Friday, October 9, 2009

Meridian Hill Park

After the interest shown in my post about the old yellow mansion, I thought I would share some more pictures of Meridian Hill Park and a little of its' history.Also known as 'Malcolm X Park', the park was officially named Meridian Hill because it was on the exact longitude of the original District of Columbia milestone marker. This land has had many purposes over the years, including being home to the campus of George Washington University (known as Columbian college at the time).
The park is large, 14 acres, and lies between 15th & 16th streets NW running north and south and W & Euclid streets in Columbia Heights, not far from Dupont circle. Dc is known for some of it's art deco apartment buildings, including this one on 16th street facing the park.Many grand old mansions line this part of town which mostly now house embassies and organization headquarters.The lucky ones are really kept up well and retain a lot of their original details, such as this canopy on one embassy bordering the park.I've always loved this community group building which looks a lot like an English country manor plopped down in the city!
The concrete work is made up of very small patterns of stones or aggregate -a very rough texture popular in the 1930s at the time of the parks inception.Love these obelisks too!
This fine bronze statue of Joan of Arc from 1922 is a copy of one done by Paul Dubois. It was donated by the 'Ladies of France in Exile in New York' (isn't that a bit odd -who were they and how did it end up in DC I wonder?).
This marble statue of 'Serenity' by Jose Clara has seen better days but retains her serene composure.
The park is planned formally with a series of fountains and rows of trees surrounding a lawn on the upper half of the park and terraced water gardens on the lower half (seen at the top of the post).
On lucky days the fountains play and drown out the sound of cars rushing by. An oasis in the middle of urban DC!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Chapel at Versailles

My favorite space in Versailles was the Chapel. Completed by the architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart in 1710 under king Louis XIV, this was the last of 5 chapels built.
As the chapel was built later than much of the palace, it is bordering on the Neoclassical design that was becoming popular in the 18th century. It proved to not be popular with many of the courtiers of the time because it towered over the very horizontal lines of Versailles as you see above.If you take the tour of private Versailles, this will be your final stop. Other visitors only get to admire the chapel from the doorway. The balcony above the door was where the highest royals and the King would attend services.The ceiling mural was recently restored and is truly breathtaking (and not just because you're staring straight above you!).
The stonework was left ungilded as France was beginning to experience financial problems. If this is cheap construction, sign me up: Still totally amazing! If you've seen the movie 'Marie Antoinette' (one of my favorites), you're familiar with the space and how large it is! Left empty; it almost feels intimate without items for scale.
If lucky, you'll catch one of the concerts held weekly as the space has excellent acoustics!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The old yellow mansion

