Wednesday, January 19, 2011

4. Van Ness-UDC

Google Maps shortest distance: 0.7
Distance run: 2.56

So, I realize I said that I was going to be tackling Northeast DC this time, but alas I slept through my alarm this morning and consequently didn't have time to get all the way to the other side of the Red Line and back before work :/. Never one to want to be behind schedule, I just settled on something closer to home: Van Ness-UDC. Like Woodley Park, the shortest route is 0.7 miles along Connecticut Ave. Also like Woodley Park, that sounded incredibly boring to me. So I took a longer way. Observe:

I tried to capture the sheer idiocy of this route, which will be explained in due time, but this is an approximation, especially over there in the green part, aka, the "forest of illusion." Please tell me someone besides my brother gets that reference.

Let me begin with a tale of an elevator in my building. I live on the 10th floor. There are 12 floors. Usually, there aren't many people in a down elevator from my floor, because there aren't many floors up above. And in the early morning, anyone in that down elevator is probably the only person in there and has been the only person in there for the last two floors. I must preface this by saying that also early in the morning you can often expect to be alone in the elevator for the entirety of the ride. That does not, however, excuse what happened this morning. The elevator doors opened, and there was one very surly looking young man in an overcoat inside. He did not make eye contact. I stepped in, the doors closed, and I immediately knew why he looked so surly. He had, at some point between floor 12 and floor 10, poisoned the elevator with an eye-watering, nose-searing flatulence I had heretofore only experienced in the company of dogs, little brothers and drunk people. Neither one of us acknowledged the situation, but I have a feeling it was just as uncomfortable for him as it was for me. I got off the elevator in the lobby and walked silently ahead, despite wanting to wave my hand and yell "Do NOT go in there!" a la Jim Carrey in Ace Ventura.

So, skipping ahead to the Van Ness Metro stop. It's fresh, it's exciting, it's...Van Ness. Let's be honest; it's not the MOST exciting part of town. It's largely residential, although there's a nice bunch of restaurants along the Connecticut Avenue corridor. But there are still some interesting building and sights around. I'll get to Connecticut Avenue north on another day, but today I started out running south along Connecticut from the Metro.

UDC Van Ness Campus

First stop: the other part of this Metro stop's name, University of the District of Columbia, UDC for short. While UDC has only been an accredited public institution since the 70s, the history of the school goes back to 1851, and the formation of a school for African American girls. That school and a school for white girls eventually became two four-year teachers' colleges, and were the only institutes of higher ed in DC at the time (1929)...they remained segregated, naturally, but that ended a few decades later. The old history page on the school's website (they've had a redesign, so there's a newer, flashier history page as well) contains a lot of tidbits I didn't know, like the fact that President Kennedy actually appointed the Chase Commission to assess the District's educational needs. That guy was pretty cool, no? Another fun fact? Dr. Jane Ellen McAllister, one of the teachers at the Miner Teacher's College (which grew out of the original Normal School for Colored Girls) was the first African-American woman in the world to receive a doctorate in education. From Columbia, no less. She was probably pretty cool, too.

This photo, while by no means important, is of a species all too familiar to many DC residents. It captures, in its natural habitat, the ever-present "used to be a Taco Bell" storefront. This one was actually a combo KFC/Taco Bell, so I suppose I'm not too devastated by its passing. It became half 7-Eleven and was briefly Vincent Orange's campaign headquarters before going up for lease.

The next ACTUAL photo is something that has intrigued me for years. It's the sprawling, two-block long campus of Intelsat, which includes some lovely landscaping and lighted paths. I know Intelsat is still there. And yet, the entire time I've lived here, there's been a "For Lease" sign in the front yard (I realize it's probably not called a front yard if it's not a house, but you knew exactly what I meant, didn't you?). So, I don't know why they are leasing but if you need some really impressive-looking office space, here you go. I have to admit I didn't know much about Intelsat, other than it was a satellite company. Wikipedia's article, while poorly written, is pretty interesting, especially when supplemented with Intelsat's own history page. Apparently the world's largest provider of fixed satellite services, which is now a private company but began in the 60s as an inter-governmental organization, and uses SPACECRAFT contractors across the region, has been sitting down the street for all this time, and I was just like "What is that carazay building???"

Now that I've revealed my blatant disregard for my surroundings, I will try to redeem myself by seeming cultured and alert. From this intersection, I continued down Connecticut, past Edmund Burke School. I didn't take a picture because it's not as impressive looking from the street as other schools I've snapped and also I'm tired of getting looked at like I'm a complete perv. (But they did have up a banner about being PVAC cross country champions or something, so I tried to look really fast and accomplished...I wanted to give those young runners something to aspire toward.)

I decided to turn left on Tilden. "But there's nothing down there but the Park!" you say. Please...look at all the attraction signs Tilden is using to lure us in:
Embassy of This, Embassy of That, COME DOWN HERE
PLEASE TURN ON TILDEN!!!! Ok, ok...calm down...I'm turning.
Tilden has the pleasure of being a ridiculously steep hill that is one of the many automotive access points for Rock Creek Park. It's also home to several embassies and some ridiculously awesome homes that I can only assume are related to the embassies due to their seemingly excessive security and camera systems. I'm pretty sure my entire journey down Tilden is documented on tape. There were a lot of things that I wanted to take pictures of, namely the Czech and Hungarian embassies, but they were sort of obscured by trees. Luckily, the Library of Congress (natch) has a great picture of the Embassy of Hungary, and the Czech Republic's Ministry of Foreign Affairs site has a picture of theirs. I recommend doing an image search for the Czech Republic embassy...they held a design competition for a complete redesign of their embassy and some of the entrants are outstanding. Also outstanding is the fact that the Czech embassy is on Spring of Freedom Rd. I felt refreshed just running past it.

