Photos like this wig me out:

Department of War buildings on the National Mall

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Washington, DC, that’s a view from the top of the Washington Monument looking westward, along the Reflecting Pool. towards the Lincoln Memorial; the photo was taken in 1943. There’s also this photo, showing even more buildings in the foreground, buildings that are actually sitting on the grounds of the Washington Monument. Today, none of those buildings you see along the sides of the Reflecting Pool are there, nor are the two bridges that actually cross the Reflecting Pool — the area is now taken up by the Constitution Gardens.

The story of those buildings is a cool one — they were the home of the Department of the Navy (and a bunch of other Department of War offices) during the massive military expansion of World War II. All of those buildings were considered temporary construction with the mind that the occupants would move as soon as the war was over and suitable space could be found for permanent Navy digs, something that happened in 1943 with the completion of the Pentagon. Of course, they lived far beyond their original intended lives, but thankfully they were also built as temporary construction, meaning that after a while they started to surrender to the ages. When the mid-1960s brought crumbling foundations and bowing walls, President Nixon had the good sense to order them demolished and the land given back to the National Mall, returning to Pierre L’Enfant’s original vision for Washington, DC’s public space.

Tomorrow’s Chesapeake Primary day, the day when DC, Virginia, and Maryland voters turn out to help choose the next Presidential candidates — and with the tight race on the Democratic Party side, the primaries really matter quite a bit. Here in the District, 15 delegates will be allocated based on the primary results, as many as Delaware, Vermont, Alaska, and either of the Dakotas, which is sort of exciting for us here normally-unrepresented folks. Given that, though, wouldn’t you think that there would be even one small tidbit of information about the election on the Washington, D.C. homepage? Alas, there isn’t; you have to head over to the DC Board of Elections subsite, and if what you’re really after is the location of your polling place, head here to track that info down.

Living in the nation’s capital, using Google to search for service providers is nigh-impossible, rather than getting companies and their websites, most of the search returns are lobbying groups, regulatory agencies, and sites documenting the laws associated with whatever service it is I’m looking into. It’s sort of maddening.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this little construction project could royally f@#* my morning commute to work… ugh.

Wow — turns out that the D.C. drinking water probably isn’t all that safe. Looking at the actual Environmental Working Group report that triggered the Post story, the only solace we can take here on Capitol Hill is that the two places tested that are closest to us had “acceptable” levels of contaminants and chlorine in the water. In any event, it seemed like a no-brainer to order up a Brita filtering pitcher; the only downside is that we’ll have to keep up with replacing the filters, but I figure that’s an incredibly small price to pay for safe drinking water.

Apparently, there’s a pretty critical blood shortage throughout the Washington DC metropolitan region right now — according to this article, there are around 50 units of type O blood in stock from Virginia to Pennsylvania as of this past weekend. If you are able, you might want to think about taking some time to donate blood over the next few days — both the Red Cross and INOVA have information about donor centers in the area. (The Red Cross also has a good list of restrictions on donating blood, which you might want to peruse before making the trip!)

This weekend, the small project of patching and painting some screw anchor damage in one of our walls turned into the much larger project of also painting the banister that runs along our the hallway on our second floor. It’s something we’ve wanted to do pretty much since we moved into this house, but the idea of painting each of the little balusters made us consider jumping off the roof instead. I’m not sure what got into us this weekend, but we decided to tackle it — and wow, what a difference it makes!

the banister, before the banister, after

(The original motivation — the wall repair and repainting — became a minor footnote in these photos; it’s the wall on the left of the pix.)

In the middle of all the Eastern Market-related activities this past weekend, one thing I did make time for was a little more woodworking — specifically, building the final set of shelves and another hanging shelf that make the basement workshop area complete (for now). You can see pix of the final setup here, including the totally, completely overengineered hanging shelf over my table saw. (I’m pretty sure that puppy will hold a couple of hundred pounds without blinking… so it should be fine for my drill and drill bits, a few battery chargers, and my laptop!)

