Art on Call

An empty emergency call box located near Dupont Circle.

An empty emergency call box located near Dupont Circle.

What the heck are those things?

That was my first reaction to the uniquely shaped posts (but more than posts) I would see scattered around the city. Likely the first one I saw was like the one here: interesting looking, but obviously missing something.

However, then I saw others elsewhere in the city, and someone had decided to actually do something with these dignified relics from another era. Some had historical information about the neighborhood, like these from my neighborhood of Cleveland Park. It was sometimes what used to be in that spot when these things were installed, and sometimes just facts about the neighborhood.

In other parts of the city though, just art was installed:

So, what were these things, and who did them? After some digging, I found out that 

Police and fire call boxes were installed throughout the capital starting in the 1860s. They began to become obsolete with the introduction of the 911 emergency call system in the 1970s, and the working electronic components were all removed by 1995. Yet the call boxes remained, too large and heavy to remove yet subject to deterioration from weather and vandalism.

The Art on Call initiative began in 2000 when the city surveyed and identified call boxes for refurbishment. More than 1,100 abandoned boxes have been located to date. The District Department of Transportation stripped, primed, and prepared about 700 boxes in 2002 and 2003.

Sorry, but that's just cool: rather than spending the time to dig up pieces of the city's history, Cultural Tourism DC partnered with the city and neighborhood organizations (including the one where our offices are located) to turn these boxes into something interesting and relevant: there's something fascinating about turning something once incredibly useful and then irrelevant into something relevant if not useful again. I would say that having things in a city that makes the daily commute a little more interesting is useful, at least for me.

So, keep your eyes peeled for the hundreds of call boxes around the city and share any that you find particularly interesting.

Getting Lost at the Newseum

Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the everyday schedule of waking up, chugging a cup of coffee, hoping your bus isn’t late, spending the day at the office and ultimately returning home to your favorite Netflix show. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s ridiculously easy to forget that we live in a city that people travel across the world to see.  

Each semester, we are lucky enough to be able to plan a variety of activities for our students. This is not only a great way to introduce them to the city, but it’s also a great way for us to enjoy touristy activities as well. One of our recent activities has been a visit to the Newseum. It’s easy to spend the entire day here and in fact, the first time I visited, I did. They have everything from a welcoming and helpful staff to breathtaking views of the city from the rooftop to an amazing selection of exhibits. I find that this place is perfect for everyone, so next time you have family in town, impress them with this treasure.

Getting Artsy

Sometimes I forget about the perks that come with living in the nations’ capital. Living in DC is pretty fantastic and we have so many things to do that are FREE, like museums. I kind of forgot about this until one of our spring interns told me last week that she’s excited about the museums being free because in Chicago, they are not. 

I decided to take advantage of this and visited the Renwick Gallery last weekend. Located across the street from the most iconic house in Washington, sits a newly renovated gallery with a very long line of museum goers eagerly waiting to see the newest exhibit, WONDER. I found myself amazed that so many people were waiting in the freezing cold weather to appreciate art. 

Nine contemporary artists took over the different galleries in the building and used common objects such as marbles, wood, and index cards to create their artwork. I found myself as consumed in the galleries as I was the first time I visited the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, which is saying something. 

Please note that the second-floor galleries will be open until May 8, 2016 and the first-floor galleries will close on July 10, 2016. 

The Nation's Garden

Right next door to the Capitol lies the US Botanic Garden. I'm not normally a garden kind of guy: one of the best things of moving from the suburbs to the city was not having to weed anymore. However, the Botanic Garden is a great place to go if you need a good dose of nature. It's also a good place to go in the winter if you need to feel like you're in the tropics, with lots of palm trees and spectacular flowers like the orchids I took pictures of. 

Coffee and Cupcakes

While some think of the abundance of shops, restaurants and tourists when they hear “Georgetown,” I think of my little apartment on a quaint side street. I’ve called the neighborhood home for a little over a year now and no, walking on the cobblestone streets and passing the colorful row homes on my way home does not get old. One of the best parts of living here is discovering the little neighborhood spots. 

Baked & Wired on an afternoon is a little crazy, but in the morning, locals are stopping in after finishing a yoga class or are catching up with a friend. Anyone that knows me knows I’m a little obsessed with this place. On one side of the shop, you will find an assortment of cupcakes, treats and sometimes bread all of which is delicious. I however, usually frequent the coffee bar. The coffee is pretty much amazing and in the fall they have a chaider, which I encourage you to check out. It’s hot cider with chai… delicious. 

