Founded in 1790 Washington was designed by Major Pierre L'Enfant. It was the first American city planned for a specific purpose. It was designed to be a beautiful city with many streets and trees. Another name for Washington is the District of Columbia.
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Founded in 1790 Washington, D.C. was designed by Major Pierre Charles L'Enfant around 1791. It was the first American city planned for a specific purpose. It was designed to be a beautiful city with wide streets and many trees. The city's business is centered around the government. Another name for Washington, D.C. is the District of Columbia. The district was originally a 10 miles square crossing the Potomac River into Virginia. Both Virginia and Maryland donated part of their land for the capital district. The Virginia portion of D.C. was later ceded back to Virginia.
When Pierre Charles L'Enfant gazed northward along the banks of the Potomac River in 1791, he envisioned a "pedestal waiting for a monument." Since that day, Washington, DC has evolved into a fascinating, lively city combining grand, neoclassical government buildings, monuments, memorials, museums and the National Mall with colorful neighborhoods, art, theater, music and culture.
Washington, DC is a powerful symbol not only of American nation but also of democracy and freedom. The District of Columbia's neighborhoods, people, history and culture truly embody the American Experience - from Duke Ellington to John Phillip Sousa and from the Civil War to civil rights. Only in Washington, DC, can visitors be inspired by touring the magnificent Capitol Building and Washington Monument by day and be moved by taking in magical performances by the National Symphony and world-class opera by night.
1. Building a capital
Although the whole world knows Washington, DC as the capital of the United States, the city did not exist when American became a nation in 1789. The seat of the new government was located temporarily in New York City. A year later it was moved to Philadelphia. When it came to selecting the place for a permanent capital, both these cities were among those who vied to be chosen. Some of the competing cities offered land and money as incentives. A fierce rivalry developed between the northern and southern states over the location, a conflict that was finally resolved by a political compromise. In exchange for agreeing to locate the capital in the southern region, the northern states were relieved of the heavy debts they had incurred during the Revolution.
In 1790 Congress passed the Residence Act giving President George Washington the power to select a site for a new federal district, as the then-nameless capital was called. The Act also said that Congress would continue to meet in Philadelphia until 1800, when the capital city was supposed to be ready for the government to move in.
Washington's own estate, Mount Vernon, was located on the Potomac River below the bustling river towns of Alexandria, Virginia and Georgetown, Maryland. He was convinced that the land along the Potomac had enormous commercial potential as a shipping center if it were linked by canal to the Western frontier. For the site of the new capital Washington picked an area at the junction of the Potomac and Anacostia rivers about 14 miles upstream from Mount Vernon.
A survey of the land, a "ten-mile square" which had been ceded by Maryland, was undertaken by Andrew Ellicott with the help of Benjamin Banneker, a free black from Maryland who was a self- taught mathematician and astronomer. Forty boundary stones, laid at one-mile intervals, established the boundaries based on Banneker's celestial calculations. Most of the land consisted of floodplain, dense forest, and farmland. In order to speed development of the city, Washington convinced a number of local landholders to donate tracts of land for the new capital.
2. Washington D.C. in 20th century
The first half of the 20th Century was an explosive time in Washington, socially, economically, and especially culturally. Between 1910 and 1935, many new museums and concert halls were dedicated, including the new Smithsonian Institution building, now called the Natural History Museum, the Freer Gallery of Oriental Art, the Folger Shakespeare Library and Theater, and the Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress. During the same time, the Daughters of the American Revolution built Constitution Hall which is Washington's largest concert and lecture hall, with a seating capacity of 4,001.
Washington's population increased dramatically before 1950. New public parks and picnic areas were created throughout the city. The popular summer spots included the fashionable Meridian Hill Park, Griffith Baseball Stadium, and the bathing beach near the Tidal Basin. By the 1920s, the Belasco Theater, the new National Theater, and the Howard Theater all added tremendously to the entertainment scene.
The beautification of Washington became a serious concern in the early part of the 20th century. Japanese cherry blossom trees were planted around the Tidal Basin. They were a gift to Washington from the people of Japan in 1912. The National Capital Park and Planning Commission was created in 1920, and the Fine Arts Commission was organized a few years earlier. The Lincoln Memorial was under construction from 1915 until 1922.
