Happy Summer Solstice 2014, the longest day of the year! Here’s our latest altered DC postcard, encouraging you to tour DC’s Space Needle, follow the National Arboretum trail to the top of Mount Hamilton (240 feet above sea level!), kayak Rock Creek (if the water’s at least two feet deep!) and visit a farm(ers market). Just remember: No matter what you do this summer weekend, Obama will be watching you…
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…
We used an acorn with a cross section showing all the parts of the future oak being constructed within it to indicate that just because you don’t see growth on the surface, there’s still a lot going on behind the scenes.” — BroCoLoco
Created by the brotherly team BroCoLoco, the “WallNut” acorn H Street art appears on the side of the former Korame Home Products building at 620 H Street NE in the Atlas District. Commissioned for the 2013 H Street Festival, this acorn mural helps bring a little life to a mind-numbing stretch of blank beige wall – a wall that won’t exist for very much longer thanks to the sponsors of the mural, Insight Property Group.
Founded in 2012 and headquartered in Lexington, Ky., the Brothers Company Art Venture (aka BroCoLoco) is Aaron and Jared Scales’ design collaboration, which offers “storytelling services through art, architecture, branding, marketing & design.” Older brother Aaron is an architect who’s designed U.S. embassies and an award-winning Kentucky bus shelter. Jared is a sous chef on the side. The brothers have traveled to nearly 30 countries and use their travels as inspiration for global humanitarian endeavors. BroCoLoco donates funds to sponsor children through both Children International and ChildFund.
But let’s get back to the transected acorn. Just to the left of “WallNut” appear the phrases “Apollo Returning to H Street Soon” and “Mighty oaks hide in small seeds.” From 1913 to 1955, the Apollo Theatre, an ornate early Washington movie theater, stood here at 624 H Street NE. Like so many other once-cherished sites now demolished, the Apollo will live on in the massive new development taking its name. The $120 million Apollo H Street will include 321 residential units, 74,000 square feet of retail, more than 440 parking spaces and bicycle parking.
Say goodbye to longtime neighbors Murry’s Fine Foods, Korame Home Products, Good Danny’s Carry Out and H Street Storage. All will be closing this summer to make room for the mixed-use community, which will include a Whole Foods. The project, developed by acorn mural sponsors Insight Property Group, breaks ground in the fall. As for the “mighty oaks” phrase, yeah, we get it: Marketers have been co-opting the “great things come from small beginnings” idea for centuries, as in, great big new buildings come from the demolition of smaller older buildings.
BONUS: In addition to being artists, designers, photographers and self-proclaimed “creative extraordinaires,” the BroCoLoco brothers are also musicians. This video of “Hello Goodbye” should make it clear why we say hello to their murals and goodbye to their music.
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.
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?
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.
A frequent refrain of those touring the real Roman Catacombs is “Hey! I wanna see a dead body.” At the replicated Roman Catacombs in DC, you’re in luck. Deep beneath the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America in upper Northeast DC lie the remains of a martyred 7-year-old from the second century, St. Innocent. How does a second-grader become a martyr for his faith? We’ll never know. What we do know is that he was found buried with two adults, ostensibly his parents – some parents enter their kids in pageants, others push for martyrdom – and that his body was found holding a palm frond, which marked him as a martyr.
Clad in an elaborate beaded dress, St. Innocent also wears a wig and a wax mask to hide and protect his skull. Given the dress and the mask’s plucked eyebrows and pink lip gloss, you’ve got to wonder how the little martyr would have felt if his schoolmates ever saw him in this getup (girls = yucky; martyrdom = cool).
St. Benignus, a Roman soldier who was beheaded for his faith, is also entombed here. Well, most of him is – his skull is still in Italy. Both saints were originally buried in the real Roman Catacombs, 900 miles of underground passageways where Christians buried their dead.