While a lot of the big ticket items will be closed, there's still plenty to do and see in DC. Frankly, some of these less visited venues are more interesting that the high-draw options, and you could plan a perfectly good trip around them alone. So let's take a look at a few:
Entries in National Cathedral (6)
A monthly series by E. David Luria, Founder & Director of the Washington Photo Safari
National Building Museum
The National Building Museum holds a very special place in the heart of the Washington Photo Safari as it celebrates architecture and the built environment which is how I made my foray into professional photography. Originally known as the Pension Building when it was constructed in the 1880's to provide ample office space for clerks writing out pension checks to Civil War veterans, it is now known as the National Building Museum. It’s certainly a hidden treasure off the beaten path of the National Mall but nevertheless situated conveniently near the city center at Judiciary Square metro. What looks like a bunch of columns and archways gives way to an interactive exploration of how we design, build, use, are inspired by and interact with our concrete brethren.
Ahh, the Fourth of July. One of the great American holidays, when we celebrate overthrowing our British overlords, who had kept us in a state of perennial submission, what with their onerous tax on tea and refusing to let us riot. My latent sarcasm aside, it's a great holiday and appeals to my sense of rebelliousness and wanton hunger to watch things explode.
Unfortunately, my idea of a great Fourth is to blow a couple hundred bucks in South Carolina for enough fireworks to make the defenders of Ft. McHenry think twice about holding out next time, ideally accompanied with beer and small kids. Naturally, I follow strict safety rules, like "no firing bottle rockets at your sister" and "hold my beer while I light the finale". After all, I'm a responsible parent now.
Now if you find yourself in Washington, DC for the Fourth, and especially if you find yourself in a neighborhood that is, shall we say, less touristy, you'll find yourself enjoying an experience much like I described above, although perhaps with less of a strict regard for safety. Be forewarned, and rest secure that you're still in a country that if King George tries to quarter his troops in our homes, he'll find a warm welcome. However, if re-enacting Beirut circa 1984 isn't your cup of tea let me offer a few suggestions:
1. A Capitol Fourth: The annual concert on the West Front of the Capitol will be hosted this year by Jimmy Smits. It's a great free concert, this year featuring Reba McEntire, Gladys Knight, Darius Rucker, and the National Symphony Orchestra. It kicks off at 8:00 pm, but if you think you're showing up at 7:45 and finding a spot on the lawn you're woefully optimistic. The security gates open at 3:00 pm, and I'd say you might want to be there at around 5 if you're looking for a spot to have a picnic. For a truly local take on this, come the night before and watch the free rehearsal. Most of the headliners won't be there, but they'll be a lot less crowds.
2. Fireworks!: If your taste runs towards the "professional" displays, and away from burnt fingers, the annual DC Fireworks display is pretty impressive. They are set off near the World War II memorial, just to the west of the Washington Monument right around 9:15 pm. Popular vistas often go quickly, but a good rule of thumb is that if you can see the Monument clearly, you'll be able to see the fireworks. Folks will start camping out on the Mall fairly early in the day, and this year, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival will run on the Fourth for your viewing pleasure. Also, if you need to kill time, the White House Visitor's Center and the National Archives will be hosting special events that day. Be ready though: getting nearly a million people out of the city at one time can be a bit tricky. Plan on the Metro being packed and a bit of a wait. If you drove AND found a parking space, you're going to be there till dawn.
3. Parades: Everyone loves a good parade, and the National Independence Day Parade fits the bill. It runs along Constitution Avenue from 7th to 17th ST NW starting at 11:45. Filled with all the pomp and circumstance the US government can round up, it's a stirring site with marching bands, military honor guards, floats, and all that good stuff. But if you want a less monumental and more authentic experience, swing on down to Barracks Row (8th ST SE, just feet away from the Eastern Market Metro Station) for the Capitol Hill Parade. Kicking off at 10:00 (give or take) by the historic Marine Barracks at 8th and I SE, the parade features and eclectic mix of neighborhood schools, organizations, and just a bunch of people out to have a good time, like the local moms who find a creative use for bridesmaid dresses "you can wear again" as the Fairy Princess Patrol. If you are like so many of my visitors who are lost in a maze of marbled columns and ask "does anyone live in Washington", come here for your answer. And while I've never been to it, I hear good things about the Takoma Park Parade as well.
4. For the Fireworks Haters: If you're looking to branch out in a new direction for your Fourth celebration, consider swinging by the National Cathedral. They will be hosting a recital of their incomparable 10,000 pipe organ at 2 pm this Sunday. Sure, it's a bit non-traditional, but you won't have to jockey for position in the sun, either. And if you stick around, the Cathedral grounds aren't a bad place to catch the fireworks (I recommend finding a spot near the Peace Cross on the grounds of St. Alban's school).
Whatever your plans for the Fourth of July in DC are, be sure to approach them with good humor and patience. Crowds and hot weather are part of the game here, so come ready to cope with both, but DC is one of the best places in the country to experience the Fourth. Enjoy, I'm off to South Carolina.
