April 28, 2023  •  Leave a Comment


An often cited truism concerning photographic images is that any photo more than fifty years old is inherently interesting due to its link to the past as "another country. While these images that I've saved from my archives are not quite fifty, it has been quite arresting for yours truly that they are over forty years old. Once again my scanner has brought some of my past back to life, and my skills at post-processing has created images that are leagues better than the original slides that have survived my pathetic attempts at "organization."

These images are all from the very late 1970's and the early 1980's, when I was "living in sin" with Fran, and working as a waiter before, during, and after my education as an architect. They illustrate the visual appetites of a young photographer who shared some of the same ways of viewing the world as I do today. This first image is only important if you love neon, or if you walked past this sign for seven years before yet another shift in the wine bar in Dupont Circle. It wouldn't surprise me either way if the drug store was still there; I do know that the real estate industry has expanded the limits of Dupont
Circle way past what I knew in the 1980's. The power of photography, at least for me, is that I can still feel like I'm walking on that street about to go to work, just like certain songs that were part of the soundtrack of the restaurant can bring me back there way beyond their musical merit.


I guess I began to realize that I was interested in becoming an  architect for two reasons. One was that I was drawn to the slick professional architecture magazines in every library that I entered. Another was that I strolled through Washington taking pictures of buildings the way that others captured flowers or people. These two images show my love of porches, readily available in Washington in most older neighborhoods. As a Southern city, Washington embraced ever more gracious porches in the age before air conditioning. This particular circular corner example shows how porches could become so large that they could be divided into several areas for outdoor living. Among my first few projects as an architect were three elaborate screen porch additions. The last porch I designed was basically a studio apartment with areas for living, resting, and a full kitchen. The porch sported 24 skylights!

             QUITE A BAY WINDOW

While I still designed porches once we moved to Portland, I had to give up my love for the masonry detailing that surrounded me in Washington. This particular exuberant example a bay window is probably from the Dupont Circle neighborhood. Talk about "eyes on the street!" When I worked a split shift at the restaurant I could walk a few blocks to the Phillips Collection, ensconced in Mr. Phillips old mansion, and take in his magnificent personal art collection and also take advantage of the nicest bathroom I had ever seen.


One of the delights of walking around neighborhoods like Georgetown in Northwest D.C., was to show how people had to "cope" with urban density. This urban townhouse hopefully had a rear garden, since the front of the house had to be devoted to rare off-street parking. Of course it you must park the car out front, it's nice to have a beautiful brick patio to drive on past the wrought iron fence, and to park your Rolls Royce to impress the hoi-polloi like me passing by your house.

                                  A HEROIC FRIEZE

                                                               VAST INTERIOR

I didn't only focus on "anonymous" architecture in Washington, since there were always monuments around that captured my attention. These two images are of the Old Pension Building, created to house the veteran's system after the Civil War. It had just been saved once again for the new National Building Museum. I think you can see from the interior view why the building need to be preserved, and why it was so hard to figure out what to do with it one hundred years after it was constructed. It was literally too big and too beautiful to demolish. The great hall is subdivided by three-story columns and is big enough to host an inaugural ball, if you should ever be so lucky. The elaborate staircases that rise up the interior contain three inch risers so as to allow veterans to climb up the stairs with crutches. The exterior view shows a tiny part of the incredible sculptural frieze that runs around the entire building that takes up an entire block of Washington. It is modeled after the Parthenon, and attempt to illustrate the entire conflict that the Union veterans had just engaged in.

                                                               AIM HIGH

Washington is a city of monuments of course, and this was my interpretation of the then new Air Force Memorial that had recently joined the monuments to the Army, the Navy, and the Marines in Washington.The gleaming stainless steel abstract "flight" is so reflective that it picks up rays of the sun, the surrounding landscape, and even itself, as you can notice as it's spiral both goes behind its supporting obelisk and is reflected on its polished surface!

                                                             BENJAMIN AND THE CAPITOL

Some monuments are both enduring and changing at the same time. This shot of the Capitol is completely unassuming unless you know "The Big Guy", my son Benjamin, striding towards the seat of government. I'm not completely irresponsible, since the road was already closed to cars. Benjamin and I usually had the run of the government buildings, and I would take him to congressional committee meetings just as readily as the Smithsonian. In this instance we are headed for Statuary Hall, the old senate Chamber, where his father would have unobtrusively maneuver an entire bag of spilled Cheerios behind a statue of the former Queen of Hawaii, one of the two statues from the fiftieth state.

                                                               REFLECTIVE STREAM

Washington, D.C. has some very beautiful natural areas both in the city and surrounding it in Maryland and Virginia. This tranquil stream could be Rock Creek Park, but I wouldn't swear to it.                                    GREAT FALLS, A LITTLE HIGH

I do know that this image is from Great Falls, to the Northwest of D.C., which can range from a trickle to a raging flood depending on the water level. Those rocky cliffs on the shore are sometimes completely underwater, which can lead visitors to be terribly disappointed that they are just looking at a river instead of a waterfall. This giant series of rapids that marks the transformation of the Potomac from a river in the mountains to a tidal estuary caused the early USA to build the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal to bypass this obstacle and provide a trade route to the interior.


Speaking of mountains, this view of the Shenandoah Mountains from Skyline Drive shows another destination that Washingtonians take to escape the infernal heat and humidity. No volcanoes, but you can clearly see why the original thirteen colonies were restricted to the Eastern Seaboard. We forget that it would take almost two hundred years before those colonies, now states in a new country,  would expand beyond these mountains. In fact Lewis and Clark had already walked to Oregon and back before there was any significant settlement to the West of this photograph.    

I hope you have enjoyed this brief excursion to my era in Washington, D.C. It's hard to believe that these images were taken so long ago, by me, and that I can show them to you. I encourage you to also revisit your photographic past.