Washington

Filed Under:DC

How Union Station was Saved in the 1980s

Union Station in 1963, prior to a botched 1970s repurposing that nearly destroyed the building. Credit: National Archives

When Union Station opened in 1907, the white granite Beaux-Arts train terminal designed by architect Daniel H. Burnham set a new standard for District's monumental architecture, setting the stage for landmarks such as the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, the Federal Triangle, the Supreme Court Building and the National Gallery of Art. The $25 million project was inspired by classical Roman architecture--the Baths of Diocletian and Caraculla and the triumphal Arch of Rome--and incorporated flourishes such as Ionic columns, chiseled inscriptions. Niches that held carved figures representing fire, electricity, agriculture and mechanics. Inside, the main hall, with its dramatic barrel vault and ornate plaster ceiling. It all created a feeling of grandeur that reflected the economic power and prestige of the rail companies--the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Baltmore and Ohio Railroad--which had erected it.

But by the mid-1960s, the railroads' fortunes had faded, and they were eager to unload Union Station, and there was talk of demolishing it.

Filed Under:DC

March 1981: The Tourist From Hell

Would-be Presidential Assassin John Hinckley, Jr., in a mugshot taken after his arrest. (Photo credit: FBI)As the sun rose over Washington, DC, on the morning of March 30, 1981, in room 312 of the Park Central Hotel on 705 18th Street NW, a guest lay in bed, anxious and wired after a mostly sleepless night. He had arrived the night before on a Greyhound bus, and like many other tourists who visit Washington from afar, he had a big day ahead. But unlike most of them, he didn't plan to see the Lincoln Memorial or the Capitol dome, or to peruse the exhibits at the Smithsonian Institution's various museums. No, this visitor had something different in mind. His name was John Warnock Hinckley, Jr., and he was going to try to kill the President of the United States.

Filed Under:DC

Forgotten Greatness: The Washington Bears Basketball Team

The history of the Bears can be traced back to the D.C.’s journalism pioneer Harold “Hal” Jackson. In 1939, Jackson began broadcasting Howard University’s home baseball games and the Negro League baseball team, The Homestead Grays. In 1941, Jackson used his popularity and sports business savvy to organize a new all-black basketball team in the District.

Filed Under:DC

Flying Saucers Over DC?

Washington Post headline: Saucer Outran Jet, Pilot RevealsIn the 1950s, Washington seems to have been a popular destination for UFOs, both actual ones and cinematic. Two popular science fiction movies, 1951'sThe Day the Earth Stood Still and 1956's Earth Vs the Flying Saucersdepicted alien spacecraft arriving in the nation's capital, to the consternation of both residents and the government. But those close encounters may have seemed a bit more plausible, given that the Washington area also was the scene of one of the most celebrated real-life UFO incidents ever--one that still intrigues those who ponder the possiblity of extraterrestrial visits to Earth.

Filed Under:DC

Before DC United, We Had the Ill-Starred Washington Diplomats

The Washington Diplomats sported bright red uniforms emblazoned with the abbreviated team name, "Dips." (Source: nasljerseys.com)Today, soccer finally is a big enough deal in Washington that DC council is considering a proposed $119 million deal to acquire land at Buzzard Point for a new stadium for DC United, the district's team in Major League Soccer. The franchise has been playing since 1996 at antiquated RFK Stadium, which will turn 43 years old in the fall. But RFK always will have a storied place in local soccer history. In addition to serving as one of the host sites for the 1994 FIFA World Cup, it also was the home of a string of teams from the 1960s through the 1980s  —  forgotten names such as the Whips, the Darts, the Washington Diplomats, and Team America — who unsuccessfully tried to establish the sport here.

Of those ill-fated franchises, the most long-lived was the original Washington Diplomats, who played in the now-defunct North American Soccer League from 1974 to 1980.

Filed Under:DC

1994: World Cup at RFK Stadium Produced One of Soccer's Greatest Goals

This year's FIFA World Cup in Brazil already has produced some exciting matches. But one of the most thrilling goals in World Cup history actually was scored at Washington's RFK Stadium back in 1994, when the U.S. hosted the global tournament for the first time ever. 

Filed Under:DC

Washington's Dead Letter Office

The Washington Dead Letter Office in the 1860s, from a Harper's Weekly engraving by Theodore R. Davis. Credit: Wikimedia CommonsIn Herman Melville's classic 1853 short story, "Bartleby the Scrivener," the narrator offers a curious explanation for the self-destructive melancholy of the main character.

The report was this: that Bartleby had been a subordinate clerk in the Dead Letter Office at Washington, from which he had been suddenly removed by a change in the administration. When I think over this rumor, I cannot adequately express the emotions which seize me. Dead letters! does it not sound like dead men?

The "Dead Letter Office at Washington" might sound like a clever literary invention, but as it turns out, there actually once was such an institution, which existed to process mail that was either mis-addressed or undeliverable for a variety of other reasons. According to the official history of the U.S. Postal Service, the Continental Congress actually authorized appointment of an inspector of dead letters back in 1777, and there was a central office in the District at least as far back as 1830, according to an article by Wesleyan University historian Courtney Fullilove, who found a box of records in the National Archives that still contained four undelivered letters from 1889.

Filed Under:DC, Maryland

When Elvis Played Washington

Elvis Presley only performed three times in Washington. The first of which was on a boat in the middle of the Potomac River. (Photo source: Wikipedia)Elvis Presley made headlines when he showed up at the White House unannounced and offered his services to President Nixon to fight the war on drugs in 1970. It was an odd event, which led to an even odder photo. But the Elvis-Nixon meeting was memorable for another reason: It was one of only four appearances that Elvis ever made in the Washington, DC area.

Elvis' first visit to Washington was on March 23, 1956--the same day, by coincidence, that his first full-length album, Elvis Presley, was released. Col. Tom Parker, who was in the process of taking over as the 21-year-old singer's manager, had close ties to Washington-based country disc jockey, manager and promoter Connie B. Gay, who booked Elvis to headline a floating concert on the S.S. Mount Vernon, a small ship that sailed the Potomac.

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 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.

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