America's entry into World War I changed Washington forever. With the arrival of the government "girls", there was a great need for housing and more office space. Temporary buildings were constructed between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial site. They were used for 50 years, creating quite an eye sore on the otherwise attractive landscape. There was a new mobilization of wealth, manpower, and industry, which resulted in the establishment of new government agencies.
With the arrival of the Great Depression, social life, as established in the city during the 19th century, essentially ceased to exist by the mid-1930s. Many of the magnificent mansions along Massachusetts Avenue were put up for sale. The only buyers seemed to be foreign governments that needed new quarters for their embassies. Many of these old palatial homes were converted into both offices and residences for ambassadors.
Washington's population has always radically increased because of wars or economic depressions. Two world wars and the Great Depression rocketed the city into a new dimension. It emerged as a powerful and cosmopolitan metropolis during the 1940s.
World War II transformed the nation's capital in to the command center of the United States. For the first time since the Civil War, the city was fortified. The population exploded to 950,000 residents. More temporary buildings were added to the old ones near the memorials. The new Pentagon building was suddenly alive with offices, shops, and restaurant s to serve the 40,000 workers stationed there.
Washington in the 1940s had become a lively and exciting world center. The new airport on the Potomac became a popular place; the main attraction was the huge new restaurant. The opening of the National Gallery of Art in 1941 exposed a whole population to the beauties of western European masterpieces. When the war ended, Washington began to relax a little, and feelings of restrained optimism were combined with a sense of confidence in the future of the nation.
In the four decades following the Truman years, Washington developed into a modern city, unrecognizable to those who knew the city before World War II. A sense of rising prosperity came with the Republican administration under Eisenhower in the 1950s. The new buildings in downtown Washington stimulated rezoning of close-in residential areas for more office buildings. These buildings were needed to accommodate the multitude of new workers in both private and public sectors. The gorgeous old late 19th century mansions and homes disappeared one by one as land values escalated, as the economics of the times no longer justified their existence.
A mass exodus of Washington's white population in the 1950s was partly because of the enticement of the suburbs. The suburbs were fashionable, the houses were new, the schools were better, and the population was homogeneous. School integration in the city in 1954 accelerated these changes. For the first time, the racial balance in Washington was changing. The city had always counted between 20 and 35 percent of its population to be of African heritage. By 1970, that had changed to 70 percent.
Southwest Washington became part of an experiment called Urban Renewal. Some later renamed it urban removal. Whole neighborhoods were declared slum areas. Beginning in 1956, more than 4,500 buildings in Southwest Washington were bulldozed. Most of these houses were considered substandard, although they were just blocks from the Capitol. The concept of housing rehabilitation and restoration had been dismissed without discussion. Huge impersonal federal office buildings were built in the newly cleared areas. A freeway was constructed through the old Southwest neighborhood. Large, mundane, but not inexpensive, apartment complexes were constructed. The old residents were displaced with few places to go. Communities were broken apart, their churches and synagogues destroyed. Public housing complexes were constructed across the Anacostia River in Southeast, and those who could not afford to move anywhere else were relocated across the Anacostia River.
John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, caused Washingtonians to reevaluate many of their recently conceived ideas in the 1960s. The old houses on Lafayette Square were ready to be torn down to make way for new office buildings. The old Corcoran Gallery across form the White House was also to be bulldozed. A new appreciation for history, however was beginning to awaken in a few residents. Establishing a cultural center was an idea President Kennedy promoted. Although he did not live to see it, the Kennedy Center was opened and dedicated to him in 1972. There seemed to be a mad rush into the future.
This was also the beginning of increased transportation problems in the city. Streetcar service was ended in 1962, but the subway was not opened until 14 years later. Traffic problems escalated as more people became commuters. Washington was deserted in the evenings. The city had few good restaurants clubs, or theaters to attract locals to remain in town after house. By the mid-1970s, a new generation of young, urban professionals began to make different demands on the city. They did not want to commute; rather they wanted to live in town and enjoy what the city offered.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s there was an influx of blacks to Washington from rural areas, particularly the South. Some were well educated, middle-class, professional people, but many were poorly educated, "refugees" seeking jobs and the psychological support of others. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech from the stairs of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 brought hope to blacks who were searching for a better life. Five years later, the situation had not radically improved, and when Dr. King was assassinated in 1968, the ensuing race riots caused suffering to both white-owned and minority-owned businesses. By the end of the 1960s, anti-Vietnam War protestors flowed into the nation's capital on a regular basis. Everyone seemed disillusioned with the city. Stable communities were broken up as fear drove away some of the last long-time residents, black and white.
