Thursday, September 27, 2012

Iwalked Washington D.C.’s National Museum Of Natural History

Iwalked Washington D.C.’s National Museum Of Natural History - I’d like to declare the first stop along our National Mall audio tour as being “unique” or some “hidden treasure” but, alas, this site is a locale that 7.4 million other people visit annually—the National Museum of Natural History. The Natural History museum is the most popular of all of the Smithsonian museums and also one of the oldest on the north side of the Mall. This building was the first to be constructed on the northern edge of the Mall on June 20, 1911. The museum originated as the United States National Museum and was originally housed within the Arts and Industries Building. It began via a desire to extend the 100th anniversary of America showcase from the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Upon moving all of the exhibits to Washington, however, it quickly began apparent that sufficient space was severely lacking. In response, Congress appropriated a sum of $3.5 million for construction of a new building for which ground was broken on June 14, 1904.

National Museum Of Natural History
National Museum Of Natural History
The current home of the National Museum of Natural History was designed by the firm of Hornblower & Marshall in the traditional Neoclassical styling of Washington D.C. The building is faced with pink granite from Massachusetts on the ground floor, Vermont granite on the 1st and 2nd floors, and North Carolina granite on the 3rd story. Corinthian columns grace the entrance and a central rotunda resides atop the structure.
Despite the fact that the museum was not officially completed until 1911, it actually opened on March 17, 1910. The interior contains some 1.5 million square feet of exhibits said to contain on the upwards of 126 million items. Being a Smithsonian building, admission is free and hours typically range from 10 am – 5:30 pm every day less Christmas.

If you wish to take some time to explore the National Museum of Natural History, let us give you an overview of “must see” exhibits. Immediately upon entering you will be welcomed by a large African Elephant that stands some fourteen feet tall and is said to weigh eight tons. A couple of popular destinations for children on the first floor are the IMAX theater and the Discovery Room that provides a number of “hands-on” and interactive learning displays. The Kenneth E. Behring Family Hall of Mammals contains a mass of mounted animals, some of which are attributed to President Theodore Roosevelt. By far the most noteworthy destination though is the Dinosaur Hall complete with Tyrannosaurus Rex dueling a 65-million-year-old Triceratops nicknamed “Hatcher” (in honor of the paleontologist who discovered his fossils in 1891).

As you make your way up to the second floor you may enjoy the Egyptian exhibits, Easter Island Stone Head, Insect zoo, and Gem/Mineral collection. Outside of the approximate 35,000 meteorites housed within the gem and mineral collection, the most popular specimen is the 45.52 carat Hope Diamond. The Hope Diamond is estimated to be more than one billion years old and is the largest blue diamond in the world. Its history has long been tied to a series of tragedies for each of its prior owners. One of the diamond’s first owners, Marie Antoinette (queen to King Louis XVI of France) was executed via guillotine in 1793 in response to the French Revolution.

A prominent Washingtonian heiress, Evalyn Walsh McLean soon lost her two-year old son, her mother-in-law (possibly debatable as to whether a tragedy), and saw her husband lose his fortune all subsequent to her acquiring the Hope Diamond. Today the diamond is owned by a New York jeweler named Harry Winston who first donated it to the Smithsonian for display in 1958.

Before leaving the museum, make sure you take notice of a work of public art near the Constitution Avenue entrance. This work by Ignacio Perez Solano is titled Colossal Head and was added to this location on October 19, 2001.

  • Website:
  • Address: Intersection of 10th Street, NW and Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, DC
  • Cost: Free

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Iwalked New York City’s Friars Club

Iwalked New York City’s Friars Club - This English Renaissance townhouse at 57 East 55th Street was originally constructed in 1909 as the private residence of Martin Erdmann. Mr. Erdmann, an investment banker, built what he called the “most fireproof residence in Manhattan” to house his private art collection. Mr. Erdman maintained his residency here until 1937 before the building took on a number of various tenants. Each of these tenants, as part of their acquisition, inherited a lengthy deed from the original construction which restricted the building’s usage from any noisy or smelly activities such as stables, tanneries, blacksmith shops, or glue factories.

Friars Club
Friars Club
In 1956 the building was acquired by a private club for members of theater, the Friars, who opened their doors in November 1957. The Friars began in 1904 when a series of eleven press agents began to get together at a local restaurant known as Browne’s Chophouse. Back in those days it was not uncommon for people to pretend to maintain press credentials to mingle with celebrities or members of theater (a trait which many may argue still exists today). To differentiate amongst the legitimate versus imposters, an informal social club began to form where true industry folk began to gather and hang out together. This group eventually formalized and dubbed themselves the Friars (from the Latin term “frater” which translates into “brother”).

Since their formation the Friars has played host to a multitude of celebrities and in 1949 they began a tradition of honoring some of their member’s grand achievements by holding a dinner, or a “roast.” The first honoree of these roasts was Maurice Chevalier. Since then those who have been “roasted” include: Sammy Davis, Jr., George Burns, Lucille Ball, Johnny Carson, Don Rickles, Barbra Streisand, George Steinbrenner, Hugh Hefner, Bruce Willis,Chevy Chase, Billy Crystal, Donald Trump, Don King and Quentin Tarantino. Comedy Central used to air these between 1998 and 2002. After this time, the network began their own roasts which are not be confused with those hosted by the Friars Club.

When the Friars Club first opened it was created as a males-only member club. It wasn’t until 1988 that females were allowed. Liza Minnelli was the first female member of the organization and today women represent nearly one-fourth of the membership. In 1983, prior to the allowance of women, Phyllis Diller actually donned the costume of a man and successfully snuck in during the roast of Sid Caesar. When asked about the incident, Ms. Diller commented, “It was the funniest and dirtiest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.”

Although the club has long maintained a level of exclusivity of theater professionals, in recent years membership may be as associated with the almighty dollar as it may be with professional entertainers. Current bylaws now allow for up to thirty percent of club members to not be associated with the theater. New members are required though to pay approximately $10,500 to join the club ($7500 for initiation and $3000 for annual dues).

Although price discounts do exist for “younger” members, fees are still sufficiently high enough to maintain a high level of clientele. And for those who are able to swing the fees and are interested in getting in? Well, the Club does still require all potential members to undergo an interview process and you must be personally recommended by two existing members.