Thursday, August 4, 2016

Spring Outreach - Love Our Trees Tour and Embassy Open Houses

Love Our Trees Valentine (Dreamstime)
Love Our Trees Tour
We held our first tree tour - a new way to teach Mass Ave neighbors about the trees and landscape features we have organized over 9 years and to thank our partners there who care for them so well.

Some of the neighbors taking the tour had never met! Yet they shared their curiousity and LOVE for trees, while strolling on sidewalks they pass daily. It was a beautiful day .

This tour featured the 2400 block of Mass Ave and also Emmet Park, the triangle park on Mass Ave between 24 and S Streets, recently re-landscaped by the National Park Service.

Mass Ave resident Debbie Rider arranged the tour. RMA President Deborah Shapley served as guide. 
Saumya Mitra and Debbie Rider at the May 24 Love Our Trees Tour.
Our Take A Tour page slideshow will help you count the ways to love trees on this part of Embassy Row/Mass Ave. What are those huge trees with year-round glossy leaves by the Chad Embassy (2401 Mass)? What are the curbside row and "second row" of trees whose branches close over the sidewalk by the embassies of Zambia (2419 Mass), Korea (2450 Mass),  Côte d'Ivoire (2424 Mass) and the Venezuela Residence (2443 Mass).   How to ID a sick tree? Check out our slideshow - and come to our next Love our Trees Tour!

Taryn Farber of the DC Urban Forestry Administration helped identify the city trees on the tour; RMA arranges care for these trees.  (Thank you, Taryn, for trimming some too-low branches over the sidewalk.) Board members Holly Sukenik and Rob Nevitt assisted. Treekeeper John Umberger took photos.

Info tables at Embassy Open Houses
RMA made our program known to thousands of people who crowded the sidewalks of our part of Embassy Row, to be admitted to free Embassy Open Houses.  Passport DC holds these wildly successful come-one-and-all events on two Saturdays in May with Cultural Tourism DC.

On May 14 volunteers Melissa Kaminski and Sally Wiebe and Board member Holly Sukenik staffed our info table, at the park by the Estonia Embassy (2201 Mass). RMA got the city to create this space and plant a major tree. Anne Black was a special addition to our table crew;  she and husband Steve Black maintain the park plantings.

For the May 7 open house, RMA's table was by the Embassy of Indonesia (2020 Mass). The crowds were so dense that Treekeeper Lindsey Larson and Board member Claire Wagner moved our poster next to the street to take this picture. The Indonesia Embassy staff were welcoming as always.

Below are recent photos of two American elms we planted at the Embassy. We planted these trees and others there in March 2011. Ambassador Dino Patti Djalal hosted our planting and Casey Trees donated the trees.                     - by Deborah Shapley

Top:  RMA's Deborah Shapley, Lindsey Larson and Claire Wagner on May 7.  Left: American elm we planted with Embassy of Indonesia is scaled to the statue of the Hindu goddess Dewi Saraswati.  Right: Another elm we planted with the Embassy at the corner of Mass Ave and 21 Street. (RMA)

Saturday, July 30, 2016

PSC Vote Saves Historic Landscape at Norway Embassy

Thousands who pass the intersection of Mass Ave and 34 Street NW will continue to enjoy sweeping views of enormous trees and historic embassies, thanks to a key DC government committee vote.

The committee’s discussion and vote are an important boost to Restore Mass Ave’s campaign to preserve exemplary original trees and landscape of the historic avenue.

Royal Norwegian Embassy (left) and Vatican Embassy (right) seen from bus stop by US Naval Observatory. RMA.
The Royal Norwegian Embassy’s application for a 6-foot high security fence that would run through its corner yards was denied by the Public Space Committee (PSC) of the DC Department of Transportation at a hearing Dec 17, 2015.   

The Embassy at 3401 Mass Ave is a handsome Beaux Arts mansion built in 1923, the heyday of the original “grand avenue.” 1/ The embassy entrance and statue of the Queen of Norway are framed by two big linden trees, a younger linden and related plantings. Across Mass Ave is the hill and trees of the Naval Observatory/Vice President’s Residence. Across 34 Street is the Apostolic Nunciature/Vatican Embassy, where six of the original American lindens planted inside the sidewalk in 1904, still thrive. 