I must confess that up until last week I had no idea what a peep was. For the benefit of those peep ignorant ones, peeps are those gooey marshmallow chicks and bunnies that appear in Easter baskets on Easter Sunday. Since they don’t appear at the Passover seder with the matzoh and charoses, no wonder I hadn’t heard of them. Of course, I had seen them before but I had never heard them called peeps. Insofar as eating the marshmallow gooeys, true confession is that I don't much like them. Chocolate is better. It is obvious, however, that peeps are an obsession for some—and not just for eating.
For example, National Geographic Traveler has a contest for peeps in places. Just take some of those gooey guys along and put them in a photo. They will feature a different peep photo on their website. Winners must show in their photos that the peep(s) had a good time. No, I didn’t make this up.
In Washington, it is time for the annual Washington Post peep show. I didn’t make this up either. The contest was announced on February 14th and entries had to be submitted no later than February 28th. The size constraint was that the winning diorama had to be portable by one person. First prize is 2 nights at The Gaylord at National Harbor and a lot of candy from a peeps store there. Who knew there was such a store? Well, it does sell other candy aside from peeps for those who dislike eating peeps instead of playing with them.
For newly married self described cathedral nuts, Andrew Martin and Julie Avetta, the contest—and what they created, together with Christine McCann, was a natural. Andrew got his BA in medieval history (she got hers in linguistics and is a lawyer so those degrees don’t count), they spent an early date looking at gargoyles on the outside of The Washington National Cathedral, and their recent honeymoon visiting gothic cathedrals in France. Andrew is a docent at The Washington National Cathedral; they were even married in its choir. One day, while guiding student tourists there after the contest was announced, Andrew was looking at some tourists and noticed a resemblance to peeps--no doubt because the tourists were kids and they all buy the same shirts and hats as souvenirs. From that The Washington Peep-thedral was born.
Andrew, Julie and Christine immediately began brain storming how they were going to do this creation; it was completed in two weeks by spending all their free time on it. Christine, an accomplished sewer, had many scraps of fabric from handbags she creates and sells. She made the costumes for each of the 37 marshmallow guys (or gals--whatever they are) from her remnants; she made liberal use of a glue gun so that the peeps did not lose their clothes and attract Peeping Toms; the peeps in the Peep-thedral are, therefore, no longer edible.
The rest of the work was divided up among the three. Some materials had to be bought. Some things, such as the capitals for the main columns were expensive. Some things were not. The Darth Vader “gargoyle” is a Pez dispenser purchased for $3 on ebay (including shipping); the other “gargoyles” are erasers from The Cathedral gift shop. The organ was a dollhouse organ with the “pipes” made out of drinking straws and spray painted. The space window and creation window are sun catchers from The Cathedral gift shop back lit with halogen lighting; the other stained glass windows are photos. The Peep-thedral floor is from photographs taken by Andrew and Julie. Other materials came from the well known tschotscke chain Micheal’s.
When DCLikeaLocal interviewed trio, they said that the money and time were worth it because they had had so much fun. DCLikeaLocal does not know if they will win the contest, but, they are already winners because they have just given so many people such pleasure. Their Peep-thedral site on facebook went up on February 28th and had over 2,300 fans after a week.
Today the semifinalists were announced and The Washington National Peep-thedral made the cut! The imaginative marshmallow creation is in the running to be grand prize winner. There is also a peeple's choice award and all peeple have been asked--in the style of the first Richard Daley--to vote early and vote often. The grand prize winner will be announced on Easter Sunday. The Peep-thedral will be displayed in the lobby of The Post if it wins the grand prize. If not, it will be donated to The Washington National Cathedral.
Word is that the Bishop of Washington has seen and loves the Peep-thedral. Certainly, it would be an attraction to the school groups if placed in The Non-Peep-Thedral Cathedral. Maybe docents could just skip the regular tour and let the student tourists have a peep at the Peep-thedral. They could certainly see more of Darth Vader in the peep version than they can on the regular cathedral where it is so high up that you need binoculars.
For a complete collection of Peep-Thedral photos, check the Peep-Thedral site on facebook.
Photos of last year's finalists and winners can be found here. Please note, that, despite the fact that peeps do not appear to be KP (kosher for Passover), number 32 last year was a Peepover Seder. In the opinion of DC Like a Local, none of the top 40 entries pictured from last year can hold a marshmallow to The Washington National Peep-Thedral. We haven't, of course, seen the other entries this year, but can there be something funnier? We doubt it. And we here at DC Like a Local are never shy about expressing our biased opinions.
OK, you are in Washington, DC, and want to go to a Christmas Eve or Christmas Day service. Sure, there are plenty of churches listed in the telephone book. You can look there, but DC Like a Local, never a group of people to be shy about sounding off, has some suggestions for you.
1. The Washington National Cathedral (Episcopal): It’s the large mainly English gothic inspired cathedral located at the intersection of Massachusetts and Wisconsin Ave., NW. You can catch any even numbered 30 series bus going from the monument area along Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, in the direction of Georgetown, but Christmas Eve and Christmas Day buses will be very infrequent. Have your hotel hail a cab. There is a parking garage, but, unless you want to arrive hours before, you will not find any parking nearby.
