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.