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 Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (3)
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)!
For a city with a Congressionally mandated height limit, you'd think this would be a softball question. After all, there's that big tall pointy thing you can see from all over, right?
It's not as simple an answer as you might expect. A lot depends on how you frame the question. Tallest building? Highest building? Tallest structure?
Clearly, my liberal arts major background was unable to deal with these technical differences, so I checked out the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat site, where among other useful details I learned that the formula for calculating the height of a residential building is H(residential) = 3.1s + 7.75 +1.55(s/30) where s is the number of stories. That's right, they came up with a formula to calculate the height of residential buildings (a separate one exist for offices, of course), where you know the number of stories but are unable to determine the height of the building. I'm hard pressed to envision a scenario where you couldn't find it online or, worse case, call up the property manager, but there you go. What type of dork could possibly find this useful?
But I digress, clearly these guys, who are the established authorities on determining what is the highest building, can help formulate the question. Not surprisingly there is a great deal of contention for the title of "World's Tallest Building" and the CTBUH actually has four categories to compete in: Height to Architectural Top, Highest Occupied Floor, Height to Top of Roof, and Height to Tip. No word yet if they plan to have a cage match to decide among the four categories, which I think shows a lack of innovative thinking at CTBUH and an elegant solution to a thorny problem.
So how does that apply to DC? Very little, but I was having fun with it. Let's take a look at the candidates for "DC's Tallest Building":
1. Hughes Memorial Tower: What the hell? What am I even talking about here? Well I'm sorry, but the tallest thing in Washington, DC is the Hughes Memorial Tower in the Brightwood (not Brentwood, as initially reported) neighborhood off Georgia Ave. in Northwest DC. Its 761 feet is hard to beat, but radio towers are dull and boring, so let's all do what the CTBUH does, and pretend they don't exist.
2. Washington Monument: Good strong showing and everyone's first choice. Its 555 feet 5 1/8 inches height is clearly taller than any building in DC. But, sadly, the CTBUH definition of building must "include at least 50% of it's height as usable floor area". So, let's leave the Monument with it's consolation prize of "DC's Tallest Structure" and move on. It can put it on its mantle, right between the "World's Tallest Structure : 1884-1889" and "World's Tallest Stone Structure".
3. Washington National Cathedral: This must be it, right? I mean, from the observation deck of the Washington Monument it dominates the skyline to the northwest. Its central tower, the Gloria in Excelsis Tower, reaches a healthy 676 feet above sea level, higher even than the monument. But no, those cheaters at the Episcopal Church built the Cathedral on 375 ft tall Mt. St. Alban's, meaning that although it is the highest point in DC, it's not the highest building.
4. National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception: Let's turn our attention to the northeast, to the tall tower we see that way. That would be the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the Catholic Church's answer to the National Cathedral, although not the local Catholic Cathedral. At 329 feet, its Knights of Columbus Tower should be a shoo-in, and it probably is. Wikipedia, which knows everything, lists it as the Tallest Building. So why am I skeptical, besides of course from an undiagnosed psychiatric condition that makes me perpetually so? Because I'm not sure, and have been unable to find, anything that shows me that the Tower has 50% of it's height (164 1/2 feet) as habitable floors. So, assuming I'm right and Wikipedia is wrong, let's take a metaphorical leap of faith and see what's next.
5. Old Post Office: With office space well up to through the ninth floor, this clearly and incontestably counts as a building. It's 319 feet make it the third tallest structure, and if we can get a judges ruling on the Shrine, it just might squeak out a title win. Personally, I think it's the best view in Washington (best defined as what you see/hassle to get there), and it's certainly near most of the places you'll visit in DC. So, I'm pulling for you, OPO, even if you are 10 feet short.
As we wrap up a surprisingly complicated answer to what I thought was a simple question, we're still left with a bit of uncertainty. I suggest we ignore the titles, and enjoy each of these sites for what they are individually, fascinating cultural and architectural resources well worth your visit while in Washington. Except for that radio tower; it's just too boring.