Saturday, June 30, 2012

Iwalked Washington D.C.’s Blair House

Iwalked Washington D.C.’s Blair House - The Blair House is the official guest house for visitors of the White House. When guests, such as foreign dignitaries come to visit, they stay within this 70,000 square foot, 119 room complex that is larger than the White House itself. The flag of the nation from which the dignitaries are visiting is always flown outside of the Blair House to signify that the residence is, at least for the given period of the visit, considered foreign soil. Residency within the Blair House can also be tough to come by. When President Obama and his family moved to Washington and were seeking a place to stay prior to his inauguration, they were rebuffed and informed that the home was currently being occupied by the former Prime Minister of Australia.

Blair House
Blair House
The Blair House began as a single home at 1651 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, but has since expanded to into four adjoining townhouses. The original building was constructed as a two-story structure in 1824 and was designed in the Federal style with a brick façade. The brick was later covered over with stucco and subsequently modernized to its current limestone exterior. Other later alterations to the building included the addition of a third and fourth story in the early 1850s.

The residence at 1651 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW was designed by an unknown architect for Joseph Lovell, the eight Surgeon General of the United States Army. Upon Lovell’s passing in 1836, the building was purchased by Francis Preston Blair for the sum of $6,500. Blair was an American journalist and politician who served as an advisor to President Andrew Jackson. Through his role as editor of the Congressional Globe newspaper, Blair was deemed a highly influential advisor to Jackson and considered a part of Jackson’s elite “Kitchen Cabinet.”

In 1859, Blair acquired the adjoining red brick Federal style home at 1653 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. Blair had purchased the home as a gift to his daughter and her husband, Rear Admiral of the Navy, Samuel Phillips Lee. Samuel was related to the former Confederate General Robert E. Lee as the two were distant (third) cousins. In fact, it was at this residence that Robert had formerly turned down the opportunity to command the Union Army as offered by Francis Blair on April 18, 1861. The two other neighboring homes that would be integrated into the Blair-Lee home (700 Jackson Place and 704 Jackson Place) were each constructed in 1860.

The Blair Home was acquired by the U.S. government in 1942 for the purpose of needed guest space. A legend around the reason for this off-site hotel for White House guests has long been told surrounding Winston Churchill’s former overnight stays. Allegedly Mr. Churchill was noted for his love of staying up late and enjoying his brandy and cigars. After one especially long evening Eleanor Roosevelt decided she had had enough of Winston’s “bad influence” on her husband and demanded that a guest house be found as a solution for future guests.

One last tale regarding the Blair House revolves around an assassination plot on President Harry Truman that actually occurred here on November 1, 1950. Two Puerto Rican Nationalists named Griselio Torresola and Oscar Collazo literally walked up to Blair House and opened fire on security guards around the house. A White House Policeman, Leslie Coffelt, was mortally wounded in the shootout, but he managed to stagger out of his guard booth and take out Torresola before he perished himself. Collazo would be arrested and spend twenty-nine years in a federal prison before being released in September 1979.

  • Website:

  • Address: 1651-1653 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC

  • Cost: Free to view from exterior. No tours are available

Iwalked New York City’s 21 Club

Iwalked New York City’s 21 Club - 21 Club is a former speak-easy and current trendy restaurant. It is owned by Orient-Express Hotels and contains the Bar Room downstairs and more exclusive Upstairs at ‘21’. The Bar Room features a mass of sports memorabilia and other “toys” including a football helmet from Frank Gifford, tennis rackets from John McEnroe and Chris Evert, a baseball bat from “Say Hey” Willie Mays, a golf club from Jack Nicklaus, and an airplane model that once belonged to former president John F. Kennedy. Upstairs diners may select from a delectable menu that includes the like of $30 hamburgers or a seven-course tasting menu in the secret Wine Cellar room.

New York City’s 21 Club
New York City’s 21 Club
21 Club began as a speakeasy known as the Red Head in Greenwich Village in 1922. It was started by two cousins named Jack Kreindler and Charlie Berns who were attempting to earn additional money to pay for their tuition at the time. Their business moved a few times afterwards before settling into an 1872 townhouse located at its current address on December 31, 1929.

