Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Haiti's Resilience Rewarded with 9-11 Survivor Tree

You'll see a small new tree planted by Haiti's Embassy at 2311 Massachusetts Avenue this spring. The tree will be just a sapling about 4 feet tall. Not a lot of branches nor leaves.

This little Callery pear may manage a few white blooms, briefly.  But if not now, in future years its white cloud of blossoms will herald the start of renewal up and down our Grand Avenue.

The tree's parent was discovered in the wreckage of the World Trade Center in October 2001. Rescuers saw "lifeless limbs, snapped roots, and blackened trunk." It was nursed back to health (after another disaster) and replanted at Ground Zero in December 2010.  At right is this Survivor Tree last spring, in full bloom. It is visited reverentially by millions of people now. 

Haiti too has had more than its fair share of disasters.  Its eleven million people have shown resilience despite gnarls of problems with infrastructure, environment,  politics, disease and misdirected aid.

Since 2012 Haiti's ambassador to the US, Paul Altidor, has worked to disentangle aid issues. He has tirelessly put forth an alternative story about the intelligence, hard work, artistry and dignity of Haitian people. His Embassy has opened its doors to the Haitian diaspora and general public, who come for Haitian art shows, cooking classes, crafts and music. Busboys & Poets hosts open-mike discussions about the country.

(Now the Embassy has a hotline to help Haitian deportees clarify their status. The charge that Haiti is not a good country is being refuted by the Ambassador and many in the US public.)

Haiti's struggle to recover from the 2010 earthquake, the largest natural disaster in history, was recognized last fall when the National 9-11 Memorial & Museum awarded a seedling of Pyrus calleryana from the 9-11 Survivor Tree.   Seedlings are awarded to communities "facing and overcoming tragedy" says the award letter from chair Alice Greenwald. 

Just twelve Survivor Tree Tree seedlings have been awarded since 2013, such as to Gulfport, Miss. (Katrina in 2005) and Newton, Conn. (Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012).

Restore Mass Ave has worked with the Embassy of Haiti on green restoration projects for years. It was one of the first foreign missions to help us water city street trees, for example. The Embassy hosted our 10th anniversary in May 2017 as well.

We are glad to assist the Embassy of Haiti with planting and protecting the Survivor Tree seedling when it arrives in early spring. Stay tuned!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Emmet Statue Invisible at Night

Irish Patriot Robert Emmet was hanged, drawn and quartered by British rulers back in 1803 -- but not before his speech from the dock in the Dublin courtroom lighted a torch for seekers of freedom everywhere.

Across the United States, Irish immigrants named towns Emmetsville (Fl., Tx.), Emmetsburg (Md., Ia.) and Emmetstown (Oh., Mn.), to name a few. Statues commemorating his martyrdom abound.

But on Embassy Row in Washington, DC, Robert Emmet remains in the dark.

 What may be the best statue of Emmet giving his famous speech is barely visible - even after the National Park Service (NPS) turned on the lights in a park that features the statue at Mass Ave, 24th and S Streets NW.
Spot the statue?  Statue of Robert Emmet seen from Mass Ave at  5:30 pm on December 30.
Restore Mass Ave pushed the NPS to illuminate this beautiful bronze figure. We want it to be seen on this busy thoroughfare thronged by cars at night. In 2015, the NPS proposed to refurbish the park improve the statue's visibility, including removing a gigantic cedar tree.  We fought removal of the tree while pushing for lights.  See Emmet Park: Statue and Cedar can Coexist  (November 2015).

NPS took the tree down in time for a centennial celebration of the 1916 Easter Uprising, held at the park in April 2016.

Still - no lights! We reminded the NPS and Smithsonian American Art Museum which owns the statue.

Cheerful NPS workers activated the lights in September, in time for another ceremony featuring an address by new Irish Ambassador Daniel Mulhall.  Still, per our December 30 photo taken at 5:30 pm, travelers can barely discern the statue - and miss a great moment.

The nation's capital needs this inspiring public art to be accessible and admired. Otherwise our Grand Avenue falls short of its purpose as an inspiring civic space.
Daniel Mulhall, Ambassador of Ireland, speaks at Emmet Park. Photos: RMA

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Park Service to Plant Historic Trees in Sheridan Circle

Statue of General Philip Sheridan is focus of the Circle and the Avenue
We are delighted that the National Park Service decided to change the tree species to be planted in its famous park - Sheridan Circle - at the heart of Embassy Row.

Elsewhere along Embassy Row, the area shaded by trees, or tree canopy, has expanded by 13% in ten years.  But in Sheridan Circle, there may be less canopy according to satellite data.
American Linden planted 1904 is removed in 2011.
Why? The original big trees planted in 1904 have been dying off. Further, the trees NPS planted to replace them have not done well.  Or the replacements are okay but are too small to increase the canopy.

Our group has urged that trees in this circle be American lindens, not the little-leaf linden variety planted in recent decades.
Now replacement trees will be American linden, announced Yue Li, Park Landscape Architect for NAMA, the National Mall & Memorial Parks division of NPS, which governs this park.  Ms. Li met onsite about the trees with RMA Board member Robert Nevitt and RMA President Deborah Shapley as part of our emerging partnership to restore grandeur to this amazing but neglected landmark.
Ring of mature American lindens around the statue in1970.
The importance of this streetscape to the nation is in our book, A Grand Avenue Revival.  The original, even-spaced ring of 16 trees were integral to the flowing formal landscape of the Grand Avenue.  