A Little Bit of Home in DC

I grew up in a small town in western Pennsylvania so moving to DC was a bit of a transition. When I first moved to the city, I thought it was basically a city filled with monuments, government buildings and a ridiculous amount of tourists. I’ve now been in the city for a little over two years and I can happily say that DC is so much more than that.  One of my favorite things is stumbling upon places that remind me of the friendly small town I grew up in. 

I’ve come to love Sunday mornings. One of my favorite things to do is walk to the Dupont Circle Farmers Market. The market takes over part of Dupont Circle and is filled with fresh pastries, beautiful flowers, delicious tacos from Chaia, and an abundance of produce. The market has a friendly community feeling and I enjoy visiting the same older gentleman each week for a dozen of eggs, and the same two guys for the best yogurt and mozzarella I’ve ever tasted. I also enjoy finding new produce like the mango peaches I found last week, which were delicious! 

The Dupont Circle Farmers Market is located outside of the Dupont Circle metro station. You can visit every Sunday from 8:30 am – 1:30 pm (April through December 2015). 


Fridays at the Park

I enjoy walking over to Farragut Park for lunch a few times a week, and recently found out about Farragut Fridays. Every Friday during the summer, Golden Triangle BID hosts activities like table tennis competitions, movie screenings and pop-up events. They also create an outdoor office space, and provide cool chairs, tables and free Wi-Fi. 

They hosted a gardening pop-up event a few Fridays ago, and were giving out free plants and gardening tips. I got to take home a charming geranium for my mini outdoor garden.

Farragut Fridays runs through late September, so take a break from the office and have some fun at the park!

Echo of the Past

One time when I was driving on some unknown road that Waze had told me to take to avoid traffic, I drove past this really cool Art Deco sign for Glen Echo Park, followed shortly thereafter by a sign for the Clara Barton house.

I did a little digging afterward and found out that Glen Echo Park started as a Chautauqua retreat in the 1890s, and Clara Barton moved her home and the eventual headquarters for the American Red Cross there. After that retreat failed, it was turned into an amusement park that ran until the '60s. Relatively recently, parts of the park have been restored, including a working carousel. Now occupying the midway are galleries, a puppet theater, a children's theater, and other arts organizations. In the famed ballroom, dances are held. 

Altogether, it's a cool piece of history that has a second life today serving its community.

Gargoyles and Grotesques

I have been to the National Cathedral before, and I have marveled at the size of its interior, its great acoustics, and some of the great stained glass. Its history is interesting, in that the idea of it dates really far back, but the actual construction wasn't completed until, really, just a few years ago. And then, the earthquake happened, and it's under construction once again.

The last time I was at the cathedral, I walked in from the side of it, and i noticed these carvings in some of the columns that were really cool--depicting various Native American symbols and scenes. A few feet past that, I saw that there were tours of the gargoyles and grotesques (drainspout and non-drainspout carvings) on the outside of the building, which I admit to having not paid much attention to before.

So, on a typically sweltering summer Sunday morning, I followed around a guy who knew A LOT about this sort of thing, and it was very cool. It turns out that the artists who did this work were not really supervised all that much (nor were they sometimes even credited or recorded), so there is a lot of sort of goofiness, which I think is appropriate for America's cathedral. In the pictures below, I have some of my favorites that I could adequately capture with my phone's camera, including an awesome snake and a pretty cool gator. However, I could only see with binoculars (which you should scrounge up if you really want to do the tour right) the infamous Darth Vader gargoyle, as well as some other pretty strange ones. It was neat to see that the building on the outside was just as interesting as the building on the inside.

Hidden Architectural Gem

Despite being in the heart of DC, the National Building Museum has the feeling of being off the beaten path. If you are looking for a low-key place to spend an afternoon, and appreciate architecture and design, you will enjoy this museum. 

When I entered the building, I was greeted by the impressive Great Hall and beautiful columns. The building was built in the late 1800s and was originally designed to house the Pension Bureau and to provide a space for social and political events. The building is still used today as an event space, and I hope I get the chance to attend a formal reception or concert there some day.

