A Portrait of F Street

Washington Travel Blog

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National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum

You may recall from over in my Virginia blog that my daughter has a very innovative high school history teacher--one who sends his students out on their own independent field trips. Her assignment for Winter Break was to pay a call on the National Portrait Gallery in Washington.

New Year's Eve day. It's time to get that assignment done before school resumes! So, she and I drove over to the Franconia/Springfield Metro Station to catch a train for the District. Monday was sunny and pleasant after a damp weekend. A lot of visitors were out and crowding the farecard machines at Franconia/Springfield, the Virginia terminus of the Metro Blue Line. But, we quickly paid our fares, boarded a waiting train, and were soon on our way to Washington.

At the "Fugitive's Story"
At King Street Station in Alexandria, we changed to a Yellow Line train that would take us across the Potomac River and directly to Gallery Place.

The excellent signage at Gallery Place Metro led us to an exit right beside the National Portrait Gallery. Well, we still had to walk around the block to the main entrance. The building is really two museums in one--both operated by the Smithsonian Institution. Together are the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian Museum of American Art. Inside, it's sometimes difficult to tell exactly which one of the complementary collections you have entered. The 1836-1868 Greek Revival building was once the US Patent Office.

The assignment at hand directed us to galleries focused on the Abolitionist movement, the Civil War era, and the contrasts between interpretive or idealized paintings and drawings and and the reality presented by early photographs.

John Brown portrait
Paintings, photographs, sculptures,and drawings of radical abolitionist John Brown, slavery and the Underground Railroad, Abraham Lincoln, camp and day-to-day life during the Civil War era were on the itinerary. We ended at the America's Presidents exhibt to view the contasting Lincoln life masks. 

With the assignment completed, it was time to explore a bit. As she is interested in theatre, I wanted my daughter to see nearby Ford's Theatre. We walked two blocks down F Street to 10th Street, NW. There are a growing number of attractions in this part of town. The International Spy Museum is across the street from the Portrait Gallery. Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum just opened its Washington location in October at the corner of F and 10th streets.

Civil War galleries wing
We agreed we had to return to visit there. This part of F Street, between the Ellipse and Capitol Hill, itself preserves the ambiance of Washington a century ago.  The blocks are still lined with low-rise commercial structures, more reminiscent of a small Southern city than a world capital. Adaptive reuse has resulted in restaurants, boutiques, and wine and cheese shops next door to neon-facaded liquor stores. 

Ford's Theatre is located on 10th Street NW, between E and F Streets.  It's a National Historic Site, forever remembered as the site where actor John Wilkes Booth assasinated Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865. It is a museum, but also remains an active theatre where plays are presented. I had forgotten that Ford's Theatre is undergoing rennovation.

Bust of Lincoln by Augustus Saint-Gaudens
The site was closed and we couldn't go inside. (I'd been inside some years ago and seen the Presidential Box and other exhibits.) We did see the alley Booth used to make his escape out on to F Street from the stage door. The alley and escape route are indicated by a historical marker.

Across the street from the theatre is the House Where Lincoln Died historic site, the boarding house where the wounded President was taken. (On a side note, the contents of Lincoln's pockets that night made their way to the Library of Congress, where they are placed on display from time to time.) 

We hadn't had lunch. I suggested we might try Hard Rock Cafe, located right next door to Ford's Theatre (or even Ben's Chili Bowl, an institution, a few subway stops away).

Noting the contrasting 1860 and 1865 Linclon life masks
But, my daughter spotted one of Washington's corner food vendors and, in the interest of time, wanted to try his offerings. We each had a Half-Smoke. (A Half-Smoke is a grilled spiced sausage served on a hot dog bun. It's the indigenous Washington, DC, sandwich.) 

On the way back to Gallery Place Metro, we passed the Martin Luther King Library, the central DC Public Library, designed by modernist architect Mies van der Rohe in 1965.

We didn't explore F Steet in the opposite direction from the Portrait Gallery, but there is much for visitors and residents. Just beyond the Portrait Gallery is Verizon Center (formerly MCI Center). The indoor sports arena is the downtown venue for basketball (Washington Wizards), hockey (Washington Capitals), mega shows, and concerts (Mylie Cyrus, aka Hannah Montana, was soon to appear).

Kogod Courtyard amd fountain at National Portrait Gallery
 Directly across F Street is the brand-new Sidney Harman Hall, a theatre-within-an-office-building. Its striking three-story bay window lobby projects out over the sidewalk to draw in passerby.

A bit further along F Street and occupying an entire city block is the huge red brick Pension Building. Constructed in 1882-1887 to house the Civil War Pension Bureau, it is now the National Building Museum. A frieze by sculptor Caspar Buberl depicting a continuous parade of Civil War military units surrounds the structure.

sylviandavid says:
andrew, great blog... great job... and you are a great dad! Sylvia
Posted on: Jan 12, 2008
reikunboy says:
A very informative blog. It sounds like your daughters teacher is really cool giving her such a great assignment. I wish my teachers had given me those kind of assignments when i was a student.
Posted on: Jan 12, 2008
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National Portrait Gallery and Smit…
National Portrait Gallery and Smi…
At the Fugitives Story
At the "Fugitive's Story"
John Brown portrait
John Brown portrait
Civil War galleries wing
Civil War galleries wing
Bust of Lincoln by Augustus Saint-…
Bust of Lincoln by Augustus Saint…
Noting the contrasting 1860 and 18…
Noting the contrasting 1860 and 1…
Kogod Courtyard amd fountain at Na…
Kogod Courtyard amd fountain at N…
National Portrati Gallery and Smit…
National Portrati Gallery and Smi…
International Spy Museum
International Spy Museum
Madame Tussauds Wax Museum
Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum
Fords Theatre
Ford's Theatre
The House Where Lincoln Died
The House Where Lincoln Died
F Street, NW, commercial block
F Street, NW, commercial block
MLK Library designed by Mies van d…
MLK Library designed by Mies van …
Bay window lobby at Harman Hall th…
Bay window lobby at Harman Hall t…
National Building Museum (Pension …
National Building Museum (Pension…
Civil War frieze on the Pension Bu…
Civil War frieze on the Pension B…
At King Street Metro (Alexandria, …
At King Street Metro (Alexandria,…
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