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.”

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: From Crack to Canvas to Condo

Hanover Place DC street art

A taste of the murals that formerly graced Hanover Place NW (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Before it became home to one of the greatest collections of street art in Washington, DC, Hanover Place NW in Truxton Circle was a narrow, dead-end street where you could easily see the cops coming. It was also the place to buy cocaine in the 1980s, so much so that newspapers called it the city’s “cocaine supermarket.”

Until a few weeks ago, the west end of Hanover Place was lined with spectacular murals, but today most of the paintings are lost in a pile of rubble. What was once stables, then one of the city’s first automobile garages, a box factory, then part of a brass knob warehouse and lastly an artists’ space, is now debris, soon to be cleared away for new condos.

Hanover Place DC street art

Before (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Hanover Place DC

And after (Photo By: Bradley Glanzrock)

The building at 79 Hanover Place NW, most recently home to the artist-run warehouse and studio space called Wonderbox, was built in 1906 as a three-story stable and box factory. In 1928, it was converted into a storage warehouse, with only the first-floor walls of the stable remaining intact. The stable-turned-warehouse was formerly part of Chapman Coal Company Stable and Garage, an N Street complex that stretched north to fill the space between N Street and Hanover Place. Chapman Stables had originally been built as a coal yard with stables for horses and later transitioned into a garage for cars and buses. Wonderbox transformed the interior by hosting art openings, performance art shows and modern dance, although some might argue that the building continued to be home to a bunch of horseshit.

Hanover Place DC street art

Kelly Towles mural (Photo By: heydayjoe)

The murals first appeared as part of the But Is It Art? Fair, a DIY contemporary art show held at Wonderbox in September 2011. Created by Kelly Towles, Alicia “Decoy” Cosnahan and Aaron Lim, these paintings gave life to an otherwise bland stretch of blank building facades facing Hanover Place.

Hanover Place DC street art

(Photo By: heydayjoe)

Hanover Place DC street art

(Photo By: heydayjoe)

Before the Preservation League submitted a proposal to the Historic Preservation Review Board, plans had been in the works to raze all the Chapman Stables buildings to make way for new development. The main Chapman building on N Street, previously home to the Brass Knob Warehouse, was saved from demolition when it was entered into the DC Inventory of Historic Sites in April 2013. Six months later, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Chapman Stable DC

Chapman Coal Company Stable and Garage (and later, Brass Knob Warehouse) on N Street NW (Photo Courtesy of NPS)

The former storage warehouse and bus garage didn’t fare so well. Both were deemed to have “no artistic distinction … [or] architectural value” and were torn down in early September 2014.

But let’s get back to crack. In July 1984, police launched “Operation Beat It” to confront powder cocaine dealing on Hanover Place. (Michael Jackson’s Thriller, with the hit song “Beat It,” had been the No. 1 album in the country until April 1984.) The law-enforcement action was at first successful, but dealers were back on the streets just five months later.

By December 1985, Washington, DC, outranked all other U.S. cities in per capita drug arrests. (We’re still No. 1 in per capita arrests for PCP – in your face, L.A.!) And by 1986, crack had hit the streets of DC, edging out heroin for the first time as the city’s most popular illicit drug.

Hanover Place was in full swing as the most notorious open-air drug market in crack-infested Washington, DC. From the east end of the block, one could look down Capitol Street and clearly see the white dome of the Capitol Building. Dealers used to quip: “Over there, they make the laws; over here, we break the laws.”

To keep the police from raiding the market, kids acted as sentries at the corners, hollering “OLE-ER-RAY” (pig Latin for “rollers”) whenever they saw a police cruiser approach. But for the most part, the street was a self-regulating marketplace. And with the trafficking came traffic. Sometimes the line of cars turning onto Hanover Place was so long it backed up traffic on Capitol Street, with cars honking to keep the checkout lines moving.

Hanover Place DC crack

The Hanover Place drug market, open for business on the early evening of Dec. 6, 1984 (Photo By: Linda Wheeler/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

By this point, the cops had had enough and decided to crack down on Hanover Place. A year-long, 24/7 occupation ensued, with a command-center trailer on the street and a daily rotation of 60 officers patrolling the immediate area. It was still 1986, but Hanover Place was closed for business.

Two decades later, Hanover Place is mostly quiet. The housing prices have rebounded from their 1990s lows and are now selling for five to 10 times as much. The artists have come and gone, and the condo-dwellers are about to arrive.

Here are more photos of the art of Hanover Place. Some of these murals remain. Others are gone but not forgotten.

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]

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.

Wish We Here — DC Postcards #9

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…

DC postcard

(Image By: Matt Wainwright)