The ensemble of these views is the best surviving stretch of original grand avenue streetscape. It also is one of the most visible; perhaps 41,000 vehicles pass daily according to DDOT.
The PSC may permit or deny proposed “improvements” to public land along city roadways. Along Mass Ave, the land in front of most buildings, including the Norway Embassy, is city land. The PSC hearing reviewed the latest Norway fence plan, presented by Morrison Architects.2/ Since the fence would run past the trees, the DDOT Urban Forestry Administration (UFA) had voiced concerns; the plan had been revised twice.  
As the hearing progressed, some PSC members stated they were unconvinced the fence would protect the building, and so were not qualified to approve the application on this basis.

Restore Mass Ave President Deborah Shapley also testified. Since publication of RMA’s step-by-step guide to the original landscape, which shows the Norway Embassy as a model,3/ RMA has filed briefs and worked with prospective developers to save and restore the two miles of Mass Ave from Dupont Circle to Wisconsin Avenue, which is lined with early1900s mansions and some surviving original trees.  

“Civic function” of a grand avenue
Shapley testified that the landscape of Mass Ave, which once traversed the city for seven miles, was designed as a “grand avenue” or “linear promenade” that was “imbued with civic function.” The 40’ deep “parking” on each side was left as greenspace to enhance the grand avenue design. The city planted continuous tree rows along the curb and parallel rows of similar trees in the “parking”. The large American lindens by the Norway Embassy may have been planted in 1904, she said.

RMA urges no fences in this “parking”, especially where important trees are well-rooted and healthy after 50, 70 or 100 years, she testified. She thanked the Embassy for submitting a “less disruptive” design but agreed with UFA witness Sharon Dendy that even the latest plan could not guarantee the health of these trees.

Private buildings that are landscaped to visually connect to the public space are “symbols of confidence and openness and advance the civic function of a grand avenue,” she said. So the avenue’s open views are a feature of the capital city’s heritage.

As for security, owners of these historic properties should “realize that this two mile area” from Dupont Circle to Wisconsin Avenue “is not suitable for walled compounds or the appearance of them. A government needing that level of security should consider locating the facility elsewhere,” she testified.

RMA has persuaded owners to remove or avoid building fences and other visual barriers in the “parking” along the avenue, when they realize the added value of keeping historic vistas. (RMA also arranges for new trees and other landscape elements to re-create these views.)

Vatican Embassy historic trees 
Earlier in the year RMA expressed concern about a fence proposed for the Vatican Embassy, she testified. The 6 foot high iron fence and three electric gates would be just inside the sidewalk of Mass Ave and 34 Street, by six giant linden trees that have thrived undisturbed for more than a century. 4/  Similar concerns were voiced by Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3C. 5/  

On behalf of RMA and ANC 3C, arborist Keith Pitchford of Pitchford Associates met in April with the arborists proposing this fence. In May, the Urban Forestry Administration said any fence should be as far from the existing trees as possible. June, the application was withdrawn, apparently because the embassy could be secured by other means.

Office of Planning report
Also in May, the DC Office of Planning (OP) said the fence as proposed was “inconsistent” with security requirements and “impacts the view corridor along the Avenue.” 6/   OP mapped where “over height” fences (of 42” or higher) had been allowed on public land along the avenue. The report said most are on another segment that has “a separate… character,” so these “do not set a precedent for security fences along the Avenue in its entirety.” 

A fence 38 feet in from the curb at this site “would be more consistent with District interests in maintaining the open character along Massachusetts Avenue” and maintaining the health of the trees, the report said.

Construction impacts 
At the PSC hearing, Shapley said that RMA’s concern had been sparked by cases where large historic trees had been harmed during permitted construction. Her testimony included photos of another huge “second row linden” by the Embassy of South Africa, with construction materials piled around it, during renovation of the front driveway and buildings. That tree has since died.

Advised by experts, RMA and ANC 3C reviewed the city’s permitting process. They found major loop holes; machinery can whack tree branches, roots may be cut for driveways, walls and fences, loads may be piled around healthy trees, often without penalty. RMA created a proposal to close these loopholes and protect more trees. RMA filed its “Eight Tree Protections” in the Zoning Regulation Review in September.  Three Advisory Neighborhood Commissions filed requests for these same protections by the ZRR deadline.7/ 

During the PSC hearing, some members expressed regret the committee had allowed fence and hardscape “improvements” which were inappropriate at another site, not named.

After the committee voted against the Norway fence plan, PSC Chair Matthew Marcou clarified procedure. The Embassy could return on another application pathway to submit another proposal, he said.


