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Online Extra
June 2004

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Beyond the Mall: Other Must-See Sights in D.C.

America's Front Yard Online Extra
Photograph by Melissa Stillman

Sculpture of Albert Einstein at the National Academy of Sciences

By Melissa Stillman

The next time you're in Washington, D.C., and want to avoid the crowds at the Mall, follow National Geographic Society staff members' suggestions for off-the-beaten-path places to go in the nation's capital. Check out this list of their favorites—among the most beautiful, fun, and mind-expanding sights in the city.

Albert Einstein Memorial
Valerie May, senior editor for National Geographic Magazine Online, thinks nothing of climbing onto the lap of the larger-than-life sculpture of Albert Einstein, located at the southwest corner of the National Academy of Sciences. "How can I resist?" she asks. "Several of us recently went on a midnight tour of the monuments—that's the best time to go—and took a group photo in Einstein's lap."

For your own close encounter, walk west down Constitution Avenue. Before you hit 23rd Street, across from the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial, you'll see a path to the right leading to the bronze statue created by sculptor Robert Berks in 1974. Hidden among the trees, the representation of the celebrated scientist sits casually, notes in hand, and seems to contemplate the map of the universe at his feet. The gentle look on his face beckons children—and no small number of adults—to climb on the 12-feet-high (4-meters-high) statue for a fun photo opportunity.


Library of Congress
Of all the grand buildings in Washington, the Library of Congress' Jefferson Building can be regarded as awe inspiring. At least that's how Bob Booth, managing editor for National Geographic Magazine, describes it.

Located at 101 Independence Avenue SE, the Jefferson Building opened its doors to the public on November 1, 1897. It was designed in an Italian Renaissance style by Washington architects John L. Smithmeyer and Paul J. Pelz. Today, with nearly 128 million items in its collection, the library is known as the largest in the world.

Bob has always been fascinated, in particular, by the building's Main Reading Room, which, according to him, is "perhaps the most spectacular indoor space in Washington." Its domed ceiling stretches 160 feet (49 meters) above the floor of the center of the room. The female figure at the top of the dome, painted by Edwin Blashfield, represents "Human Understanding." Beneath the eight semicircular windows surrounding the room are eight marble columns supporting ten-foot- (three-meter-) tall female figures. These figures were built to represent features of civilized life: religion, commerce, history, art, philosophy, poetry, law, and science.

The striking design and tranquil atmosphere of the room make it a perfect place to sit back and relax, do research, or take a look at one of the rare books the library has on public display. You can visit the Library of Congress online at for more information.


Govinda Gallery
The seclusion and ambiance of the Govinda Gallery at 1227 34th St. NW
are only part of what draws Gina Martin, photographer representative in Image Sales, to return again and again. Gallery owner Chris Murray is the other. "Visitors get the personal treatment," she says. "Chris takes the time to make you feel at home. He loves to talk about photography and the exhibits while you stroll around the small, two-room location." And the fact that his friendships have included famous photographers such as Andy Warhol and Annie Liebowitz just adds to the experience.

There's something for every taste at the Govinda Gallery. Following a recent hip-hop exhibit, the gallery is displaying Sports Illustrated photographer Walter Iooss's images of famous classic golfers from May 21 through July 3. To keep updated on the latest exhibits, you can visit

National Building Museum
The architecture of this 1885 building makes it a real Washington jewel and a favorite of magazine researchers Patricia Kellogg and Mary McPeak. Located at 401 F St. NW, the building was designed in 1881 by civil engineer and U.S. Army General Montgomery C. Meigs to house the Pension Bureau. The museum's Great Hall reflects an opulent Italian Renaissance design, with a central fountain and eight massive Corinthian columns, each measuring 75 feet (23 meters) tall and eight feet (two meters) in diameter.

Since it began serving as the National Building Museum in 1985, it has become a space for the exchange of ideas and information about issues such as the renewal of urban centers, suburban growth, and the preservation of landmarks and communities. The museum also offers classes and hosts films and lectures about the past, present, and future of the building industry. It's open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. You can check out an updated schedule of events and exhibits at


Hillwood Museum & Gardens
Upon her death in 1973, Marjorie Merriweather Post, heir to the Post cereal fortune, bequeathed to the public this 25-acre (10-hectare) estate at 4155 Linnean Ave. NW, along with her extensive collection of French and Russian art. Translations Director Kay Bazo and production coordinator Caroline Wallinger are glad she did. "Hillwood is different than other museums because you feel as if you're in someone's home," says Caroline. "All of the objects were there when Marjorie Merriweather Post lived there. From the moment she moved into the estate, she knew she wanted it to be a museum someday."

With help from some of the most renowned landscape architects of the 1950s, Post created outdoor rooms bordered by hedges or large plantings and highlighted by pools, fountains, and statuary. The formal designs transitioned gracefully into the woodland setting of nearby Rock Creek Park. Because she lived at the estate during the spring and fall, Marjorie Merriweather Post filled her gardens with plants that offer the greatest impact in those seasons. More than 4,000 azaleas bloom through April and May, accompanied by a profusion of rhododendron, spirea, lilacs, and viburnum. From September through November, chrysanthemums blend colors with the changing hues of deciduous trees. The greenhouses are still home to her collection of more than 2,000 orchids.