The club received its reputation as a top-notch speak-easy in 1930s during the Prohibition era. The booze which was sold at ‘21’ was snuck up from Florida and hidden within the car’s fender during the journey. When a Daily Mirror gossip columnist was banned in 1930, he attempted to extract a bit of revenge and wrote about expected illegal alcohol sales at the club. Within twenty-four hours of the article being published, a raid was scheduled for ’21’. Ill-prepared on this occasion, the two cousins ensured that in the event that they were raided again, the police would find no traces of alcohol on the premises.

After the Feds raid in 1930, Jack and Charlie hired architect Frank Buchanen to construct them a discrete wine cellar door where all alcohol would be stored. Buchanen built a hidden door within a brick wall that was further obscured via a series of shelves. The door, to ensure it appeared as solid as the surrounding wall, was designed to weigh some two-and-a-half tons and could also only be opened with an 18” wire that could reach the door’s hidden lock. Perhaps the most ingenious element of the wine cellar though was the fact that it was built into the premises of the neighboring building (which ‘21’ rented at the time). Thus when the club was interrogated as to whether alcohol was on the premises they could answer in complete honestly that there was not.

The first significant test as to the secrecy of the wine cellar did not have to wait long as Federal agents once again raided the club in June 1932. This time, being well prepared, the owners had sufficient time to hide all alcohol when the doorman notified them via an internal alarm that agents were awaiting to enter the premise. Despite searching the site for over two hours, the agents this time left empty handed and a bit baffled.

Passersby of ’21,’ even if they are unable to afford a delectable dinner here, are prone to stop outside to admire its famous colorful statuary of lawn jockeys attached to the restaurant’s second story balcony. In total there are thirty-three statues outside (and actually two additional ones inside the front door) that represent famous horse stables and farms from around the country. The first statue was donated by Jay Van Urk in the 1930s and other breeders have since followed suit by presenting similar statues to ’21’.

For many of the reasons listed thus far, ‘21’ is a popular locale for both celebrities and film makers alike. On the restaurant’s website you can find celebrity endorsement where past visitors tell some interesting tales of their most memorable ‘21’ memory. One I personally enjoyed was a tale by former NFL quarterback Archie Manning who spoke of his family having dinner here both nights before the NFL draft when his sons Peyton and Eli were selected as number one draft picks. Here you can also read about how every president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt has graced its interior, less one (who we’ll let you research on your own via their website if you are truly intrigued). One famous actor even worked here for a period of time behind the hat check counter, and that was Warren Oates (who played Sergeant Hulka in the 1981 Bill Murray comedy Stripes). As to movies that have filmed here, the list is quite extensive but to name a few they have included the likes of Wall Street and Sex and the City.

  • Website:

  • Address: 21 West 52nd Street, New York City, NY

  • Cost: Free

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Iwalked New York City’s Washington Square – Giuseppe Garibaldi Monument

Iwalked New York City’s Washington Square – Giuseppe Garibaldi Monument - The Giuseppe Garibaldi Monument is dedicated to an Italian general, politician and patriot who is nicknamed the “Sword of Unification” for his efforts in helping to unify Italy in the 19th century. Garibaldi spent four years in America on nearby Staten Island before actually returning home and leading his revolutionary efforts. During his brief stint in America, President Lincoln actually offered Garibaldi a military position to be served here in the United States. The position offered in 1862 would have been to serve as a Major General with the Union Army during the American Civil War. Garibaldi was said to have considered Lincoln’s offer but claimed he would only accept if Lincoln would publicly declare the Civil War’s purpose as the abolition of slavery. Lincoln, concerned over the ramifications of such a statement declined, and thus so did Garibaldi.
Giuseppe Garibaldi Monument
Giuseppe Garibaldi Monument

The Garibaldi Monument was designed by Giovanni Turini, who also created the bronze bust of Giuseppe Mazzini within Central Park. The work was officially unveiled in 1888, on the sixth anniversary of Garibaldi’s death. Due to renovations within the park, the statue had to be moved on one occasion fifteen feet east for the construction of new paths in 1970. During this time, a time capsule was discovered hidden within the monument which contained newspapers and other articles that highlighted the achievements of Garibaldi.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Iwalked New York City’s One If By Land, Two If By Sea

Iwalked New York City’s One If By Land, Two If By Sea - One If By Land, Two If By Sea is a trendy (and pricey) American cuisine restaurant that resides within a former carriage house built in 1754. The restaurant is often cited as one of the most romantic locales in the city complete with twin fireplaces and evening pianist to accompany such exquisite dishes as its signature beef Wellington. The restaurant’s Mezzanine area is said to be the site of the carriage house’s former hayloft.