Almost to the park, I took a turn left on Linnean Ave. It sounds made up, but it's not. At the end of Linnean is the stupendous Embassy of the Netherlands, but before that, through a series of iron gates, is one of my favorite places in Washington.
Obviously, it wasn't open to the public at 7:30 am, but this, ladies and gents, is the Hillwood Estate. Hillwood is the former home of Marjorie Merriweather Post, who became head of the Post cereal business at 27 when her father died and soon became the wealthiest woman in America. She had a ridiculously posh life and was married four times, including to Glenn Close's grandfather (from another marriage...) and E.F. Hutton, with whom she founded General Foods (an outgrowth of the Postum Cereal company that you now know, in a different iteration, as Kraft Foods) and acquired Birdseye Foods, the original frozen food company. Basically, she was a brilliant woman all around (and yes, Merriweather Post Pavilion, famed concert venue, is named after her).

Hillwood is full of fantastic Russian and French treasures and art, including a large collection of Faberge eggs and boxes. Much of this comes from Post's third marriage, when she and her husband, then-ambassador to Russia, lived in Russia. They purchased art and valuables from Stalin that had been seized from the Romanovs and other Russian families. Slightly scandalous, but they were purchased legally from the government, however questionable the original acquisition. She became a well-known and dedicated collector of Russian art, and donated her entire art collection as a museum for the public upon her death. Hillwood is unfortunately not free, but it totally and completely worth the entry fee. I'd pay just to walk through the rose garden alone (but not in January).

Linnean Ave doesn't really go anywhere, so I turned around and headed back to Tilden, continuing down into Rock Creek Park. Somewhere along this stretch of Tilden, the sidewalk ran out on both sides of the street. Dear DC: how can there not be a sidewalk or foot path on a road that leads into THE PARK? It really wasn't a huge deal; most of the sidewalks on Tilden were still icy anyway so their existence was less than necessary. I took my life in my hands briefly before stopping in a picnic area to photograph my next stop. There's a little complex on the corner that is has been under construction, albeit for positive reasons, for about a decade:

Pierce Mill is a remnant from an age when people used Rock Creek as they've used many a body of running water for hydro power for mills! Rock Creek Park wasn't always government property. Turns out a guy named Pierce owned thousands of acres around the area and had a prolific mill at what is now approximately the corner of Tilden Ave and Beach Drive. It's the only mill left in the District, dating from the 1820s. It hasn't been a mill for over 100 years (except for some odd-sounding experiment in the 30s and 40s), but they are restoring it to once again be a working mill, with new parts and a restored water wheel and everything.

The picnic area I was standing in to take these is something I find underutilized by the DC residents I come into contact with. Inside Rock Creek Park, there are around 30 picnic areas, noted as numbered circles on this map. Some require reservations, some don't; some have parking lots, some don't; some have big stone grilling areas and rain shelters, some don't; but they're all there for the occasional cookout or party or casual sandwich under the shade of a tree. This one has a big awesome grill.

Death trap
From the picnic area, I wanted to run home on the paved Rock Creek Park multi-use trail, though it would require me to run up Porter Street again (still stupid). However, much like the sidewalks of Tilden, the trail was not in good running shape. It was, more clearly, a sheet of ice. In a brilliant, mid-stride change of plans, I realized there was something else to be seen on another route home. But first, I photographed the creek. I feel like some people don't know that Rock Creek Park is actually named for a creek. Well, it is. And I have a picture. Not that that proves anything.

Creek of the Rock variety

Icy trails...should have known this would be a bad idea.
Turning right off of Tilden into the picnic area, and then right again, puts you at the bottom of a hill looking up a series of marked trails. I'll admit: I've not run up these particular trails in the winter. I thought I knew where I was going. I was wrong. I ran up the Western Ridge Trail, not realizing it at first. Of course, "ran" is a bit of a overstatement. The trail was steep, and still covered with slushy ice. I nearly died on the way up. When I crested the first rise of the trail, I noticed another creek down the hill to my right, which seemed strange, because that other creek is usually on my left when I run this way. Yeah. I took the wrong trail. I was faced with crossing an icy creek via an ice-covered log, or going back the way I came and taking the right trail. I nearly died again on the way back down the hill, but clearly I didn't unless this entire blog post has been a ruse by a very talented impostor.

Many ways to cross a creek via log
The trail and park area along this stream is called Melvin Hazen Park, and is a tributary of Rock Creek Park. It spits you out at the top of the hill right on Connecticut Ave in between Sedgwick and Rodman. It also continues across Connecticut, and there's a lovely community garden over there that is also called Melvin Hazen.

My favorite sign right now is this one, at the entrance from Connecticut Ave. No horses. Sure, I get that. But there isn't one of these signs INSIDE the park, where presumably one might find park-goers on horseback. Next time I'm riding my horse up Connecticut Ave, however, I will know not to take my horse on this trail.
From here, I just ran south on Connecticut until I hit Porter and the Metro. I will write more about actual Cleveland Park one day, but for now, I'll leave you with this bit of sadness. This building on the corner, now a primary and immediate care center, used to be a 7-Eleven. It also used to have a fantastic mural on it, but when the building residents changed, the mural was gone with no warning and no pomp and circumstance. I for one miss that mural...the guy reading the newspaper (seen in this flickr image) always startled me when I saw him out of the corner of my eye and thought he was real...

1 comment:

  1. Did you find the Blue Switch Palace?

    Okay, okay, I'll admit it, I had to Google it, but I DID have a general idea of what the 'forest of illusion' reference was (something mario-y).