DC’s Underground “Cathedral” To Be Revealed

One of the most iconic structures in America may be about to reveal its hidden depths to the public.

The Lincoln Memorial, which opened to the public in 1922, is well-known to anyone who has visited the Capital or seen it on film. It was designed by architect Henry Bacon (1866-1924), working with his frequent collaborator, sculptor Daniel Chester French (1850-1931). As a monument to one of our greatest Presidents, it stands as a singularly impressive piece of architecture at the western end of the National Mall here in Washington. As a public gathering place, its steps have served as a podium for significant historic events, such as soprano Marian Anderson’s legendary performance of 1939, or Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech in 1963.

The building has long served as a backdrop in popular films and television, as well, from “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” to “Forest Gump”. Clint Eastwood and Rene Russo sat on its steps eating ice cream at the end of 1993’s “In The Line Of Fire” for example. Mark Wahlberg came upon an unpleasant surprise there at the conclusion of the 2001 remake of “The Planet Of The Apes”, where director Tim Burton chose to play with the monumental sculpture of Abraham Lincoln, rather than the Statue of Liberty, as had been the case in the 1968 original.

What most people do not know however, is that this massive Greek temple – Doric on the outside, Ionic on the inside – sits atop an equally massive foundation which is, if not as impressive as the structure which it supports, nevertheless a work of wonder in itself. The undercroft, as this area is known, has been described as a “cathedral-like” space, and with good reason. Rising to three stories in height at its highest point, what is essentially a concrete basement has some rather grand passages, that would look perfectly at home in one of the dwarf kingdoms in “The Lord of the Rings”:


Thanks to a gift from philanthropist David Rubenstein, who wants to see the Lincoln Memorial fully restored for its 100th birthday in 2022, the National Park Service is now planning to rehabilitate this underground space in order to expand the useable footprint of the building. Currently a warren of crisscrossing pipes, electrical conduits, and – presumably – rat holes, the hope is that the undercroft could be reconfigured to permit areas for exhibition space and visitor facilities. This would hopefully allow the main floor of the building, which houses the monumental statue of President Lincoln, to be freed from the ignominy of pedestrian things such as a gift shop.

In order for this to happen, a number of bodies charged with preserving DC’s historic buildings will need to give approval, and that is no small thing. Previous attempts to make use of this invisible, wasted space have been shot down before. Yet given the new underground visitors centers at the Capitol (currently open) and the Vietnam Memorial (opening in 2020), it is not hard to imagine that a similar solution may be forthcoming for the Lincoln Memorial.

Filmmakers should not get too excited however: as of 2017, filming from within the Memorial is currently banned, and presumably that ban would extend to any basement rehab, as well.

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Seeing DC: Summer Architectural Tours Of The Capital With NCAS

I’m heading off on vacation to Spain today, so blog posts may be sporadic, but you can check my progress by visiting my Instagram page

In the meantime, I wanted to share this opportunity for seeing some of the interesting architecture of Washington DC metropolitan region, if you happen to find yourself in the Nation’s Capital this summer. The National Civic Art Society will be taking a look at a range of styles and subjects, from the British colonial past, to the Founding Fathers, to the horrors of Brutalist architecture. Definitely worth checking out or sharing with someone you know!

National Civic Art Society 2017

“Our Classical Heritage” Tours of D.C.

The National Civic Art Society is proud to announce the launch of our 2017 “Our Classical Heritage” walking tours. These tours are fashioned for those who wish a greater understanding of why and how the District of Columbia came to be a classically designed city. You will learn of the ancient antecedents of our political philosophies, of the stylistic precedents of our architectural forms, and of the Founders’ classical vision.

About the tour guide: Michael Curtis studied classical architecture at the University of Michigan, and painting, sculpture, and engraving in Florence, Italy. He has been a sculptor for more than 25 years. Major commissions include The History of Texas at the Texas Rangers Ball Park in Arlington, Texas, the largest American frieze produced in the 20th Century, as well as portrait busts for the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court’s Thurgood Marshall Building, and many other public venues. His specialty is portraiture and fine medals. His book Our Classical Heritage: A Guide to the Political Philosophy and Aesthetic Precedent of Washington, the District of Columbia, will be published in fall 2017.

Tours are limited to three hours in length and begin at 10 AM at the location indicated. The cost per tour is $10. NCAS members, students, interns, and Hill staffers may obtain free tickets by e-mailing info@civicart.org. You must RSVP in advance. If you have any questions, please e-mail info@civicart.org or call (202) 670-1776.

Tickets are available at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/our-classical-heritage-national-civic-art-society-walking-tours-tickets-34436469407

Tour I: Washington, the Classical City — June 3

The ancient cause of liberty; the immediate reason for independence; the classical principle of our convictions; the aesthetic model of a civil society.

The National Mall, from the Washington Monument

The Washington Monument

The Jefferson Memorial

Meet at the southeast corner of Constitution Ave. NW and 17th St. NW.

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Tour II: National, Political, and Personal Liberty — June 10

The various aspects of liberty considered in exemplary statues.

Lafayette Park, Lafayette Statue, et alia

Alexander Hamilton Statue

The National Liberty Memorial

Meet at the entrance of Teaism at 800 Connecticut Ave NW.

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Tour III: Freedom and Sacrifice — June 17

A consideration of freedom, sacrifice, and the architectural style best suited to remembrance.

Lincoln Memorial

Vietnam War Veterans Memorial

Korean War Veterans Memorial

The National WWII Memorial

Meet at the west end of the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool.

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Tour IV: Brutal Mistakes — June 24

Hubris and progressive misdirection; gradual abdication of citizen responsibility for morals and art; policy, an instrument to undermine traditional culture.

L’Enfant Plaza: Robert C. Weaver Federal Building, Housing and Urban Development, James V. Forrestal Building Department of Energy Building, L’Enfant Plaza Hotel

The Lyndon B. Johnson Department of Education Building

The Hubert H. Humphrey Department of Health and Human Services Building

Meet at the glass pyramid in front of the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel at480 L’Enfant Plaza SW.

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Tour V: British America — July 8

We trace in Alexandria, Virginia our growth from quaint colonial villagers to benevolent masters of the world.

Carlyle House and Lower King Street Warehouses

Prince Street and Local Alexandria

The Lyceum and the Confederate Statue

George Washington Masonic National Memorial

Meet at the front gate of Carlyle House at 121 N Fairfax St, Alexandria, VA.

The Annunciation on Capitol Hill

No, this is not a report on a political candidate announcing their intent to run for President. Rather, just a brief post this morning to share what a beautiful evening it was last night at Holy Comforter and St. Cyprian Parish on Capitol Hill. For those who have never visited, do make a point to drop in sometime, as it’s quite an interesting, vibrantly decorated building.

To commemorate THE Annunciation, i.e. when the Angel Gabriel was sent to that little village called Nazareth as described in the beginning of St. Luke’s Gospel, the parish celebrated Mass in the Extraordinary Form, featuring music by late 16th/early 17th century composer Hans Hassler.

Rather than do a play by play review, I thought I would share an audio file of the parish schola singing the “Sanctus”. Even without being at full strength last evening, they did a splendid job of bringing peace and a reflective mood to the celebration. Amazing that less than a year ago, they were singing Dan Schutte claptrap.

With a very good experience at Confession with Monsignor Pope beforehand, and dinner at a nearby tavern with some clergy friends afterward (thanks to the unknown individual who bought us dinner!) it was a wonderful Wednesday, and a good pause before heading into the intensity of Holy Week.

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Window at Holy Comforter and St. Cyprian, Capitol Hill