A few weekends ago I attended a wedding at a beautiful mansion along 15th street here in Washington DC. If you're not familiar with the area - it's right along Meridian Hill park: one of the hidden gems here in DC. Now in a bustling urban residential area above U street in Columbia Heights, for years the park was overrun with drug dealers and prostitutes. Designed in 1914 by George Burnap to copy the city parks in Europe, it soon became lined with grand mansions which now house embassies and beautiful apartment buildings. One of these mansions is now home to the Josephine Butler Parks Center. This 18,000 SF Italian renaissance revival mansion had been home to two embassies, Hungary & Brazil. Designed in 1927 by George Oakley Totten Jr., a prominent local architect who designed numerous embassies, it now it houses a diverse range of community groups and can be rented for private events.What better place for a wedding than a lovely mansion facing a park! The yellow walls with white stone trim are magnificent against the greenery.
The distinctive yellow stucco makes the mansion stand out along a street of imposing buildings. The exterior has been recently renovated and really was well done.The house still features a lot of its original ironwork which is really impressive.A circular drive takes you to the entrance under this grand portico. The roof is a balcony facing the park.
The drive is bordered by this beautiful terra cotta guardrail - amazing details!
I love the figures on the scrolls at the bottom of the drive.Even the backside of the scrolls have this beautiful detailing -only the black eyed susans get to enjoy these though! Lets go inside.The building has been renovated many times but still has really great porportions and beautiful light due to the huge windows. Above is the rather utilitarian entrance which brings you to the grand stair.The home has a piano nobile design (the main floor is what we Americans would call the 2nd story) , a typical Italian renaissance feature; all the better to enjoy views of the park. At the top of the stair is a more grand foyer with entry to the portico's balcony.To the left is a room now used as the dining room. These main public rooms still feature the original fireplaces and mouldings and have huge french doors looking over the park. Behind those doors flanking the fireplace is a corner study which is practically a conservatory because of the amount of glass.Here you see through the foyer into the ballroom from the dining room.
This room has all you could ever want: tall ceilings, huge windows facing a park and beautiful detailing. The distinctive yellow color from the exterior continues all throughout the interior.
The antique chandeliers are a bit under-scaled but still a nice touch. I assume they're not original.In other rooms you can see this has been a busy, functional building, altered over the years. Walls have been moved and details stripped as needed. Here you can see a little bit of former glory above a fireplace.In other areas you can see where new walls have been added - the crown moulding here dies into the new wall.The servants staircase still has these original sconces. I was happy to see they're using energy efficient bulbs but wow, aren't they ugly? It was so exciting for me to explore this old mansion and the dreams of retoring it to its former glamour filled my dreams for nights to come!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Private Versailles

Versailles, both in the age of Louis XIV and now, is a very public place. Tens of thousands of people called it home back in the age of kings and today thousands of visitors come daily. We got to witness this on a VERY crowded Sunday when we visited during Heather's and my trip to Paris as you can see below.Levels of security exist even outside of the Palace walls. I particularly loved these wood guard stations disguised as tents: a technique copied at palaces around Europe in the 18th century.Of course not all of the spaces in Versailles are as luxurious and spacious as we see in pictures: think of the hall of mirrors for example. However, many of the smaller private spaces are as luxurious as the public ones as seen in the gold & silver ceiling in the king's private chambers.
One thing I highly recommend is to take the guided tour of the private apartments first. You get to learn a lot about the chateau with incredible guides in a small group where you can ask questions before going through the public rooms in vast crowds.
Our tour started in the king's guard room. Located on the first floor off the main court, this small and simple room housed 2 guards at all times, 24/7. The guards slept & ate here, right under the king. These closets flanked the staircase for their personal items.Of course beautiful statuary exists even here!A small but grand staircase leads you right up to the king's private apartment.At some point the wall paneling had been removed and they had 'replaced' it with faux painted panels which I really loved. What a great idea for your own home! Instant 'architecture'!While the king was very open to public contact, for safety reasons, as well as to hold the large numbers of visitors, anterooms flank the more important chambers. They are of course meant to impress as seen in this small room above.The king's waiting room is very large and filled with treasures meant to both interest and intimidate guests. The mechanical calendar seen in front of the mirror represented that the king was a very scientific and intelligent man leading the country into the future.
The king's (Louis XVI) private study, off of the waiting room, had books paneling the walls. Louis XVI was known to have important scholars of the day visit him here as well as many hours spent alone reading a book. Even the doorways are disguised as bookshelves as seen above.
The table in the middle of this room holds statues of many of the great learned men of the day, included among them is Voltaire.
Louis XVI was changing the relationship of the king to the public and was deeply invested in a private life. This was the first private and official dining room of the chateau, right off of his study. I loved the turquoise velvet!The king's chambers attach to the chateau through a much more grand staircase as you are lead into the public areas.Just a gratuitous shot of some antique mirror: Such great ambiance!
Sadly, most of the furnishings were sold off after the revolution and none of the chandeliers were of the period but later reproductions: many of them antiques in their own right today.They don't call it private Versailles for nothing, this was the toilet off the private study of Louis XIV. Watch out for splinters!