Sorry for the quiet around here this past week — I’ve been busy as hell over at our Save Eastern Market news site. For now, things are looking good; the community has definitely rallied behind the Market, the District has already put a few good interim location proposals on the table for the merchants whose shops were destroyed, and the general vibe is that things are moving forward.

After walking around the still-smoldering Eastern Market yesterday evening, Shannon and I put a little time into starting up a new website, Save Eastern Market. We’re hoping to use it to provide a centralized resource for everything related to the fire and the rebuilding process; we remain cautiously optimistic that common sense and an overriding faithfulness to the character that made Eastern Market so tremendous will serve as guiding principles in the coming months, and wanted to be able to document that process as it moves forward.

So far, we’ve posted a welcome message, a bunch of news links, and a firsthand account of the Mayor’s press conference to the site, and we’re hoping to continue with news pointers, information about interim plans for the Market, notices of community meetings, and anything else that helps keep the neighborhood abreast of the rebuilding process. Hope to see you over there!

Eastern Market, after the fire

It’s a very, very depressing day here on Capitol Hill, because last night, Eastern Market suffered a devastating fire that appears to have pretty much gutted the 134 year-old building. The Market has been operating continuously since 1873, and housed a dozen stands selling everything from fresh produce to meats and cheeses; for most people in the neighborhood, including Shannon and me, it’s the primary place for getting groceries and weekly staples. As of now, firefighters think that the blaze started in a dumpster behind the Market building, but don’t know anything more than that.

Mayor Fenty and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (who also shops there nearly every weekend) have already vowed to rebuild and restore the Market, but it’s unclear how quickly they’ll be able to get that done, and what the vendors (most of whom depend on daily operation to stay afloat) will do in the mean time. Over the past year, Shannon and I have gotten to know most every one of the people who work there; I feel horrible for what they all must have felt as they got to work this morning and saw the building surrounded by firefighters who were still battling the smoldering blaze. Tommy Wells, the DC Council member for Capitol Hill, has specifially thrown his weight behind immediate plans to help the vendors survive the interim period; his weblog post also seems to intimate that there was serious structural damage to the South Hall, meaning that there will have to be more than just rehab work before it’ll be able to open back up for business.

Wow, this is just awful.

a closeup of the radiator cover

Two weeks ago, while planning a few new projects, Shannon and I decided that a table saw might be a worthwhile addition to the tool collection and ended up deciding on a Bosch 10” contractor’s saw. Of course, it rained cats and dogs from the moment we got home with the saw through the end of the weekend, and then we were in Boston for the whole of last weekend, so yesterday was my first chance to break it out of the basement and give it a spin.

Like any good tool-obsessed woodworker, the first project was building accessories for the tools — a basement shelving unit — but after that we moved on to furniture. Some of our friends saw our perfectly-narrow antique bench and thought that something similar would work out well in their own entryway, so a few weeks ago we picked up some salvaged mahogany to use for the task. Today we sawed, sanded, drilled, nailed, and stained that wood, building a slightly simpler matching bench for their house and a cover for the radiator in our house that sits just in front of our original antique bench. All three projects were incredibly satisfying, and since we did it all on the sidewalk in front of our house, we got a lot of comments as people walked back and forth to Eastern Market!

Yay — we get to keep Butterstick for another two years! (For those who didn’t know, the panda born here at the National Zoo back in 2005 was nicknamed Butterstick before he was given his official name, Tai Shan, on his 100th day of life.)

Since Shannon and I found our antique bench back in mid-February, I’ve been spending a little time here and there hunting for good sources of salvaged and recycled wood in the DC metro area, but wasn’t having much success. This past Thursday, though, I stumbled on an EPA report from 1999 that had the following tease in it:

A significant development in the collection and distribution of salvaged materials in D.C. is the recent formation of Community Forklift, a non-profit organization that seeks to establish a permanent distribution center for salvaged building materials. Currently, Community Forklift is in the process of legally incorporating, attaining tax exempt status, and drawing up a business plan.