Visitors can enjoy the Great Hall, gift shop and cafe free of charge, and exhibition tickets are a nominal fee. The museum runs several exhibitions at a time. My favorites were HOT TO COLD: an odyssey of architectural adaptation and Investigating Where We Live: D.C. Now & Next.

The gift shop is one of the best in DC, and has a great selection of art and architecture books and quirky kitchen items. I’m pretty sure I spent over an hour just looking at all the cool gift shop merchandise.

I can’t wait to return to the museum in a few weeks to spend the day at the BEACH.

The Yards Near the Yard

I've been to Nationals Park several times, but I do what most fans do: I walk straight from the Metro station to the ballpark. I don't even hit The Fairgrounds on the way, though it has tempted me a couple of times. Along the fencing protecting an about-to-be-developed property, I've seen advertisements for The Yards, which I've never really paid attention to. 

However, the other day--well before a Nationals game started--I found myself in the area and decided to explore a bit, and I'm glad I did. The Yards is a nascent neighborhood with a bunch of good dining and shopping options that will no doubt get better. I do have to highlight two places.

First is Ice Cream Jubilee, which was recently named best in Washington by Washingtonian magazine. I have a major weakness for ice cream, so I was already in. That the place features some very wacky and cool flavors makes me a fan. I tried caramel popcorn, but was seriously tempted by Snickerdoodle. The place was a little crowded, but no wonder: I can see how this place won best in town.

The second place was where I enjoyed my ice cream, the nearby Yards Park. There is obviously more to the place than a fountain, but I am a sucker for a fountain, so that's what I snapped. Below the fountain there's a wading pool that kids were enjoying. There are also great views of the river and plenty of places nearby to sit and just relax. During the summer, they have concerts every Friday night, which is pretty cool. It is a great public space, and one that I hope to return to soon--perhaps even when the Nats aren't playing.


Golf in DC?

I am a big fan of both miniature golf and regular golf, but I assumed that if I wanted to do either after moving to DC, I would have to head to the suburbs. 

I was pleasantly surprised then when I learned that I could do both, and in the middle of the Potomac. 

East Potomac Park is on the same island in the middle of the Potomac as the Jefferson Memorial, but on the eastern side of it, across I-395. It houses three different courses, a driving range, and miniature golf. The park also has a public swimming pool and, for the runners, Ohio Drive goes around the entire island, so it's a great place to exercise and see some great views of the DC waterfront and of the planes landing at the airport.

So far, I have only taken in the driving range and miniature golf. The driving range is pretty good and very large, with two levels and great views. The miniature golf course does not feature windmills or clowns or pirates; what it does have is a wide range of holes from easy to very challenging. It also is under the shade of some very large trees, which makes for a nice respite from the summer sun. 

I also just have to show you the two holes I got holes-in-one on. 

The only trouble with East Potomac Park is also a selling point: it's isolated, so it is difficult to get to by public transportation: there are Metro stops like L'Enfant Plaza and Smithsonian across the river, but then it's a decent length walk, so if you're interested in going, a cab or an Uber might be the way to go if you really need to swing those clubs.

Eastern Market: More Than a Market

When I was preparing to move to DC last fall, I had three main criteria when searching for an apartment: located in the District, amenities within walking distance and in an area that had a true neighborhood feeling. I found a place that met all of my criteria and more in Capitol Hill. While Capitol Hill may seem separate from the rest of the city, I absolutely love the character and community feel that is present throughout the neighborhood.

One of my favorite things about the neighborhood is Eastern Market. During the week, the South Hall Market offers produce, baked goods, meat, artisan cheeses, fresh flowers and more. On weekends, the market extends outside and hosts an open-air farmers market and flea market. You can find all kinds of arts and crafts, including handmade jewelry, unique furniture, paintings and candles. The market is also a great place to people watch, see a cooking demo and listen to live music.

One of the main reasons I return to the market every weekend is the food. Besides the amazing local produce, there is also an abundance of food vendors serving up delicious meals including shrimp and grits, crepes, pretzels and empanadas. Don’t miss out on the fresh raspberry or strawberry lemonade: it’s the perfect treat for a hot day. 

The market is accessible by the Eastern Market Metro station, and is surrounded by many great restaurants and bars. You could easily spend the day walking around the market, enjoying brunch and admiring the beautiful brick sidewalks and row houses of Capitol Hill.