By 1968, Congress granted the residents the right to vote for president and allowed a local government to be set up. Mayor Walter Washington was appointed as the first mayor. Later he became the city's first elected mayor. In the elections in 1976, Mayor Washington was defeated by Marion Barry for Democratic nomination. Barry went on to win easily in the general election.
The Smithsonian Institution expanded significantly in the 1960s and 1970s. The National Museum of History and Technology (later renamed the National Museum of American History) opened in 1964. In the late-1960s, Joseph Hirshhorn gave his collection of contemporary art and sculpture to the Smithsonian. The next decade saw the opening of the National Air and Space Museum, The East Building of the National Gallery, as well as the National Museum of American Art and the National Portrait Gallery. In 1987, collections of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the national Museum of African Art filled the new Smithsonian Quadrangle underground complex.. Millions of tourists continued to come to the city, which was becoming more conscious of the importance of tourism to the local economy. A new convention Center lured large groups for meetings in the 1980s. New luxury hotels mushroomed throughout the downtown sector of the city. Neighborhoods began to take pride in their uniqueness, offering festivals, parades, or special holiday observances.
3. Quick DC Orientation
Located midway along the eastern seaboard of the United States, south of Maryland, north of Virginia and 233 miles south of New York City, the Washington, DC metropolitan area refers to the District of Columbia, plus 7 Maryland counties (Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles, Frederick, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's), 5 Virginia counties (Arlington, Fairfax, Loudon, Prince William and Stafford) and 5 Virginia cities (Alexandria, Fairfax City, Falls Church, Manassas and Manassas Park).
Visualize a 10-mile square (100 square miles) oriented as a diamond with top corner pointing North. That was DC originally, created by land grants from Maryland and Virginia, until 1849 when Virginia took back its part (the part west of the Potomac river) spoiling the nice diamond and leaving DC with 69 of its original 100 square miles.
Washington is partitioned into quadrants, designated NW, NE, SW, and SE, oriented with respect to the Capitol, which is a mile or so east of the center of the (former) diamond. NW is the largest quadrant, NE and SE are somewhat smaller, and SW is not very large at all (because Virginia took most of it away).
In general north/south streets have number names ( "1st street") with one sequence ascending to the east of the Capitol and another to the west, qualified by quadrant: "3rd street SE" and "3rd street SW" are parallel and change names to "3rd street NE" and "3rd street NW" as they change quadrants to NE and NW (as they pass the Capitol). The White House is at 16th street NW, and there is a parallel street (roughly) 32 blocks away, 16th street SE, whose name changes to 16th street NE when it crosses to the NE quadrant. East/west streets have alphabetic names, some a single letter, e.g. "A Street NE" and some real names: states, like "Alabama Avenue SW" (actually every state in the union is represented), as well as flowers (e.g. "Dahlia"), institutions (" Peabody"), and mysterious entities ("Quackenbos"). Streets generally change quadrant designation, but not name, as they change quadrants, and there are no parallel east/west streets with the same name. (There are however more exceptions to than instances of these rules, and often a street changes its name from block-to-block for no known reason. Many so-called east/west streets run at sharp angles, radially from the Capitol, and change direction as well as name often.)
On of the biggest barriers to navigation in DC is the disconnected streets. New Hampshire Avenue is the most notorious. Many a naive tourist has tried to follow New Hampshire Avenue from the North to Dupont Circle (a perfectly logical thing to try, since Dupont Circle is formed by the confluence of three major streets, one of them being New Hampshire Avenue). Most of these people are still lost.
Two notable rivers help shape DC. Most notable is the Potomac (yes, the same Potomac that George Washington threw a silver dollar across). The Anacostia flows into the Potomac and together they form a rough "Y"; the left fork and stem of the Y are the Potomac; the right fork is the Anacostia. The part of DC east of the Anacostia (bounded by the Anacostia and the stem of the "Y") is a large neighborhood known as Anacostia. Other neighboorhoods and well-known areas -- Georgetown, Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan, Capitol Hill, and "Downtown" -- are all between the stems of the "Y". The portion of the DC diamond south/west of the Potomac, as we noted above, no longer belongs to DC; Virginia took it back from us.
