Sunday, July 23, 2006

Thanks, Jackie! Thanks, Pierre!

I grabbed my DC walking tours book today and took a stroll around the White House. Here are some things I learned:

1. You can run but you can’t hide. I discovered the Renwick Gallery, a museum I’ve walked by many times, yet it never registered that it’s there, part of the Smithsonian. It’s a weird, eclectic, thing – one room holds the Indian collection, hundreds of portraits of Indians made in the first half of the 19th century. The rest is a museum of decorative arts. And in the men’s room, of all places, a poster commemorating my employer’s gift to the museum.

2. Pierre L’Enfant rocked. He should get some kind of posthumous Pritzker Prize for urban design. His design for Washington, DC is great, tying seats of power and monuments together logically. A note: my guidebook says that the White House, the Washington Monument, and the Jefferson Memorial were supposed to lie on one axis of the plan, but when it came time to build the Washington Monument, the site was too marshy, and it had to be moved slightly to the east. Lucky thing – that off-center Monument behind the White House is very photogenic.

3. Jackie Kennedy rocked. We already knew she was an architectural preservationist – her remodel of the White House is legendary, and she went on to save Grand Central Station. But while she lived in the White House, she also managed to save the Executive Office Building, and the graceful mansions that line Lafayette Square. Thanks, Jackie.

4. The Boy Scouts of America are one very strange outfit. The Boys Scouts Memorial, which sits just off the Ellipse, was proposed in 1959, the 50th anniversary of scouting in America, and was dedicated in 1964. The statue, however, is more reminiscent of the muscular realism popular in the 30s – when I run across it in Italy, I call it Mussolini Modern. It’s an interesting monument, but what’s up with those homophobe scouts presenting a naked Dad figure? Mom, I should point out, is far more demure – and little Billy has not a single merit badge. 


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