1/ Official address: 2720 34 Street NW, Washington, DC 20008.
2/ Filing #113157 Permittee: Mariya Sadykov. Owner: Embassy of Norway 3401 MASS AVE FENCE -11-24-15.pdf
3/ A Grand Avenue Revival: Massachusetts Avenue Landscape History & Design Guide, published RMA in 2014. Download here. Order free copy here. The book won the 2015 Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation / Education from the city Office of Historic Preservation. See Events Archive page.
4/ FMBZA, 19013 – Apostolic Nunciature - 3339 Mass Ave NW.
5/ ANC 3C Resolutions Nos 2015-016 (April 20, 2015) and 2015-021 (May 18, 2015).
6/ FMBZA 19013 3339 Mass Av NW OP Report.pdf   OP pp. 4-6, 11 Attachment IV “Over Height Fences on Massachusetts Avenue.”
7/ See Partnering with the City and Our PDFs on at

Thursday, December 3, 2015

New! Treekeeper Workshop Dec 6, 11-1 pm

Join our Treekeepers this Sunday! From 11 am our team will help needy city trees near Emmet Park. This is a triangle park along Mass Ave between 24th and S Streets, facing the Chad Embassy at 2401 Mass Ave (where RMA arranged many trees).

Look for our red wagon and white sign. For updates on the day, text Jon Gossens 802-272-0332. Best to wear dirt-friendly clothing and shoes. You may just appear. Or sign in on our Volunteer page.  We’ll have the RMA release form for new volunteers to sign upon arrival.

What's Emmet Park? Learn why it is important on our Historic Initiative page. RMA is pushing to save the big Deodar cedar and to add new shade trees there. Besides the cedrus Deodara the park has a black gum tree, Nyssa sylvatica, we planted in 2008. See their foliage below.
Foliage and branches of Deodar cedar in Emmet Park. (RMA)

Fall foliage of black gum tree we planted in Emmet Park. (RMA)

 Who are our volunteers? RMA volunteers come from different backgrounds and parts of the Metro area. They work as best fits their schedules. They do the essential work of our nonprofit organization.

Please visit the Volunteer page and tell us your skills and interests. Many of those who help are pictured as Faces of RMA on our Why Restore Mass Ave page. Our volunteer Associates and Board of Directors are pictured here on the site.

We LOVE our volunteers! See you Sunday!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Emmet Park: Statue and Cedar can Coexist

The proposed removal of a large Deodar cedar tree (cedrus Deodora) in Emmet Park may be unneccessary, said Restore Mass Ave in a Comment to the National Park Service on November 11. The park is in a triangle of land bounded by Mass Ave, 24th and S Street NW; the large, gray-green evergreen is a notable feature of this part of Embassy Row.

The Park Service has proposed removing the big tree to make the statue of Irish patriot Robert Emmet more visible. Also because sap drip from its branches allegedly could harm the bronze statue.

Based on expert advice, Restore Mass Ave suggested the cedar can remain without sap drip harming the statue.  This finding is in a Note on Statue and Sap which accompanied the filing. For the complete filing see Our PDFs page.

Our group also proposed planting two new shade trees on the neglected upper slopes of the park, in the DC land which runs along the curbs. This area at  S and 24th Streets is now a hot traffic corner. Tall trees there would be away from, yet frame the statue and connect the formal streetscape of Mass Ave with the old-growth forested hill of Kalorama.

Please visit our Historic Landscape Initiative page to view a slideshow of Restore Mass Ave's work near Emmet Park. We've arranged new trees; we care for    several of them ourselves. The embassies of Chad and of Cameroon also care for trees facing the park. Catoctin Construction, which is renovating the Embassy of Cameroon, refilled the water baga around a young cherrywe planted in the park. (see Tree Care Blog, January 2012.)

All these activities, together, fit RMA's motto: "Many stakeholders, one landscape."    

Right: Three matching "Red Sunset" red maple street trees in glorious fall colors. They face the Embassy of Chad (2401 Mass) and are cared for by that Embassy. They are across S Street from Emmet Park.

All photos: Restore Mass Ave

Monday, September 28, 2015

Pest Harming District's Willow Oaks

Restore Mass Ave announced today that it has treated the willow oaks on historic Embassy Row infected by a pest called oak lecanium scale (Parthenolecanium quercifix). But other willow oaks along DC streets are suffering badly from this pest.

This warning was issued today by the manager of RMA's project, William Eck of Bartlett Tree Expert Company in Gaithersburg, Md.  Though this scale has been known a long time, Eck warns that it is getting worse.
Damaged pin oak, 2500 block of Mass Ave.

Eck, who is an arborist and manager for Bartlett, said some of the badly infected trees are majestic willow oaks along MacArthur Boulevard, Lowell Street and Loughboro Road and 46th Street in Northwest.  Eck also reports bad scale damage to these iconic trees on M Street and nearby streets in Southeast. Many of these large, majestic willow oaks are city "street trees."