Hillwood is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Make a reservation by calling 202-686-5807. Spring and summer seasons are crowded, so make reservations a few months in advance. For complete and updated details, go to


Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Towpath
Magazine researcher Nancie Majkowski found her treasured D.C. location just off the busy intersection of M Street and Wisconsin Avenue in the historic neighborhood of Georgetown. If you're standing at that corner, walk south toward the Potomac River and you'll find a dirt path that will take you all the way down to the serenity of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Towpath running parallel to M Street.

After the American Revolution, merchants in eastern cities wanted to tap into the resources and markets farther west. The Potowmack Company was organized in 1785 to create navigable waterways along the Potomac River that would reach the fertile Ohio Valley. Since its completion in 1850, the canal has been considered the best preserved 19th-century canal in the United States and became a national historical park in 1971.

For a trip back to the 1870s, ride along the canal in a boat pulled by a mule walking along the towpath. Park rangers dressed in period clothing tell the stories of families who lived and worked along the canal. For information about the hour-long tours, go to


Roller Hockey Games
If you're looking for a good workout or to just meet some interesting people, Licensing researcher Kirsten Fitrell says the Stuart Hobson School on 5th and F Streets NE is the place to be every Sunday at 9 a.m. That's where she gets together with the Capitol Hill In-Line League (CHILL) F Street Gang for a good game of roller hockey. Her 15-year-old son has been playing with the group since he was about eight. "He's the only kid on the team, and now he's better than the rest of them," she says. "So they don't cut him any breaks anymore." Organized in 1993, CHILL has the longest-running scheduled pick-up roller hockey game in the Washington, D.C., area.

During daylight savings time, games are also held every Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at Hine Upper Grade Center on 7th and C Streets SE. Check out the team at


United States National Arboretum
It's hard to miss 444 acres (180 hectares) of natural and meticulously landscaped beauty, but the National Arboretum, located at 3501 New York Ave. NE, is far away enough from the usual must-see D.C. sights that it truly is one of Washington's best-kept secrets. "It's never crowded, so I feel as if I have it all to myself," says Cassandra Franklin-Barbajosa, senior writer for National Geographic Magazine Online. "It's like having my own private estate." Her favorite part is the Herb Garden, a fragrant, colorful retreat with grape arbors and stone pathways that invite you to stroll among plants traditionally used for medicine, perfume, dyes, and more. "In most public gardens, visitors are discouraged from handling the plants," she says. "But not here. Each section of the Herb Garden actually has a small sign that reads 'Please Touch.' "

Park hours are Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For an in-depth look at the Arboretum, visit


Jack's Boat Rental
A real adventure awaits you off M Street under the Key Bridge in Georgetown. That's where you'll find Jack's Boat Rental on the bank of the Potomac River. Amanda MacEvitt, producer for National Geographic Magazine Online, raves about the kayak and canoe rentals offered at $10 an hour or $30 a day. You can rent a boat and spend part of your afternoon paddling about a quarter of a mile up the Potomac River and around Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The dock is quiet at the end of the day, and the view is beautiful. You can sit back and relax at a picnic table or hang out on the dock and take in the setting sun.

Frank Baxter, son of the late Jack, runs the operation. And he's done a great job of keeping the place looking and feeling like a riverside hideaway. The small office is in a shack right on the dock, and canoes and kayaks are piled as high and as far as you can see. It's a popular spot for nature lovers and a refreshing break from the expanding development of Georgetown's waterfront. Call 202-337-9642 for further information.


Raven Grill
Craving a good hole-in-the-wall? The Raven Grill could be the place for you. Art production and design coordinator Josh Korenblat says it's one of his favorite bars because of its atmosphere and because it has been around a long time. Located at 3125 Mount Pleasant Ave. NW, the watering hole has been open since 1935 and has all the character you'd expect of such an establishment: a lone neon sign in front, cash-only policy, ratty bar stools, old jukebox, and walls lined with photographs of legendary rock stars. The music is good, and the bartenders are friendly. But don't order an apple martini unless you don't mind becoming the joke of the neighborhood.


U Street/Shaw Neighborhood

Cara Biega, associate producer for National Geographic Television, calls the U Street/Shaw neighborhood, particularly the area around 12th and U Streets, "a hidden gem."

The historic community once known as "Duke Ellington's neighborhood" has again become a popular area of interest. It predates New York City's Harlem as a mecca for African Americans where famous entertainers, black-owned businesses, and impressive theaters made U Street the place to be. Some of the nation's first picket lines walked these streets in the 1930s when the New Negro Alliance protested discrimination in hiring by local businesses. In April1968, the corner of 14th and U Streets was the flashpoint for riots that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. That violence destroyed many businesses in the neighborhood. Now, after years of restoration, restaurants, shops, and a new U Street/African-American Civil War Memorial/Cardoza Metro stop (on the Green Line) have opened, bringing a renaissance to the community.

You can go on a walking tour called the "City Within a City: Greater U Street Heritage Trail" and see the new African-American Civil War Memorial, the Lincoln Theater, and many other historic buildings. For information about guided walking tours, call 202-829-WALK (202-829-9255).


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