TRUMPed! Old Post Office Closes for New Hotel

A view southwest from the Old Post Office Tower on a gloomy day in Oct. 2013 (Photo By: Matt Wainwright)

A view southwest from the Old Post Office Tower on a gloomy day in Oct. 2013 (Photo By: Matt Wainwright)

Goodbye, Old Post Office Tower. We’ll miss you and your most spectacular views of Washington, DC. See you in 2016.

Today the Old Post Office at 12th and Pennsylvania Avenue closed to make way for the latest glitzy jewel in a certain real estate developer’s gilded empire.

In 2013, the federal government’s General Services Administration signed a $200 million, 60-year deal to rent the building to infamous real estate mogul Donald Trump. The GSA had been paying about $12 million annually to operate the building while collecting only about $5 million in rent. Now, with the operating expenses handed off to Trump, the GSA will collect about $3.33 million a year in rent.

Trump’s daughter Ivanka said her father plans to renovate the Old Post Office into “the finest luxury hotel in the world.” If it’s anything like the glittery Trump establishments in Atlantic City, be prepared to wear your sunglasses inside. Following a $200 million overhaul, this grand old mailroom will reopen in 2016 as the Trump International Hotel.

Old Post Office (Photo By: Matt Wainwright)

Old Post Office (Photo By: Matt Wainwright)

Although your average tourists will not be able to afford a stay at the Trump, they will still be able to go up into the tower to the observation deck when the building reopens in 2016. The National Park Service will retain the rights to allow public access to the wonderful views. And, if we’re lucky, the Donald won’t require black people to present their birth certificates when entering his hotel. Welcome to Chocolate City, Donald!

DC’s first skyscraper, the Old Post Office at 12th and Pennsylvania Avenue opened in 1899. It was the first government building on Pennsylvania Avenue and the first building in town to boast having its own electric power plant.

At 315 feet, the Old Post Office Tower is the second-tallest structure in DC, following the Washington Monument. For those missing the tower’s sky-high views, don’t fret. The Washington Monument reopens on May 12, after years of repairs following the 2011 earthquake that rocked DC.

Here’s a last glimpse of the Old Post Office Pavilion, after the shops and food court had closed forever.

Old Post Office Pavilion in Feb. 2014 (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Old Post Office Pavilion in Feb. 2014 (Photo By: heydayjoe)

As American as Cherry Pie … and Sushi

National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington DC

She wants to do with Pablo Neruda what spring wants to do with the cherry trees. (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Each spring, thousands make their annual pilgrimage to DC to gaze in awe at the riotous blooming of the Japanese cherry trees. Poet Pablo Neruda, distinctly not Japanese, once wrote, “I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.” Although we think that’s pretty hot, it has nothing to do with the history of the cherry trees in Washington, DC.

The first shipment of Japanese cherry trees arrived in DC in 1910, a gift from the city of Tokyo intended as a gesture of friendship and goodwill between the people of Japan and the United States. When the trees arrived, however, they were so infested with insects and parasitic worms that there was no easy way to re-gift them to another country. So President Taft agreed to have them incinerated in a heaping big bonfire. Many thought this was no way to accept a gift.

Nothing says "thank you" like burning your gift in a bonfire. (Source: U.S. National Arboretum)

Because nothing says “thank you” like burning your gift in a bonfire… (Source: U.S. National Arboretum)

After much diplomacy to smooth over the embarrassing burning of the gift, in 1912 the people of Japan sent a new bug-free shipment of 3,020 cherry trees, and these were planted along the Potomac River. First Lady Helen Herron Taft and the wife of the Japanese ambassador planted the first two cherry trees on the northern bank of the Tidal Basin, and workmen planted the rest around the Tidal Basin and East Potomac Park. (The two original trees are still there, near the John Paul Jones statue at the south end of 17th Street.)

In 1965 Japan gave First Lady Lady Bird Johnson (that’s a mouthful) 3,800 more trees to plant, and today there are 3,750 trees of 16 varieties on national parkland in DC.

This year marks the 102nd anniversary of the original gift of friendship from Japan, although on the 39th anniversary, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, so how’s that for friendship? Four days later, four cherry trees were chopped down in suspected retaliation. The culprits were never caught. To prevent further attacks against the trees, the Cherry Blossom Festival was suspended during World War II (resuming in 1947), and the trees were referred to for the remainder of the war as the “Oriental” flowering cherry trees.

This wasn’t the end of the cherry tree assaults though. In 1999, the trees were attacked once more. But this time they found the vandals – beavers! The beavers were forcefully removed from the Tidal Basin, and fences were erected around some of the more defenseless trees.

Beaver Vandals (Illustration By: Matt Wainwright)

Beaver Vandals (Illustration By: Matt Wainwright)

If you’d like to take a gander at these celebrity cherry trees, you can find them in three National Park Service locations: around the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park, in East Potomac Park (Hains Point) and on the grounds of the Washington Monument. (For more info on the varieties of cherry trees and their locations, click here.)

Some random facts about the DC cherry blossoms:

(Photo By: heydayjoe)

(Photo By: heydayjoe)

  • The National Cherry Blossom Festival is scheduled every year based on when the National Park horticulturalists predict peak bloom, but nature doesn’t always cooperate. The weather determines when the trees will bloom, and sometimes it’s not during the festival.
  • Most of the trees are of the Yoshino variety, and the average blooming date for the Yoshino cherry trees is April 4.
  • Peak bloom is defined as the day on which 70 percent of the blossoms of the Yoshino trees open.
  • The earliest blooms were on March 15 in 1990.
  • The latest blooms were on April 18 in 1958.
  • The Kwanzan cherry tree, the second-most-numerous variety between the Tidal Basin and Hains Point, blooms two weeks after the Yoshino trees. So if you’re a late bloomer, you still have a shot at seeing some blossoms.

To commemorate this perennial event, please submit your very own cherry blossom haiku by email or in the comments below. We’ll read them all and publish the best of them.

Here are two to get you started…

tourists swarm around

cherry trees in luscious bloom

as if sedated

 

the beaver vandals

hide in the day, but at night

they eat your blossoms