For Christmas Eve 6:00pm and 10:00pm
Festival Holy Eucharist on Christmas Eve. Cathedral Dean Samuel T. Lloyd III and the Rt. Rev. John Bryson Chane preach and preside.
Passes are required for this service, and the advance allocation has been distributed. A limited number of passes will be available one hour before each service at Church House on the Cathedral’s west lawn.
For Christmas Day 9:00am
Televised nationally, Bishop John Bryson Chane preaches the Christmas sermon and Cathedral Dean Samuel T. Lloyd III presides at the Eucharist. The Rev. Canon Carol L. Wade shares the Christmas story with children in a children’s sermon. The Cathedral website does not say whether tickets are required for this or not. You’d better call ahead and find out. Telephone number is (202) 537-6200.
Other Christmas services at the Cathedral include a Service of Carols by Candlelight on December 19th at 6:00pm and December 20th at 4:00pm.
2. St. Matthew’s Cathedral (Roman Catholic): 1725 Rhode Island Avenue, NW (off of Connecticut Ave., NW.); phone: (202) 347-3215
This is the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Washington, DC, famous as the one in which John F. Kennedy’s funeral mass was held on November 25, 1963. The spot where his casket was placed is marked on the floor. It was on the steps of this Cathedral that John F. Kennedy Jr. saluted his father’s casket—a photo shown all over the world. It is a rather unprepossessing church from the outside but more ornate inside.
The Cathedral is sandwiched between buildings in DC’s business district and you really cannot see it until you just about are there. If you are staying in the Farragut Square area, you can just walk over to this one. Otherwise take the Metro red line to Farragut North, hang a right out of the Northeast Connecticut Ave & L Street exit. This is the exit closest to the very front of the train if you are headed in the direction of Shady Grove (or at the back of the train if you are headed in the direction of Glenmont), and just walk up Connecticut Ave., NW, and hang another right on Rhode Island, Ave., NW. Once you make the right on Rhode Island, you will see the large red brick cathedral on the left.
St. Matthew’s is doing its Festival of Lessons and Carols on Sunday, December 13, at 7:30pm with Christmas caroling to follow.
On December 24th midnight mass begins with a prelude at 11:00pm followed by the mass at midnight. The Archbishop of Washington, the Most Rev. Donald W. Wuerl will preside.
On Christmas Day the Cathedral will open at 8:00am. There are masses at 8:30am, 10:00am and 11:30am in English and one at 1:00pm in Spanish. There are a variety of priests listed as the celebrants, but the Archbishop will not be one of them because he will be at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (details below).
3. Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (Roman Catholic): This church, and not St. Mathew’s Cathedral, is the largest Roman Catholic church in Washington, DC. In fact, it is the largest Roman Catholic Church in North America and one of the 10 largest churches in the world. The Shrine is located at 400 Michigan Ave., NE. You can reach the Shrine by taking Metro to the Brookland/Catholic University Station on the Red Line; the Basilica is about a 10 minute walk from the station down Michigan Avenue, NE. The church is often visited by tourists as a destination in itself and is renowned for its mosaics and Greek style architecture. Telephone number is 202-526-8300.
On December 24th there is a children’s mass with pageant at 5:00pm with the Choir of the Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart. At 10:00pm there are Choral Meditations on the Nativity and at 10:30pm the evening service—which will be broadcast by the Eternal World Television Network.
On December 25th there are masses in English at 7:30am, 9:00am, 10:30am, 12:00noon and 4:30pm. There is a mass in Spanish at 2:30pm. The Archbishop of Washington, Most Reverend Donald Wuerl is the celebrant & homilist at the noon mass.
If you go to the Shrine by taxi, be sure to arrange for a taxi to pick you up after the mass because it is difficult to hail a cab in the area normally—and it will be even more difficult on Christmas Eve and Day.
If you don’t want any of these large places and want something on a bit more human scale, try
4. St. John’s Lafayette Park (“The Church of the Presidents”) (Episcopal): At the corner of 16th and H Streets, NW, just opposite the North Side of the White House (Metro: McPherson Square). The North Side is the one with the flat side of the White House directly on Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. Phone is 202-347-8766.
St. John’s was designed by Benjamin Latrobe. Latrobe was also one of the many architects of the US Capitol and was responsible for The Capitol’s rebuilding after it was burned in the War of 1812. The Parish House behind the church was, at one time, the British Legation. The church has traditionally been the scene of a service before each inauguration attended by the new president; pew 54 is reserved for the President. President Obama sometimes worships at St. John’s with his family.
The Lessons and Carols is scheduled for December 20th at 11:00am. There is no midnight service on Christmas Eve, but there is a Holy Eucharist on December 25th at 11:00am.
By the way, don’t expect to see President Obama. He’s rumored to be going to Hawaii for a vacation with his family during the holidays.
Because DC Like a Local got a lot of requests for alternatives for other denominations, you can find a follow up to this piece.
Merry Christmas to all of you and Happy Chanukah to me (I'm Jewish)!