Sunday, October 15, 2017

Aviation Comes to Washington (1926-1941)



National Airport

     In the early days of aviation, Washington had the reputation of having, “the poorest aviation ground facilities of any important city in the United States or Europe.”  Wiley Post, the first pilot to make a solo flight around the world, said, “there were better landing grounds in the wilds of Siberia than at Washington."

     Thomas Mitten, the owner of the Pennsylvania Rapid Transit Company in Philadelphia, opened the first airfield in the Washington area in 1926, hoping to reap huge profits by flying Washingtonians to Philadelphia for the 150th anniversary celebration of the Declaration of Independence.  Mitten’s “Hoover Field” was located on a thirty six acre tract in Arlington where the Pentagon now stands.  Mitten sold the airfield after only six months to a group of investors who incorporated as the Potomac Flying Service, which took over 25,000 passengers for sightseeing flights over the nation's capital between 1926-28.  A competing airfield, “Washington Airport”, opened across the road to the south on ninety seven acres.  Seaboard Airlines was established here, flying one daily round-trip flight to New York, starting in 1928.

     In 1930, at the height of the Great Depression, the owners of both Hoover Field and Washington Airport sold out to the National Aviation Corporation, which merged the two airfields into a new facility called Washington-Hoover Airport.  The new owners built a modern terminal building and a new hangar.  The new terminal boasted a passenger waiting room on the lower floor.  The airport also offered a large outdoor swimming pool for the enjoyment of the sightseers who converged on the airport.  The pool served as an important source of revenue.

     Despite improvements, Washington-Hoover could not overcome it structural defects.  The airport's single runway was intersected by a busy street, Military Road, which had guards posted to stop oncoming traffic during takeoffs & landings.  Additionally, due to its low-lying location next to the Potomac River, and its poor drainage, the airport was prone to flooding.  Bordered on the east by Route 1, with its high-tension electrical wires, obstructed by a high smokestack on one approach and a dump nearby, the field was increasingly unable to handle increased air traffic and newer planes.  Hoover Field closed in 1941, replaced by the much larger Washington National Airport (now Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport), two miles to the southeast.



Read about the Rebel blockade of the Potomac River, the imprisonment of German POWs at super-secret Fort Hunt during World War II and the building of the Pentagon on the same site and in the same configuration as Civil War, era Fort Runyon. Meet Annandale's "bunny man," who inspired one of the country's wildest and scariest urban legends; learn about the slaves in Alexandria's notorious slave pens; and witness suffragists being dragged from the White House lawn and imprisoned in the Occoquan workhouse. 



Whatever else George Armstrong Custer may or may not have been, even in the twenty-first century, he remains the great lightning rod of American history.


Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Frank Lloyd Wright in Northern Virginia




In the 1930s architect Frank Lloyd Wright grappled with the problem of creating a moderately priced house that was both aesthetically pleasing and environmentally friendly.  Wright, who had been primarily employed to design houses for millionaires, began designing so called “Usonian” houses for the common man, houses that were simple, functional and beautiful.  Wright believed that the Usonian house would represent a new form of truly American architecture.
    
The Pope-Leighey House, now on the grounds of Woodlawn Plantation in Fairfax County, is a classic example of this type of architecture.  The house was commissioned by journalist Loren Pope in 1939 and was originally located in Falls Church.  The 1,200 square foot house features native materials, a flat roof and large cantilevered overhangs for passive solar heating and natural cooling.  A strong visual connection between the interior and exterior spaces is emphasized.  Wright’s innovative use of four native materials (wood, brick, glass and concrete) created a sense of spaciousness.  The interior of the house is set up to be an efficient living space.  The interior features many types of versatile built in furniture. Wright designed the house, along with his other works, to bring nature inside.
    
Despite its beauty the house has certain drawbacks.  There is very little room for storage. Wright believed that you should only keep things that you used often.  As a result, closets are small and there is no room for clutter.  Owning a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (recognized by the American Institute of Architects in 1991 as “the greatest American architect of all time”) was not just a purchase, but a commitment to a way of life.  Although Wright always created works of art, some of the practical details of daily living sometimes suffered. 