Washington DC's primary industry after the federal government is tourism. Other important industries include trade associations, as Washington, DC is home to more associations than any other U.S. city; law; higher education; medicine/medical research; government-related research and publishing. Washington, DC metropolitan area is also world headquarters for corporations such as USAirways, Marriott, Amtrak, Gannett News, Mobil Oil, MCI Telecommunications and the International Monetary Fund.
6. Interesting facts
What does "D.C." stand for?
D.C. stands for District of Columbia. It is called District of Columbia, because it was built on land of the Territory of Columbia, a 10 square mile piece of land, that used to be part of Virginia and Maryland. The territory of Columbia was named such after Christopher Columbus.
Statistics & Facts.
Official Bird is the Wood Thrush.
Official Flower is the American Beauty Rose.
Official Tree is the Scarlet Oak.
Motto: Justitia Omnibus (Justice for All).
Highest Point: Tenleytown
Time Zone: Eastern
572,059 (April, 2000)
The population of Washington, D. C. was:
1997 - 554,000
2000 - 572,059
Winter - 37 degrees F.
Spring - 56 degrees F.
Summer - 77 degrees F.
Fall - 60 degrees F.
7. Places of interest
Washington DC is by far America's most majestic city. Beauty abounds here in so many forms. It's hard to visit Washington DC without gaining inspiration at some point, and if one leaves the city without a certain pride and loyalty, I speculate one has missed the point and perhaps has not paid attention at all. Washington DC is the most magnificent city in the US in that no other city more readily and enthusiastically celebrates. . . well, celebrates America! Sure, other cities have monuments and memorials that evoke patriotism, like the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia or the Statue of Liberty in New York City, but only Washington DC is dominated by these icons. You can scarcely look anywhere in D.C. and not see some monument, or gift, or remembrance, or tribute to someone or something.
Washington is a truly remarkable city. Most cities are strewn with hundreds and thousands of skyscraping buildings jetting non-scenically into the sky above. You won't find that in Washington DC. There's a city ordinance that prohibits such Goliath structures, making for a scene that resembles more a rural theme-park than an industrial state. Supposedly, when L'EnFant laid the plans for Washington DC, he designing it in the mold of Paris, complete with grassy fields, long reflecting pools, and a sense of beauty that would be lost in an urbanized relative. Unfortunately, he never saw his brilliant plans come to pass, dying penniless and poor, in the city he loved. Some years ago, his remains were moved to a special location in Arlington National Cemetery. The new site lies on a hill across the Potomac opposite the monuments, where his grave forever gazes upon his completed vision.
The largest and arguably the grandest monument in Washington DC is the Washington monument. There aren't many places in the main portion of the district (at least in Northwest D.C.) where you can't catch a glimpse of the Washington monument looming somewhere in the distance. It's a marvelous site. It's the simplicity and size that grabs you. It's not nearly as impressive from a distance as it is when approached on foot. It's the scale that's alarming. Giant brick-like pieces slotted together with incredible precision rising straight to the heavens. One cannot help but wonder how the structure stays intact so strong and so unwavering.
White House. In fact, I find it quite boring. I guess there's not much to do over near where the White House is located. Never less, I think I'm disinterested with the White House due to its lack of interactivity. True, it's beautiful. True, it's the home of the president. True, it's behind a huge electric gate that will shock the living daylights out of anyone who tries to climb over it. Most of the other monuments you can walk in (or at least near.) As for the White House, one can only get within a hundred yards or so and even then one has to stare at it through steel bars. It certainly takes away from the experience.
Right next door to the White House is the United States Department of the Treasury. This building may not be the kind of structure that grabs and holds your attention, but I find it interesting. The US Department of the Treasury is the same building you will find on the back of a ten dollar note which should give it a certain degree of familiarity. Yet, it stands in relative obscurity among the other city buildings nearby.
National Archive building. It lies halfway down the mall on a sidestreet between the Washington Monument and Capitol Hill. The National Archive is truly awesome. Its vaults permanently house and protect the original Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights among other items of interest. These items are on display by day and are lowered into the 50-ton vault by night. Once in the vault, they are said to be protected from vandals, terrorists, and/or nuclear attack.