The 14 Reasons 14th St. is So Cool Now

When I first started coming to DC, 14th St. was not a place to go to; there wasn't much there, and what was there was not very attractive. Now, 14th St. (NW, specifically between N and V streets) is a great place to go to, for the following reasons:

  1. Bakehouse: I had a bacon cheddar scone here once that I still think about. Also, I heard they make their own butter, which is pretty cool.
  2. Barcelona: Tapas and great wine are on the menu here, but really it's the outdoor space that's the real draw.
  3. Black Cat: DC's venue for alternative and independent music; it was really the only thing on 14th St. twenty years ago, so they obviously knew what they were doing.
  4. Garden District: You just might miss this beer garden when you walk by, as there's no sign and it's pretty tiny. It's a great place though to hang out, watch people, and enjoy a drink and some pretzels.
  5. Ghibellina: They have other stuff here, but the pizza is the draw; they give you scissors to cut out your own slices.
  6. Kapnos: For all you Top Chef fans, this is owned by Mike Isabella and its chef is George from the most recent season. Great Greek food.
  7. Le Diplomate: having run through a great many of Stephen Starr's restaurants in Philadelphia, I'm glad he has at least one outpost here with a wonderful recreation of a Parisian brasserie.
  8. Lupo Verde: This place is almost always jam-packed, and for good reason: great, creative Italian food.
  9. Miss Pixie's: Vintage furniture and decor; I picked up a strange end table here that is banged up but has lots of character, just like this store.
  10. Peregrine Espresso: Coffee snobs unite! Very good espresso and coffee with Counter Culture beans.
  11. Piola:  I like pizza, OK? "Famosi per la pizza"--yes, indeed. They have great pizza.
  12. Studio Theatre: One of DC's best contemporary theater companies.
  13. Taylor: Another Philly reminder. Some guys from Philly decided DC needed some good hoagies, so they made their own. Sandwiches are named after Philly streets and places. They were so successful, that Taylor has become something of a chain, which I can't be happier about, because that means their hoagies are always near.
  14. 2 Birds, 1 Stone: High-quality, constantly changing, and entertaining cocktails.

And, that's not an exhaustive list: I still have places to try--do you have any recommendations?

The Two Parks that Surround the Zoo

Most of the time I spent in DC prior to moving here was in the Dupont Circle area of DC because that's where my friends live. I think I visited the zoo once, but didn't really remember it that well, and certainly didn't remember the neighborhoods that surround it.

When I decided to move here, I wanted something that still had vestiges of the suburbs that I had lived in my whole life: I grew up in the suburbs of Seattle, went to college in the LA suburbs, went to grad school in Delaware (one big suburb, really), and lived and worked for the past ten years in the Philly suburbs. 

When I visited the area around the zoo, I knew I liked it, and I lucked out in finding a place that I liked too. This place happened to be basically right between Woodley Park and Cleveland Park, the two "parks" that surround the zoo.


Both neighborhoods are pretty similar, in that they have a small retail and restaurant core and Metro stations. They are also filled with tree cover, which is great on the hot DC days we tend to have. This is the view from the Duke Ellington bridge, which connects Woodley Park to Adams Morgan:

OK, that's technically Rock Creek Park and technically another park that surrounds the zoo, but you get the point: there are trees! And there are trees all along the main drag of Woodley and Cleveland Parks, Connecticut Avenue:


Woodley Park's advantage over Cleveland Park is its proximity to both Adams Morgan and Dupont Circle: both great areas are enjoyable walks away. However, Cleveland Park has this:

The Uptown Theater, a class movie house that shows first-run movies. It's very nice to have a movie theater in walking distance, and one that has such a cool marquee.

Both neighborhoods though have good restaurants and bars, most of which have outdoor seating. Some of my favorites include:

However, I haven't explored everything, so if you have suggestions for these areas, let me know!

Two Strangers Move to DC...

This serves as the first of many posts devoted to discovering the District from the perspective of two people who are (relatively) new to town: me, Greg Weight, President of the Washington Internship Institute, and Rebecca Montalvo, our Admissions Coordinator. 

I started visiting Washington, DC on a regular basis when I first started graduate school at the University of Delaware about twenty years ago. In that time, DC has changed quite a bit; also, living in DC is very different than coming here for a few days.

So, Rebecca and I are going to record our thoughts and impressions of places and experiences in DC as we discover them as new residents; if you have suggestions for us to try out, please leave them in the comments.