One Google search later, I found Community Forklift, saw that their warehouse was a scant seven miles from our house, and got insanely excited about waking up early this weekend and checking it out. And after having now been, I can now say that it’s easily one of my favorite finds since moving here — as an architectural and building material salvage warehouse, they’ve got tons and tons of old wood (mostly salvaged joists and beams, some dimensional lumber and plywood, and a bunch of other bits and pieces), bins of vintage hardware like doorknobs and hinges, about a million old doors, windows, cabinets, and countertops, a lot of tile, and aisles and aisles of all the other stuff that gets saved when old buildings get torn down to make way for new construction. We ended up getting a great variety of widths of beautiful mahogany boards that we’ll use to build a shelf for ourselves and a bench for a friend (and they even lent us a circular saw so I could cut the wood down so it’d fit in my car!). There’s no question in my mind that had I been there alone, I’d likely have stayed all day.

One other benefit of finding Community Forklift is that mentions of it on the web also led me to learn about a few other places I’m going to have to check out, like the two Habitat for Humanity ReStores and the HoH Renovation Station in the region (all of which look to be similar in their missions), and then the great granddaddy of the area, Baltimore’s Second Chance (holy crap, five warehouses full of salvaged materials?). I suspect that this has the potential to become an addiction…

The Washington Post reported today on a DC-area general contractor which has filed a $6 million lawsuit against two homeowners for posting their bad experiences with the company on Angie’s List. (Both also posted their opinions in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood forum, and apparently, this posting is also cited as a basis for the lawsuit.) It’s hard for me to see the contractor coming out on top here, being that I’d imagine neither homeowner will have a problem describing their own experiences with the contractor, documenting how their renovations went poorly, and how those experiences led to them forming negative opinions of the company, but now both will have to spend time and money fighting for their right to have and share an opinion.

It bears mentioning that it’s precisely because of personal opinions like these that Shannon and I belong to the DC chapter of Angie’s List — I value the opinions of a company’s customers far more than I do the company’s own claims, and I’m not sure I’d ever hire someone to do $30,000 worth of work on my house without finding out how other people feel about the work the company has performed in the past. And because of this, I hate hearing about lawsuits like these, because if consumers become so worried about being sued that the utility of services like Angie’s List or Consumers’ Checkbook is diluted, it’ll be that much harder to figure out which companies are worth trusting with what can be incredibly large investments of money. (It’s sort of like the world of job references these days, where companies more or less refuse to accurately talk about bad experiences they’ve had with ex-employees for fear of being sued.) I guess for the time being, another way that DC-area homeowners can vet potential contractors is by searching the publicly-available building permit database to find other jobs the company has done, and then tracking down and asking those people what they think of the work… it sure as hell beats trusting the few hand-picked references the contractor passes on when asked.

Our narrow new hallway bench

Hey, lookie there — our new hallway bench is on Apartment Therapy NYC! (The actual Flickr page for the photo they posted is here; I’m not sure why the folks at AT:NYC chose not to link to the photo page.)

Shannon and I found the bench when we randomly popped into an antique shop across the street from our favorite neighborhood hardware store; it was lining one of the walls behind the main display area, and we immediately asked if we could borrow a tape measure and check the dimensions. We trotted home afterwards, measured the hallway space, and knew that we’d probably never find as ideal a piece of furniture for that space again. The owner of the shop said that she found it during a renovation of another Capitol Hill home, along with a few shorter benches of the same narrow depth, all of which she had already sold. We both love how weathered this one is, and most importantly, how it doesn’t take any additional width from the hallway. The only thing I’ll really have to do is anchor the back legs down (since the floor joists are typical of 100+ year-old joists in that they bow up just slightly at the walls), and it’ll be perfect.

Seriously, I love that the New York Times wrote an article about the Capitol Hill house shared by U.S. Representatives George Miller and Bill Delahunt and U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Chuck Schumer. (And we’re reasonably close neighbors!) It’s refreshing that the four roommates have to deal with the same mundane stuff that all roommates do — who gets the groceries, which people aren’t making their beds, who deals with the vermin — yet wake up in the morning and cross the street to serve as leaders of the Democratic Party in Congress.

