Washington DC

David Bowie's First Visit to America Started in D.C. Area

LOS ANGELES - JANUARY 1971: A pre-glam David Bowie jams at a party thrown by publicist and future nightclub impresario and DJ Rodney Bingenheimer at lawyer Paul Figen's house in January 1971, in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Rock superstar David Bowie, who died at age 69 on January 10, 2016, sold 140 million albums in a career that spanned more than four decades and earned fame as perhaps the genre's most flamboyantly inventive performer.

But back on Jan. 27, 1971, when he arrived on a flight from London at Dulles International Airport, Bowie was still a largely unknown 24-year-old singer-songwriter, hoping somehow to break through. His album The Man Who Sold the World, had been released in England three months before and sold disappointingly. But his label, Mercury Records, hoped that he would make a bigger splash if he went to the U.S. and had a chance to meet rock journalists and radio disc jockeys. So Bowie, despite his fear of flying, had gotten on the jet and endured a flight across the Atlantic for the first time.

But instead of flying to New York or Los Angeles, the twin capitals of the American music industry, Bowie's first stop on American soil was in the D.C. area. 

Commissioner Melvin Hazen and William Van Duzer, putting the first nickel in the parking meters ordered by Congress for a test in Washington in November 1938. (Source: Library of Congress)

When Parking Meters Were a Hot Controversy in Washington

Washington, DC has 17,000 parking meters, and the necessity of feeding them quarters--or, in the case of the newest models, a credit card swipe or electronic payment via smartphone--is one of those annoyances that urban drivers must grudgingly accept.  As hard as it may be to imagine, though, there was a time in the early 20th Century the idea of installing devices to collect fees for parking spaces was opposed by the American Automobile Assocation and motorists who saw it as unfair taxation, and it took several years to get approval to install the first meters on District streets.

 

 

 

A Roman-style Colosseum on the Potomac?

Perhaps D.C.'s recent bid to host the Olympics would've been more successful if this stadium had been built on the Potomac. Then again we would've lost out on the Lincoln Memorial.(Photo source: Washington Post)

If a local architect and a couple of U.S. Senators had been able to get their way, instead of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington might have honored the 16th President with a grandiose stadium patterned after the Roman Colosseum.

It was January 1911, and Congress was about to pass legislation to create the Lincoln Memorial Commission, to advise on the final plan for a monument to the slain president along the banks of the Potomac. But architect Ward Brown, secretary of the Washington chapter of the American Institute of Architects, dreamed up an exotic alternative to the shrine and statue that most others had envisioned. The Washington Post, in a lengthy article entitled "Planning a Gigantic Stadium in Washington to Dim the Glory of Rome's Noble Colosseum" described Brown's plan for a marble and concrete elliptical stadium 650 feet long and 550 feet wide, and standing 10 to 12 stories in height--roughly the size of Roman Colosseum, except that the latter was slightly taller. The proposed structure featured other classical affectations as well, including two great triumphal arches, 40 feet wide and 85 feet high, which would serve as the main entrances. Six smaller portals would have surrounded them. The stadium would have seated 87,000, with room for another 15,000 standing spectators.

An 1898 portrait of the Infanta by Giovanni Boldini. What, did you think we were going to post a picture of the scandlous dress? This is a family blog! Also, we couldn't find ANY. (Source: Wikicommons)

An Infanta goes to Washington

Scandals have plagued Washington D.C. pretty much since when it was built. The society pages of the1890s, however, dished some of the juciest gossip- easily done when royalty were still common and the bicycle had just been invented.

One particularly sensational event, taking place in 1893, was the visit of a Spanish Princess to the US. Her manner and dress shocked the D.C. elites and left them talking for a long time.

