a chain, encouraging those passing by to scoop up a cup of the cool water. Below, a trough caught the runoff for thirsty horses.

Temperance Fountain fish

The fish mouth from which the cool water of the Temperance Fountain would flow (Photo By: heydayjoe)

It was probably pretty nice to have a cold cup of water during a hot DC summer in 1884, but it’s uncertain if the fountain ever worked. Soon after it was erected, the city stopped replenishing the ice altogether. In the late 1880s, the city considered connecting the fountain’s pipes to a local spring, but the spring was polluted with sewage.

Cogswell’s DC Temperance Fountain was headed for the scrap heap in the 1940s when Sen. Sheridan Downey of California introduced a Senate resolution to tear it down, calling it a “monstrosity of art.” Ulysses S. Grant III, the former president’s grandson and chair of the city’s planning commission, wanted to preserve it, calling the fountain “ugly, but interesting.” Congress ignored Downey’s resolution, and it died in committee.

In 1984, the fountain that nobody wanted in the first place was listed on the DC Downtown Historic District National Register. The pipes are no longer connected to the fountain and the ice well is, ironically, filled with discarded cups, soda bottles and other trash. Despite the abundance of public water fountains in town, the saloons of DC are still doing brisk business.