Author: Bill Lebovich

Senator John McCain

Yesterday’s New York Times deferentially described the Senator as “being known for his independent streak.”  “Feisty” is another word more often associated with Senator McCain.  But in 1998 I interviewed him for an article in Southwest Art and I was struck by how gracious, soft-spoken he and Mrs. McCain were and his warm feelings towards his staff.  Most striking was sense of equality in the office.  Unlike other offices in the U.S. Capitol, his staff were not jammed together in a small space, while the senator or representative had a massive office at the end of the office, with a grand view of the National Mall.  Senator McCain’s desk and office were only slightly larger than those of staff and in the middle of the suite, John McCain20072017.jpgwithout the grand view.

The two photographs behind the Senator were gifts from his predecessor Barry Goldwater and it is Goldwater’s desk that McCain now uses.  To the right of these photographs is one of two Edward S. Curtis images on loan from the Smithsonian Institution.

Mies van der Rohe’s only building in Washington,D.C.

Late in his career, Mies was commissioned to design the main D.C. public library, named in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.  In contrast to Mies’s better known projects such as the Seagrams Building, a moderately tall skyscraper in New York City, and 860-880 Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, upscale housing towers, the library is only four stories above ground.  But all three projects display Mies’s trademark emphasis on a highly visible gridded facade.  In Seagrams and MLK Library the facades had a strong vertical emphasis created by steel i-beams welded on to the frame.

Mies, who was awarded the AIA Gold Medal and Royal Gold Medal, among numerous other recognitions as a leading Modernist architect, designed the building from 1965-1966, ground broken July 1968, and the library opened either August or September 1972. (Various sources site different key dates for this building.)

The building very recently closed for renovation (including roof garden and floor plans) and will only reopen in 2020.  Washingtonia Collection is at the DC Historical Society’s space at the Carnegie Library.

The architect for the renovation is Martinez and Johnson.  The architectural historian is Traceries.

Top photo shows G Street (main facade at left) and 9th Street side.  Bottom photo showing I beams detail on 9th Street.  photos copyrighted by Bill Lebovich, 2017MLK Library06072017 (2).jpgIMG_3377.jpg

Kemp Hall and the possible secession of Maryland from the Union

Kemp Hall and the possible secession of Maryland from the Union

On April 13,1861, U. S. Army Major Robert Anderson surrendered Ft. Sumter, Charleston,South Carolina, to the Confederacy.  On April 27th, the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates convened at Kemp Hall, corner of E. Church  and N. Market Streets, Frederick, to discuss whether Maryland should follow the southern states and secede from the Union.  The senators and delegates never voted on the issue.  Lincoln had his troops arrest the pro-Secessionists members of the Maryland General Assembly, preventing the august body from having the necessary quorum for taking a vote.

The building is a distinctive revival building of approximately 1860 with arched window heads and wide, bracketed cornice.  It is connected by a lower, setback hyphen with circular window to the third building, along Church.  This building is slightly lower than the hyphen building, which in turn is slightly lower than the main building.  Only the main building has arched windows.  The glass store front covers the N. Market St. facade and part of the Church St. facade, which has later brickwork.

The Exquisite Thomas T. Gaff House

Built for a Cincinnati industrialist in 1904 and designed by the prominent NYC society architect Bruce Price and the equally prominent Washington,DC society architect Jules Henri de Sibour, this house is strikingly beautiful with its steep Mansard roof, strong visual contrast between the deep red brick walls and white stone quoins, and compact yet soaring massing.

As architecturally impressive as the exterior is, it is outdone by the interior with its rich wood paneling and the sense of movement from space to space, and grand ballroom.

The building is now the Embassy of Columbia’s ambassador’s residence.

De Sibour designed many grand residences in the Embassy Row neighborhood, including 1785 Mass. Ave.,the former headquarters of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. (photograph by (c) Bill Lebovich,2016)Thomas T. Gaff House (1).jpg

The Municipal Center, between Pa. Ave and Judiciary Square

Sculpture of two businessmen playing chess at John Marshall Place. Several of the surrounding buildings were WPA projects from the late 1930s into the early 1940s.  The Newsuem replaced the Old Public Library. But the Municipal Building, the D.C. Recorder of Deeds,both by municipal architect Nathan Wyeth, survive as does the U.S. District Court Building.   All the buildings are late, blander versions of stripped classicism of the 1930s.west side chess players.jpgDC recorder of Deed (1).jpgDC recorder of Deed 515 D St..jpgMunicipal bldg south.jpgDC recorder of Deed_DxOVP.jpg

Georgetown’s late 18th, early 19th century domestic architecture

One of the most popular rows for tourists is also one of the best rows.  The power of simple motifs repeated down the row creates a sense of harmony, rhythm, and horizontal and vertical movement.  No American architectural style achieved so much with such restraint.  In most periods, such as classical revival, Richardsonian Romanesque — all great styles, and the post modernismGeorgetownIMG_5488_DxOVP (1).jpg, architects depend on bold statements to say their design is important architecture.