1987: The Blizzard of Discontent

Washington remained buried in snow two days after the Super Bowl snowstorm. Credit: National Archives

On the morning of January 22, 1987, Washington was hit by a massive snowstorm that, in some ways, might have been the beginning of then-Mayor Marion Barry's ignominious downfall. A sudden storm quickly dumped 14 inches of snow upon hapless Washingtonians, forcing the federal government, the District government, and businesses to shut down and send hundreds of thousands of workers home. That exodus, combined with the rapid snow buildup, quickly threw its transportation system into chaos. Ice built up on the third rail from which Metro trains draw power, by afternoon, officials had to shut down 37 miles of the 70-mile rail system, as they stuggled to free six trains that were stranded for several hours on the Red Line. Police had to be called in to manage the overflow crowds of stranded commuters at stations. 130 buses became stuck in the snowy roads, including 17 that were jammed up on one stretch of Massachusetts Avenue alone. Cars couldn't get anywhere either.

As residents pushed their cars down District streets and stranded commuters searched for somewhere to bed down for the evening, recently re-elected Washington mayor Marion Barry had it considerably easier. As the Post later reported, Barry was 3,000 miles away, playing tennis at the Beverly Hills Hilton in California, where he had come to see Super Bowl XXI between the Denver Broncos and New York Giants. Most politicians might have rushed home to lead the response to such a crisis, or at least to get in front of the TV cameras and reassure the public that they were in control. But Barry wasn't like most politicians. As the District struggled for several days to dig out from the ice that had set in as temperatures dropped to 10 degrees, Barry chose to remain in California. Even after weather forecasters predicted on Friday that the District might be hit be a second, even bigger storm that weekend, he stayed to attend the big game.

The Epicenter of the 1980s Alternative Music Scene in DC

The entrance to the original 930 Club in the Atlantic building at 930 F Street NW. Credit: Library of Congress

 

When the Atlantic building at 930 F Street NW was completed in 1888, it was on the cutting edge. Designed by James Hill Green, the supervising architect of the U.S. Treasury Department, its eight stories made it the biggest commercial structure in the District and one of the first to feature a passenger elevator. Inside, the Atlantic Building had two big assembly rooms, which made it the location of many important public meetings, including one in 1889 at which the National Zoo was founded. In 1890, the top floor served as the headquarters for President Benjamin Harrison's inaugural committee. The Washington Post hailed it as a "handsome" building.

In the decades that followed, the Atlantic — one of the last tall structures in the city to be built with only masonry walls, rather than a steel inner frame — gradually was overshadowed by newer, flashier modern buildings, and it became a largely-forgotten bit of the District's architectural history. That is, until the 1980s, when the building achieved a different sort of notoriety as the the epicenter of the District's alternative music scene.

The World Cup is in Brazil, but the Bossa Nova Craze Started in DC

Brazil, the site of this month's FIFA World Cup, is known for transforming the game of soccer with the free-wheeling offensive style that its great players pioneered. But Brazil also has another creative export that's nearly as famous as soccer virtuosos Pele or Ronaldo — bossa nova, a hybrid of jazz and Brazil's own African-influenced Samba music. Oddly, though, it was an album recorded in Washington, DC in February 1962, that helped popularize bossa nova as an international sensation.

When Washington was Nashville North

With the American Country Music awards coming up this weekend what better time to look at our local country music heritage?

There was a period, from the late 1940s until the early 1960s, when Washington, D.C. was a veritable Nashville on the Potomac, a mecca that provided country performers a chance to get their records played, and to perform before big audiences. The man who was most responsible for the District's country preeminence was a charismatic impressario who originally hailed from Lizard Lick, N.C. named Connie Barriot Gay.

Jimi Hendrix performs at the 1968 Miami Pop Festival. (Photo Courtesy of © Ken Davidoff/Authentic Hendrix LLC)

Jimi Hendrix in DC

The American Masters documentary "Jimi Hendrix: Hear My Train A Comin," includes never-before-aired film footage of a live Hendrix performance at the 1968 Miami Pop Festival, as well as a poignant clip of his final performance in Germany in September 1970, just 12 days before his death at age 27.

Unlike the Miami show, rock music archivists have yet to discover any film record of the legendary guitarist's three performances in the Washington, D.C. area in 1967 and 1968, but those shows have become the stuff of local legend.