The National Archive is impressively large. I find it's massive "boxed" structure imposing to say the least. It's even intimidating. I find it in the same vein as a huge cage. When one sees such a cage, one can't help but wonder what monstrosity it holds. I guess it makes a certain degree of sense that the most important of US documents would be presented in such a way.
At the east end of the mall is Capitol Hill. The U.S. Capitol Building houses both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. It's another huge structure, quite typical of Washington DC. As it is with most monuments in Washington, the approach on foot is a key element as it serves to aid the appreciation of the monument. Many of the monuments are strategically found on hills and therefore are much more impressive when one strolls leisurely up to such an edifice.
The Capitol also sits behind a large reflecting pool. This is another technique used in the district to multiply the beauty of several attractions. The Capitol is a relaxing building. It reminds me of an upper-middle class man on holiday. The Capitol sits leisurely spread out on a hill, overlooking the mall area. If the Capitol had a face, I'm sure it would have a small content grin.
In front of the Capitol are beautiful, large, shade trees and a grassy field perfect for a picnic blanket and a lazy afternoon nap. The squirrels here are so uninhibited, they will literally eat right out of your hands. There's a wonderful feeling of relaxation at this site, quite a contrast to the atmosphere usually found inside the Capitol on the floors of the House and Senate. That's part of the irony on the Capitol building.
Across the street from the Capitol building is the Supreme Court. The original Supreme Court is no longer in existence. The justices used to meet in a Washington DC pub. They would sit around and hear arguments and then settle disputes when the need arose. These were during the more informal days of U.S. government. Eventually, someone put in the budget enough money to build a more permanent and dignified monument to the judicial process and it stands proudly and firmly on this site.
The Supreme Court is another very beautiful building. It's firm in its appearance, but not harsh or overbearing. A perfect fit for what it's supposed to represent. The summit of the front of the Supreme Court contains a triangular arch depicting a frieze of several judges, under which is engraved the words in bold print: "Equal Justice Under Law."
The Jefferson Memorial is one of the more unique monuments in Washington DC. It's a small, circular, domed building with absolutely gorgeous columns and an attractive view of the Potomac River. The Jefferson sits on the section of D.C. known as the tidal basin that contains an inlet surrounded by the world famous Washington DC cherry blossoms. It's a very quaint area known for it's simplistic beauty. It makes for a nice stroll in the evening, especially in the spring when the blossoms are in full bloom.
The Lincoln Memorial is walking distance from the Jefferson, located near the tidal basin at the east end of the mall. Its grandeur can be especially felt as one views it when crossing the Arlington National Cemetery Bridge on their way into the city. It's for that reason alone that I always choose to enter Washington DC using that particular causeway.
The Lincoln Memorial sits behind a long, rectangular reflecting pool, which creates a most tranquil atmosphere. The Lincoln Memorial has an intriguing sharp-cornered design with the engraved names of every state along the top border. Unfortunately, the placid environment is squandered.
National Zoo. Lions, and tigers, and bears oh my! And giraffes, hippos, pandas, elephants, and prairie dogs too. The National Zoological Park is located in the northern section of Washington, D.C., approximately twenty minutes from the National Mall by subway, on a 163 acre park. The Zoo is home to more than 5000 animals and over 500 species of animals many of which are very rare. Approximately twenty five percent of the animals at the Zoo are on the endangered species list. Many of the animals in the Zoo are not exhibited elsewhere in the United States. The Zoo is home to only Komodo Dragons in the United States.
In addition the National Zoo has computer literate orangatangs in the "Think Tank", a unique overhead orangatang transportation system, the Pollinarium, dedicated to the complex interactions between plants and animals, "Amazonia", the reptile discovery center, and more.
From the beginning of the twentieth century the USA became the world's leading country. Thousands of tourists visit Washington every day. People from all parts of the US come to see their capitol, and also people all over the world. Washington greets tourists with the Cherry Blossom festival every spring. The pink and white blossoms of the Japanese cherry these near the Washington Monument create a magnificent delicate picture, and you are to visit Washington just to see it, and then all beauties of other cities will seem to you gloomy.
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