One If By Land, Two If By Sea
One If By Land, Two If By Sea
This original carriage house was built in 1767 for former Vice President Aaron Burr. Burr maintained this property until 1804 when he exiled himself to Europe in the aftermath of his dual with Alexander Hamilton. The building would take on a succession of tenants in the following years (including a fire station, silent film theater, and brothel) but many suspect that Mr. Burr and his daughter Theodosia never really left the premises. Aaron’s troubling years in European exile after murdering Hamilton are well documented; however, an unfortunate series of events in 1813 may have discouraged Theodosia from deciding to pass along peacefully into the afterlife.

While beginning to embark on a voyage to visit her father who had recently returned State-side in 1813, Theodosia’s ship was hijacked by pirates. Upon her capture, Theodosia was believed to have been murdered by the pirates at the tender young age of thirty-years old. Thus in recent years when female patrons have claimed to have been harassed by an unknown entity playing with their earrings, the culprit is rumored to be the troubled and unrested soul of young Theodosia who was just not ready for life after death.

Aaron and Theodosia are not the only reported ghosts said to haunt One If By Land, Two If By Sea though. Reports on the upwards of twenty-three various spirits have been attributed to the former carriage house. Workers and guests have claimed to see a white woman named Elizabeth who is said to have a gravestone within the basement. A former Ziegfeld girl who died within the building in years past appears to show a dislike for “rude” guests. And heavily perfumed ghosts are even said to leave their “essence” wafting within rooms with no other feasible explanation.

  • Website:

  • Address: 17 Barrow Street, New York City, NY

  • Cost: $$$$.

  • Hours: Mon-Thur 5:30 pm-10 pm; Fri-Sat 5:30 pm-11:30 pm; Sun 11:30 am-2 pm, 5:30 pm-9:30 pm

Monday, June 4, 2012

Iwalked Washington D.C.’s Martin Luther King Jr., National Memorial

Iwalked Washington D.C.’s Martin Luther King Jr., National Memorial - The Martin Luther King Jr., National Memorial is the latest addition to the National Mall, having opened to the public on August 22, 2011. The $120 million memorial is situated on four-acres near the Jefferson Memorial and is entered through a massive stone (titled the Mountain of Despair) that has had the central portion cut out of it. Surrounding the centerpiece is a 450-foot crescent-shaped wall of granite known as the Inscription Wall. Etched within this wall is text from fourteen of Dr. King’s most noted speeches. The speeches selected range from the Montgomery Bus Boycotts in 1955 up until his final speech in Washington D.C. at the National Cathedral just four days before his assassination. Surprisingly, none of the quotes are from King’s most famous speech of, “I Have a Dream.”

Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Located within the heart of the memorial is a thirty-foot sculpture of Dr. King with arms folded titled the “Stone of Hope.” Although the work appears as one continuous piece, it was actually sculpted from one hundred fifty nine individual pieces of granite and assembled into the work you see now. Located on the side of the statue are two noted quotes from King. Inscribed on one side is, “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.” When asked how he would like to be remembered, this was the response which King provided. The second quote on the opposite side serves as fitting symbolism, “Out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the inspiration for this memorial, was assassinated on April 4, 1968. He had dedicated his life to peaceful protest and was taken from us too early at the age of thirty-nine when James Earl Ray shot King at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee while standing on the second-floor balcony. From 1979 through 1982 attempts were made to propose a national holiday honoring Dr. King. Finally on November 2, 1983 President Ronald Reagan signed a bill that formalized the holiday which would be celebrated on the third Monday of January each year, around the time of King’s birthday, January 15.

Efforts began to institute a national memorial further honoring King on November 12, 1996. On this date, President Clinton signed into legislation a bill that allowed for the creation of such a tributary monument in Washington D.C. The design competition included approximately nine hundred submissions from over 1900 firms across fifty-two countries. The winner selected was entry #1403 by the ROMA design group from San Francisco, California in September 2000. Groundbreaking would not occur until approximately six years later, on November 13, 2006. Attendees to this event included the likes of Oprah Winfrey and a then little known senator named Barrack Obama.

Although this memorial is already wrought with symbolism, the address selected for this site has been given further meaning. The address of 1964 Independence Avenue, SW is a nod to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the year in which King won the Nobel Peace Prize.