Jeff Gates made a good pickup in the DC Metro system, where he noticed an oddity in all the Blue Cross/Blue Shield ads on the train platforms: the pupils of all the people’s eyes in the ads have been Photoshopped to reflect the BC/BS logo. Now that I know what to look for, it seems that the same thing was done to the ad at the top of this page, the info about the new federal vision benefits program; I can’t find similar ads on any other BC/BS websites, so Jeff is probably right that the ads are related to the new vision offerings. It’s a bit freaky, and despite the fact that I go through Metro Center twice a day, I never caught this. Weird!

Shannon, after we cast our (non-representative DC) ballots.

After failing to make it to vote in the primary (I was attending on the peds oncology service, and couldn’t get out of the hospital in time!), Shannon and I woke up early squirrelly this morning and hustled our way to the polling station. Voting in DC is a bit weird; you vote for local races that have meaning, but the national races are for “shadow representatives” that functionally have as much relevance as a seamstress at a nudist colony. As a first-time DC voter, I had to show identification before I could vote, but interestingly Shannon was asked for her ID as well, and she’s not a first-time voter. (I also just heard from a friend in New York who was also barred from voting until he produced an ID, and is now pursuing an explanation from his county board of elections.) In any event, we slid our ballots into the electronic reader, ate a celebratory donut, and immediately started stressing about watching the returns this evening… here’s hoping for the sweeping repudiation of the Bush administration that’s been trending towards finality in the pre-election polls.

One public service announcement: if you have any problems voting (electronic voting machines that malfunction, officials that wrongly prevent you from casting a ballot, whatever), the National Campaign for Fair Elections has set up a toll-free hotline, 866-OUR-VOTE. The group has monitors and attorneys on-hand to help deal with problems as they arise, so it’s probably worth giving them a call with any issues.

Shannon and I spent the day today running around Washington, DC, supporting a friend of ours in his 10th running of the Marine Corps Marathon. It was a beautiful day to be trekking around the monuments, and a great excuse to find ourselves at the foot of pretty much every notable monument in the District.

I put a bunch more pics up on Flickr, including another handful from the World War II Memorial.

On our way back from dropping my parents off at Union Station, Shannon and I noticed that Independence Avenue was closed off by a police car about a block from our house, and there were a bunch more emergency vehicles a bit past the blockade. Being the nosy people we are, we parked our car and wandered over to take a look; when we got there, this is what we found:

accident on Independence Avenue

(Rather than a District police car, that car actually belongs to the U.S. Capitol Police, and is a K9 unit at that.) Chatting with one of the officers, we found out that the gold Camry drove through a stop sign, at which point its right side became intimately familiar with the front end of the Captiol Police car. They cut the top and doors off of the Camry because it was the only way to get the passenger, an elderly woman with pre-existing hip problems, safely out of the car.

The best part of the whole thing was that while we were standing there, a guy in a Mercedes drove up and actually honked at the police to tell them that he wanted to drive through the accident scene. The two officers we were chatting with told us that that happens pretty much every time they work a scene; they’ve even had people ask to drive through firetruck barricades at active fires. People are truly stupid.

100 degrees, feels like 107

Sadly, the heat continues here in Washington, DC; while I took the Metro to work today in an effort to try not to contribute to the heat and pollution in a car, I’m not looking forward to stepping outside my office building to walk back to the train stop.

Another great thing about the move to Washington, DC: we now have an indoor pool a mere three blocks from our front door, with lanes set aside at various times for adult lap swimming, and it’s completely free for use by DC residents. We made our first trip there this evening, and after having taken a month off of swimming, I put in a mile’s effort. It was a little weirder than normal, though, since during the evening the pool is laid out so that the lanes are 20 yards long — which meant that I was doing math pretty much the entire time I was in the water, figuring out the difference in distance between my normal routine and what I was doing in the mini-lanes. And at 20 lanes, my breathing pattern gets totally thrown off, something I’ll have to figure out over time (or avoid by going in the mornings, when the lanes are oriented in the 25-yard direction).