Many of the mansions and the statue of General Sheridan were erected after the city planted 500 American lindens in double rows along the sidewalks and within this circle. This is why architecture and landscape are married here in “a street façade unique in the city and perhaps the nation.”*

The statue of  General Sheridan was dedicated in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt. At the same time, mansions by noted architects - Waddy Wood, Glenn Brown, George Oakley Totten,  Nathan Wyeth - rose there, along with the prominence of their owners.

Rob Nevitt Tree Project Director and Yue Li of NPS-NAMA
See our Historic Initiative page for a slideshow of the amazing original trees of Sheridan Circle through the decades. Pictures compare the little-leaf variety  not suited to our Grand Avenue – with the bigger linden type.  The slides have more on our developing Sheridan Circle Restoration Project.

Under the new NPS/NAMA policy, only the two empty sites in the tree ring will get American Lindens; more should be planted at NPS replaces other trees in the ring, though it will be years before we see visible change in the Circle's landscape and canopy area.

But, to quote the Chinese proverb: "The best time to plant a tree was 10 years ago; the next-best time is today."
* National Park Service 1974 nomination of the Massachusetts Avenue Historic District. Quoted at A Grand Avenue Revival, page 10.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Treekeepers work fast to help10 second row trees

Restore Mass Ave volunteer Treekeepers gather for 2 hour workshops to help at-risk trees. We welcomed four new Treekeepers Saturday Sept 16. The Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies was well represented thanks to Board Member and Yale alumna Lindsey K. Larson. (We welcome new signups on our Volunteer page.)

Back row L to R: Max Lambert, Paul, Winters, Nora Hawkins, Kevin Finneran

Front row L to R: Deborah Shapley, Karen Peterson, Lindsey Larson

Photo:  RMA Board member Marty Scherr

Right: Lindsey & Kevin
carry away stakes that braced the little trees against the wind for 2 years. Now the trees are strong enough to stand on their own.

Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) 'Wildfire' was chosen for the prominent point at 30th and Mass.  In fall 40,000 motorists passing daily will see its brilliant red foliage announcing the majestic row.

Left: Karen Peterson consults with the group on cutting little roots at the base of this tree. Since they could weaken it, she snip-snipped.

 Back Story: In 2014 the State Department Office of Foreign Missions decided to green the empty lawns with a second row of trees. Casey Trees designed the planting aided by RMA. 
Right: RMA's Kevin Finneran posing in the exact corner in need of a prominent tree, in 2014. 

In 2011, Casey Citizen Forester Gary McNeil paced these lawns seeking the original linden row from 1904.
Below: Gary measures for replacements;
the mysterious finger code shows which tree.
Further down: Casey Trees' planting and design. ⬇
Led by Jim Woodworth, Casey Trees installed the ten second row trees in December 2014.
Left: Planters at work. Right: How to lay out a double row design, from our award-winning book A Grand Avenue Revival: Massachusetts Avenue Landscape History & Design Guide. Pdf here.

Photos and image: RMA    
  • The land we planted on is city land known as "parking." How a second row in the "parking" helps neighbors and the city is on RMA's second row page.
  • 3003 Mass was the Residence of the Ambassador of Iran. 3005 Mass is the former Embassy of Iran. Since 1979 when the United States broke relations with Iran over its seizure of US diplomats as hostages, these properties have been in the custody of Department of State Office of Foreign Missions.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Giant Step for Tree Plaza at Dupont Circle

Restore Mass Ave's vision for a Tree Plaza - a grove of shade trees to replace the barren sidewalk where Massachusetts Avenue meets Dupont Circle - just took a giant step towards reality. 

RMA has contracted with Designgreen LLC, a firm expert in "green engineering," to investigate the site and seek funding to design and build the Tree Plaza with public or private funds.  Neglected for decades, the 7,100 square feet of public sidewalk adjoins the PNC Bank. It has closed-off steps to the old trolley tunnel and two struggling trees.

Yet thousands of workers, residents and tourists walk there daily. The Capitol BikeShare station there is one of three busiest in the city. Steps away is the Metro Red Line Dupont North exit, used by 10,500 riders each weekday. At least 18,000 vehicles pass daily, spewing exhaust. Ground-level air is hot and hard to breathe even in mild weather.

"This site is a wonderful location to showcase a sustainable green retrofit," says Rebecca C. Stack, the Designgreen principal.  
A number of city agencies make grants to local groups to retrofit paved areas to lower storm runoff into city drains and rivers.  The District needs to capture more stormwater and cool ground-level air in order to meet federal water and air standards.  RMA's Tree Plaza project likely qualifies for such funding.

Restore Mass Ave has tried for years to get a city agency to take ownership of the problem, to no avail. RMA also found that no other Dupont group has plans for the site. Yet the community wants the site transformed.

In 2015 the Leo A Daly architecture firm created a concept plan and renderings to show the RMA Tree Plaza vision (below). Now Designgreen's expertise in engineering, storm water management, and city programs can make it happen. RMA may enlist partners to carry out the project.

Robin Diener, President of the Dupont Circle Citizens Association, says: "In the absence of city leadership, DCCA is thrilled that RMA has taken the lead in figuring out how to turn this site into a welcoming shaded community space.
"DCCA welcomes Designgreen as the catalyst for making it happen," Diener says.

Go here for RMA Tree Plaza press release and testimony by RMA President Deborah Shapley.

Image of Dupont Tree Plaza Leo A Daly/RMA.  Photo of the site on April 27, 2017 is by RMA.


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