Filed Under:DC

Attempted Rembrandt Heist at the Corcoran

We're not 100% sure who this Rembrandt painting depicts but it is clear that it was damaged by a would-be thief in 1959 at the Corcoran. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)The 145-year-old Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington's oldest private art museum, recently announced that it will be taken over by George Washington University and the  National Gallery of Art and cease to exist as an independent institution. That makes it a good time to look back at one of the more bizarre events in the history of art in Washington--the attempted theft in 1959 of a painting by 17th Century master Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn.

Washington has a long history of thefts of antiquities from its museums but this attempted heist was one of the stranger assaults on artwork that our city has seen.

Filed Under:DC

The Hanafi Siege of 1977

Hamaas Abdul Khaalis led a group of gunmen from D.C.'s Hanafi Muslim community who stormed three buildings in the city and took hostages in 1977. (AP photo from findingdulcinea.com)When Pierre L’Enfant designed the city of Washington, he structured the wide boulevards and traffic circles so that it could not be easily tied up by violence, as Paris had been during the French Revolution. Yesterday, it was obvious that L’Enfant failed.

So read the Washington Post on the morning of March 10, 1977. But traffic was the least of Washington’s concerns that day.

Filed Under:DC

How "Schneider's Folly" Became D.C.'s Most Exotic Landmark

The Cairo apartments, one of DC's most exotic pieces of architecture. Credit: AgnosticPreacherKid, via Wikimedia CommonsOne of the things that helps make Washington's vistas so grand--but continually frustrates developers and architects--is the district's Congressionally-imposed115-year-long ban on skyscrapers. Congress passed the 1899 Height of Buildings Act, and then modified the law in 1910, creating a  complex set of restrictions based on location and street width.

It might seem intuitive that the skyscraper ban was imposed to protect views of the U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument. But oddly, Congress was prompted to restrict construction heights because of Dupont Circle residents' griping about being overshadowed by what today is regarded as one of the District's architectural treasures--The Cairo apartments at 1615 Q Street NW.

Filed Under:DC, Maryland, Virginia

History Bloggers Rejoice! Getty Now Allows Free Embeds of Images

One of the big challenges to writing a history blog is finding good images. Well, things just got a lot easier with Getty's announcement that it is making up to 35 million images available for bloggers to embed in their sites for free. The company has created a new embed tool that allows images to be shared and includes proper photo credit information. See an example of the new tool at work after the jump.

Filed Under:DC, Virginia

Oscar-Winner "12 Years a Slave" is a Reminder of the Local Slave Trade

Scene in the slave pen at Washington. From the slave narrative of Solomon Northup, a free African American captured in Washington, DC, and enslaved for twelve years. Image date: ca. 1853.

Director Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave, which won Best Picture at the 2014 Academy Awards telecast on Sunday, serves to highlight a horrific and shameful part of local history — the area's role as a transit depot and resale market for humans held in involuntary servitude.

For those who haven't yet seen it, the acclaimed film tells the true story of Solomon Northup, a free African-American violinist who in 1841 traveled from his home in New York to Washington, DC, with the promise of a high-paying job as a circus musician. He didn't know that his prospective employers actually were slave traders. 

Filed Under:DC

The Real-Life Setting for "American Hustle"

If American Hustle wins Best Picture at Sunday night's Academy Awards telecast, it may well create a new tourist attraction in the nation's capital, even though the story takes place elsewhere. We're talking about the six-bedroom house at 4407 W Street NW that the FBI rented to use as a base for the Abscam sting operation that inspired the film, in which a U.S. Senator, six members of the U.S. House, and assorted other local and state-level politicians in New Jersey were convicted of accepting bribes from a fictitious favor-seeking Middle Eastern sheik. (Here's a surveillance video clip showing the inside of the house, which features the late Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who was offered a bribe but turned it down, later insisting to FBI agents that he was seeking investment in his district. He ultimately was not charged with a crime.)

In a strange twist, the FBI leased the house in 1978 from an unwitting journalist, then-Washington Post foreign editor Lee Lescaze, who was heading to New York to work for the Post there.

Filed Under:DC

Recreating History: The Beatles' First American Concert

February is a big month for American Beatles fans. After all it was 50 years ago that the Fab Four appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and then made their way down to Washington, D.C. for their first public concert at the Washington Coliseum on 3rd St. NE. You've probably seen the black and white footage of Paul, John, George and Ringo playing to screaming teenagers in D.C. on February 11, 1964. And, hopefully you've read our accounts of the Beatles' visit here on the blog.

But it's one thing to write accounts of history... It's quite another to recreate history. And that's exactly what the  D.C. Preservation League and Douglas Development and their partners did with their Yesterday & Today event at the Washington Coliseum on February 11, 2014.

Filed Under:DC

Valentine's Day: Love, Life and Death for the Roosevelts

 Alice Roosevelt's formal portrait by the classical French academic painter, Théobald Chartran. (Photo source: Wikipedia)Valentine’s Days were unusually eventful for Theodore Roosevelt and family, as this date marked some of the happiest and darkest periods in their lives. On February 14th of 1880, the 21-year-old future president publicly announced his engagement to Alice Hathaway Lee. The two previous years of dating sparked a short but intensely happy bond. Teddy and Alice were married the next October and, four years later, welcomed their first child.

On Valentine’s Day of 1884, Teddy was getting used to first-time parenthood. Baby Alice (named after her mother) was born just two days earlier, while he was away and he was eager to return home to spend time with his growing family. But what should have been a joyous time quickly turned tragic.

Filed Under:DC

The Beatles' Awkward Embassy Soiree

The cold weather wasn't the only thing that was uncomfortable when the Beatles visited the British Embassy on February 11, 1964. (Photo by Flickr user UKinUSA. Used under Creative Commons attribution license.)In previous posts, we described the arrival of the Beatles in Washington on the afternoon of February 11, 1964--two days after their famous nationwide TV appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in New York and their performance that evening at the Washington Coliseum, which was the first live public concert by the group in the U.S.

But even after the Beatles finished their 12-song set to the screaming approval of a teenaged crowd that included future U.S. Senator and Vice-President Al Gore, the evening was still young. In those days, Washington, not known for its nightlife, didn't have an equivalent to New York's swinging Peppermint Lounge, where the Beatles had spent a wild evening prior to their Ed Sullivan appearance. And since President Johnson didn't invite them to the dance he was hosting that night in the White House's East Ballroom, the group had to accept the next best offer. They rushed off in limousines to the British Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue NW, for a charity ball.

Filed Under:DC

The Beatles Storm Washington

The Beatles at Washington Coliseum, Feb. 11, 1964 (Photo credit: Mike Mitchell)The Beatles at Washington Coliseum, Feb. 11, 1964 (Photo credit: Mike Mitchell) In a previous post, we looked at the prelude to the Beatles' first-ever concert in the U.S. on February 11, 1964 at the Washington Coliseum.  Now, facing their first live U.S concert audience on an awkward stage with balky equipment, the Beatles opening chords were met with a deafening roar of 8,000 high-pitched screams, a barrage of jelly beans and the unleashed excitement of a new generation of fans. Here's more of what happened on that historic evening that changed Rock 'n' Roll forever.

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