Urban Trek Part II

By the time I finished marveling at St. Joan of Arc and the amazing vista from Meridian Hill Park, it was about time for a mid-morning break. Leaving the park I trekked down 16th St in search of sustenance.

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Henderson Castle

16th Street, NW has an amazing history, bits and pieces of which are preserved in it today.  Originating at the White House, it’s sometimes still known as the “Avenue of Presidents.”  Just across from Meridian Hill Park, one can still see the retaining walls and foundations of the Henderson “Castle,” (ca. 1899)  home to Sen. John Henderson, who drafted the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.  The Senator’s wife was convinced that 16th street should forever be a palatial entrance to Washington.  At a time when US expansion, and technological advancement seemed limitless, one can understand Mrs. Henderson’s enthusiasm.  The concept never fully took root… too much at odds with American democratic sensibilities… but to this day, embassies and NGO’s occupy some stunning French and Italianate palazzi all along this stretch of 16th.

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Coming to U Street, I initially thought to stop at the local Starbucks (U and New Hampshire), but thought better of it.  Nothing against Starbucks, but there had to be a more “local” establishment.  And there was!  The Three Fifty Coffee Bar and Bakery is an ideal stop for a midmorning riposo.  Located on 17th St, just south of U, the ambiance is charming, the espresso excellent and the croissants are freshly home made.  See my earlier posting on “Espresso and Aspirations,” for more on the virtues of local coffee shops.

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New Hampshire, near the S Street Dog Park
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an ornamental tree in Dupont buds with new growth

Trekking south on New Hampshire, U Street gave way to Dupont.  The neighborhood is one of Washington’s nicest, to be sure.  Initially, the architecture may conjure thoughts of Paris, or Mayfair in London… but there’s an element of restraint one doesn’t find in those cities.  Dupont, like most of Washington is actually rather humble as capital neighborhoods go.  Even at the peak of its 19th century growth, American wealth didn’t (generally) match the scale of European grandeur.  Consequently Dupont is marked by a certain simple elegance, or noble simplicity that makes it equally inspiring and endearing to visitors.  Too many people speed through the area, even on foot… on their way, I’m sure, to important jobs… but what a shame to miss the little gardens, ornamental statues and other unique touches that typify this part of DC.  Note to self – slow down in life and pray for patience.

Georgetown marked the end of my trek.  I met a dear friend for lunch there.  The frontier between Georgetown and Dupont is marked out by Rock Creek and one of my favorite DC monuments: the Buffalo Bridge.

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Standing sentry to this uniquely curving bridge are 4 massive bronze buffalos.  They’re odd creatures, when you get close to them… See them live, by the way, at the nearby National Zoo… While their disproportionate and bulbous forms impose a degree of humility on these once masters of the American prairie, Buffalos harbor a quiet strength and confidence.  They’re shapes are ideal for surviving freezing winters and ploughing through snow drifts.  Getting a buffalo mad at you (I’m told by friends from the prairie states) is a very bad idea.  Humble hardworking majesty… There’s something very ecclesial in that.
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It was a great trek… the first of many, I hope, this season.  Each time I get out for a long walk in our city the inspirations and aspirations I receive renew me.  What a blessing to see Washington through eyes of faith!