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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Book: Historic Photos of Washington, D.C.

Note: I received a copy of this book free from the publisher for review. That said, I'd like to think that did not affect my review. I'd also like to think it makes me kind of a big deal.

It's got to be pretty clear by now that I geek out pretty hard about DC history. The Barry administration or the Willard or Pierre L'Enfant? Yes, please.

The pictures in Historic Photos of Washington D.C. feed that geek in me. I really enjoyed the pictures of DC street cars, the Capitol without its dome, Union Station without its fountain and Georgetown back when it was a wide open space. F Street and Chinatown were composed of quaint store fronts, mom 'n' pop shops or the shiny new department stores like Woodward & Lothrop (now closed) and Hecht's (now closed).

Besides the novelty of seeing a horse-drawn cart making a delivery to the White House, I learned a lot from this book, too. For example:
  • James Renwick, Jr. designed the Smithsonian Castle in 1847, which was then built using red Seneca sandstone.
  • Dupont Circle used to be called Pacific Circle. It was rechristened Dupont Circle in 1921 with the fountain, titled "Rear Admiral Samuel Francis DuPont Memorial Fountain." DuPont was the first naval hero of the Civil War. The three figures on the fountain represent the sea, the stars and the wind.
  • DC has pretty much always been ineffective at snow removal.
  • The Memorial Bridge opened in 1932 and was meant to be a symbolic rejoining of the North and South by connecting the Lincoln Memorial to Arlington National Cemetery.
  • The building that is now Ben's Chili Bowl used to be a burlesque house called the Gayety!
My only criticism of this beautiful book is there are too many officials pictures -- lots of presidents at the White House, processions down Pennsylvania Avenue and the monuments looking lovely. I would have liked more pictures of some different neighborhoods, especially Shaw and Howard, Foggy Bottom, Anacostia and Petworth. Considering the huge influx of African Americans to the capital after the Civil War, the book is filled mostly with white faces.

But even for its short comings, this book is essential to anyone seeking historic understanding and perspective on this ever-changing city.


Caroline said...

This book has been on my Amazon wishlist ever since I read about it on DCist. Hopefully I'll drop enough hints that someone will get me it for Christmas. If it were a little cheaper, it would make a wonderful gift for my office's Christmas gift exchange.