In today's press release with Eck's warning, Restore Mass Ave called on the DC Urban Forestry Administration, which has charge of the city's 131,000 street trees, to inform the public whether the threat from oak lecanium scale is getting worse. In the past, this well-known scale tended to fade away each season so treatment was not needed.

Residents and businesses should look for signs of scale on the willow and pin oaks (see RMA photo). RMA President Deborah Shapley urged the public "to consider treatment for less damaged and nearby undamaged trees." The scale spreads from tree to tree and does not respect boundaries between city-owned street trees and privately maintained trees nearby.
Oak lecanium scales along twig of a Mass Ave willow oak.

After Eck /Bartlett identified the scale as damaging or about to damage twelve trees in the 2500 block of Mass Ave, RMA hired the firm to treat the trees; some were city trees, and some were second row trees facing them across the sidewalk. Go to our Second Row of Trees page for more on our project which could be a model for public-private response to the threat.

Nearly all of the hundreds of trees along the Embassy Row part of Massachusetts Avenue NW are lindens or elms. RMA has also arranged swamp white oaks (Quercus bicolor) which is in a sub-genus of the oak family that this pest does not care about.  Fortunately, just twelve willow oaks and pin oaks were judged at risk. For more info and a photo of our worst damaged tree please visit our Green Your Street page.

Eck says watering and mulching are the best way to prevent the scale from hurting these trees. When they grow healthy and strong, they can resist these pests.

Photos: Restore Mass Ave

Monday, August 31, 2015

Netherlands Residence benefit draws new supporters

Many new supporters came to the reception honoring the work of Restore Mass Ave, hosted by the Netherlands Ambassador H.E. Rudolph Bekink and Mrs. Gabrielle de Kuyper Bekink, at their stunning Residence overlooking Massachusetts Avenue.

The event was covered in Washington Life and The Georgetowner. See In the News.

John Peters Irelan, Benefit Chairman, and the Benefit Committee made it a great evening. They won support even from those who could not attend, as it was a busy May evening. 

Visit our new 2015 Benefit page for event photos, key supporters and the 2015 Committee.
Guests listen to (brief) remarks about Restore Mass Ave.

H.E. Rudolph Bekink and Mrs. Bekink
John Peters Irelan and Barbara Jones
Top and left photos: Washington Life Magazine                    Lower right photo: Jillian Fishman/RMA

The residence at Massachusetts Avenue, S and 24th Streets faces the federal triangle park featuring the statue of Irish patriot Robert Emmet. RMA is reviving the historic landscape in this area, through tree plantings with several embassies, supporting tree services and work by volunteer Treekeepers.  At the party Treekeepers sported their "No Mulch Volcano" buttons. Below Treekeepers Jon Gossens and Caitlin Phillips spread the word.

Jon Gossens and Caitlin Phillips

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Award ceremony for our book at Constitution Hall

Here are photos of the award ceremony for RMA's book and its print and online design, held May 6 at DAR Constitution Hall.
Left to right: Deborah Shapley, Author and President of RMA;` Sally Murray James of Cutting Edge Design; Jillian Fishman of the RMA Board of Directors; Gill Fishman of Gill Fishman Associates, and Gretchen Pfaehler, Chair, DC Historic Preservation Review Board. More than 500 people attended the event and reception for the thirteen awards.

Below: A video about our project was shown to the audience. The video is here. Videos about all the winning projects are here on YouTube. They were made by videographer Jason Hornick.

The annual awards have been given since 2003 by the Office of Historic Preservation of the District of Columbia Office of Planning.

They are co-sponsored by the DC Historic Preservation Office, the DC Preservation League, and the Daughters of the American Revolution. 

Among other 2015 winners were the L'Enfant Trust Historic Properties Redevelopment Program which creates affordable housing in the Anacostia neighborhood, from older homes about to meet the wrecking ball.  Another winner was the sole Ethiopian Orthodox Church in the area. The mostly immigrant congregation needed a home for worship, and created it from an unused 19th century fire station. 
The award to Restore Mass Ave's book was the only one featuring landscape restoration and environment. It was great to have Gill Fishman on hand. His Cambridge, Mass., firm designed how the trees, greenspace and Beaux Arts architecture of Embassy Row could be experienced online. o our new website. Also RMA's new logo, designed by the Fishman firm, had won a Graphic Design USA award. So kudos were in order!

  The program and RMA award plaque.

The two top photos are courtesy of Jason Hornick. Other photos are by Jillian Fishman/RMA.