This past Wednesday was a really great day with my Mom in Washington. She joined me on a multi-stop tour of some interesting spots recommended by Dr. Brownell. Our first stop was at the James E. Blaine House at 2000 Massachusetts Avenue in the Dupont Circle neighborhood. This is “the oldest remaining mansion in the Dupont Circle area…and the sole surviving example of at least seven imposing Second Empire and Queen Anne residences executed in Washington by the transplanted Philadelphia architect John Fraser.” (Scott and Lee, 327) The mansion is truly interesting in person. There are a lot of wonderful elements, including an ornate porte-cochere. The huge terracotta brackets along either side of the Massachusetts entryway were so strikingly beautiful, featuring intricate huge unique sunflowers on each side.
Since we were parked and also ready to eat lunch, we opted for the new Le Pain Quotidien, a cute eatery built onto the P Street side of the mansion. It was very enjoyable. Coming back to the car, I noticed the building we parked in front of was quite interesting and reminded me of the Ginter house on Franklin Street, so we took some photos. There were some fine examples of stained glass and terracotta sunflower “medallions” over each dormer. Research back home revealed this to be the Samuel M. Bryan House, currently housing the Church of the Savior Ecumenical, at 2025 Massachusetts Ave. It was designed by W. Bruce Gray in a style combining Chateauesque and Richardsonian Romanesque elements in 1885.
Following lunch, we headed towards the White House to get a look at the State War & Navy Building or The Eisenhower Executive Office Building, an imposing Second Empire structure built between 1871-1888, that takes up almost an entire city block. Normally you can sign up for a tour of parts of the interior, but it was being renovated and the tours were not being offered. Directly across the block was the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery; also a grand Second Empire design, but smaller in scale. We had not planned for much time at this gallery, as reflected in the coins deposited in our parking meter, so only toured the upstairs Grand Salon and Octagon Room. Being a portrait artist, my mother truly enjoyed this stop and we had to tear ourselves away from the exhibit. We briskly returned to our car, which once was in eyesight, I witnessed a parking ticket being laid on our windshield! Mom said it was worth it.
Next stop was the Freer Gallery, which was equally a fantastic visual experience. Our favorite exhibits were the Peacock Room and the neighboring rooms featuring comprehensive collections of landscapes and portraiture by James McNeill Whistler and others influenced by him. What was most unexpected about this tour was the very interesting and rather drama-filled story behind the Peacock Room (link above has link to online brochure) and he rise and fall of the relationship between Whistler and his patron, British shipowner Frederick Leyland. It really is a great museum and with it’s specialized exhibits and convenient location on the mall, it can be easily incorporated to any day trip in Washington.
Although it was getting late in the day at this point, our last task was to see if we could find any matching examples of the porch style included on our buildings on South Cathedral Place. We chose the Capital Hill neighborhood to look since we were rather close to it. We drove around for about half and hour to 45 minutes up and down the neighborhood blocks and came up empty handed. The closest thing we saw were some Victorian inspired porches but with the more commonly seen brackets in a fan or sun ray design. I did however really enjoy the Capital Hill neighborhood. It was great! It was like the fan, but better. Such cute little row houses each with their own personality. I could see myself living there if Washington ever became my home for some reason or another.
By this time it was after 5:00 – not a good time to head out of the city and also time to listen to our stomachs and consider and early dinner. We decided on one of my favorite D.C. restaurants, one I’ve managed to go to almost every trip there in the past 3 or so years since finding it: Bistrot Du Coin. Located back in Dupont Circle, this little spot it like a Can Can but more casual. We sat by the front windows and mussels and frites a glass of wine and a little foie gras plate. Delicious!
At 7:00 we headed back for Richmond and really had no trouble along the way; all smooth sailing. It was a great day with Mom, and a wonderful learning experience to add to the semester.
Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee, Buildings of the District of Columbia (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1993.) p. 327