It’s nice to settle into my routine in DC… it definitely rounds out the feeling of being at home here.

Twilight Tattoo at the Marine Barracks

Shannon and I headed out for an evening walk around the new ‘hood tonight, and in one of the cooler bits of fate, ended up sitting inside the parade grounds of the Marine Barracks watching the weekly parade. We’d heard about the parade — called the Twilight Tattoo by our buddy in the Marines — but didn’t know a thing about how to get into the barracks to watch. As we walked by tonight we could hear the band starting up, and one of the gate guards noticed our curiosity and motioned us over. Upon learning that we were new to Capitol Hill, he invited us in, asked a cadet to run a metal-detecting wand over us, and got us seated in the bleachers at the end of the parade grounds. It was pretty damn cool, and definitelty a good introduction to living in the nation’s capitol capital.

We’ve moved to Washington, DC, hence the quiet here — it’s hard to post when you’re buried under piles of dishware and linen that doesn’t yet have a home. But we’re getting there, with all our new furniture built and in place, most of our clothes unpacked, a good bit of our kitchen set up, and a general sense of what’s in each of the remaining boxes. (Well, I might be stretching the truth on that last one a bit; we’re still not too sure where a lampshade or two was packed, it took eons to find the phones, and we haven’t even started hunting for the desktop computer stuff.)

I’ll post a bit more as we get settled — and once our television service gets set up (tomorrow!), we’ll also be able to lapse into our habit of writing for the web while relaxing in front of summer series.

This is pretty brilliant: a list of restaurants in New York City, grouped by subway stop. I can’t tell you how useful this would have been to me when I lived there! Now, is there a similar site out there for stops on the DC Metro?

the US capitol

After all my work at the various bureaus of the DC municipal government was done yesterday, I figured the weather was nice enough for me to walk back to our new house, and made a point of including the Capitol on my path. Every time I wander our new neighborhood, the enormous dome is just there, at the end of all the major streets, helping me orient myself.

new house!

Things returned to quiet here for a few days, but I promise it was for a good reason: Shannon and I went and bought our first home! That picture is Shannon sitting on our new stoop, a mere hour before we signed a metric ton of paperwork in which promised that we’d pay the mortgage, keep the property in good condition, and each surrender a kidney and a lung in exchange for the house. (And the thing is, we both felt that it’d be cheap at twice that price!) So, I guess it’s now official: at the end of June, we’ll be moving from Brookline, Massachusetts to Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Our new place is a narrow little attached rowhouse, with two finished stories and an unfinished basement. It has two bedrooms, a little half-room that will make the perfect office, a half a bathroom more than either of us are used to, a small wood deck, and a little plot of dirt in the backyard in which Shannon and her mother are already mentally placing pavers, flowers, and little trees. And best of all, it’s ours to do with what we please!

Unlike a lot of what we saw in Capitol Hill, the house was already in nearly move-in condition; we only had to get a small boiler problem corrected and replace the floor in one room. We also chose to put in a new hot water heater and set up replacing all the windows in the front of the house (since all seven of them are the original, 100+ year-old sashes that are single-pane and have warped enough to make them hard to use). Otherwise, we have a little painting we want to do, a few other small pre-move-in projects that appeal to us, and then we’ll start the long journey of homeownership!

The Washington Post has a neat article about a seven-foot-wide house in Alexandria, Virginia. Built by a “frustrated bricklayer” in 1830 as a way to keep noisy people and carriages out of the alleyway next to his rowhouse, the property is just 350 square feet in total; its owner uses the tiny home ass a pied-à-terre and as a place to host business associates and out-of-town guests. And since there’s no way you’re not curious, there are a few neat pictures of the interior that really give appropriate scale to the place.

I’m sure that there are people who find them annoying, but I think that the new Washington, D.C. Metro advertisements are pretty damn cool. It’s a format that the ad design folks can probably be pretty creative with, and it’ll be neat to see little movies outside the windows of the train…