In 1946, Loren Pope sold the house to Robert and Marjorie Leighey. In 1961, the state of Virginia condemned the house to make way for Interstate 66.  Robert Leighey died in 1963 shortly before the state issued an order to vacate the premises.  Marjorie Leighey donated the house to the National Trust for Historic Preservation which moved the house to the grounds of Woodlawn Plantation (9000 Richmond Highway).


Another Wright masterpiece (still in private hands) was built in McLean in 1959.  Luis Marden was a photographer for the National Geographic who led a colorful and eclectic life.  He and his wife Ethel were the perfect couple to live in a Wright house.  Although the floors cracked and the furnace was never properly installed, Mrs. Marden wrote to Wright in 1959, “Our beautiful house.. stands proudly just under the brow of the hill, looking down always on the rushing water which constantly sings to it, day and night, winter and summer. It will … represent for us, as you put it when you were here, ‘a way of life’”.




     Read about the Rebel blockade of the Potomac River, the imprisonment of German POWs at super-secret Fort Hunt during World War II and the building of the Pentagon on the same site and in the same configuration as Civil War, era Fort Runyon. Meet Annandale's "bunny man," who inspired one of the country's wildest and scariest urban legends; learn about the slaves in Alexandria's notorious slave pens; and witness suffragists being dragged from the White House lawn and imprisoned in the Occoquan workhouse. 





Treasure Legends of Virginia

     The history of Virginia told through treasure tales about pirates, Indians, Revolutionary War heroes and Civil War raiders. The full text of the famous Beale Treasure cipher is included along with some sixty other legends. 


Depression Era Art in Northern Virginia


     During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the federal government set up a number of public works programs to provide work for all Americans.  One of these programs involved artists.  Harry Hopkins, President Roosevelt's relief administrator said in response to criticism of federal support for the arts, “[artists] have got to eat just like other people.”  “The Section of Fine Arts” was established in 1934 and administered by the Procurement Division of the Treasury Department. The Section's main function was to select high quality art to decorate public buildings.  One percent of the funds allocated for the construction of public buildings were set aside for “embellishments”.  Artists were paid from these funds.  By providing decoration in public buildings, art was made accessible to all people.

     Post offices were considered a prime building objective of the Roosevelt New Deal, and a prime place for the display of public art.  Large murals, depicting enduring images of the “American scene” were the artistic vehicle of choice.  Artists were chosen in open competitions to paint scenes reflecting America's history and way of life on post office walls large and small. Mural artists were provided with guidelines and themes. Scenes of local interest and events were deemed to be the most suitable.  Americans shown at work or at leisure, grace the walls of the New Deal post offices. Social realism painting, though popular at the time, was discouraged.  You will not see bread lines or labor strikes depicted in New Deal public art.  The heroic was to be celebrated and embraced. Historical events depicting courageous acts were popular themes for post office murals.


     Seven of these New Deal artistic gems still exist in Northern Virginia.  In 1940 Auriel Bessemer completed seven murals for Arlington County’s first public building, the Joseph L. Fisher Post Office in Clarendon.  Bessemer was paid $800 to paint the seven murals depicting familiar local scenes such as Great Falls and Roosevelt Island.



Read about the Rebel blockade of the Potomac River, the imprisonment of German POWs at super-secret Fort Hunt during World War II and the building of the Pentagon on the same site and in the same configuration as Civil War, era Fort Runyon. Meet Annandale's "bunny man," who inspired one of the country's wildest and scariest urban legends; learn about the slaves in Alexandria's notorious slave pens; and witness suffragists being dragged from the White House lawn and imprisoned in the Occoquan workhouse. 



The history of Virginia told through treasure tales about pirates, Indians, Revolutionary War heroes and Civil War raiders. The full text of the famous Beale Treasure cipher is included along with some sixty other legends.