Monday, November 30, 2015

Winter holiday fun in Old Town, Alexandria, Virginia

The Christmas and holiday season in Old Town Alexandria is very festive. There are lots of holiday events and fun for all ages. I'm a bit late to the party in finishing this post this year to share November events, but I did want to share some of the events going on. 

[ Note: This post was originally written for a specific date/weekend in 2015 but has been updated to reflect annual traditions in Alexandria ]

Campagna Center's Annual Scottish Christmas Walk Parade and Weekend

The parade honors Alexandria's Scottish heritage and features over 100 Scottish clans dressed in traditional garb playing Scottish music as they march through Old Town. This perennial event takes place the first weekend in December with the parade starting at 11 a.m. on Saturday. This parade features over 100 marching units and typically draws a big crowd. 2015 marked the parade’s 45th year.  

The Campagna Center is located at 418 S. Washington Street, and you can learn more about the other festivities surrounding this event on the official website. 

Torpedo Art Factory's Holiday Open House 

Each December the Torpedo Art Factory Center features a holiday event. Visitors are invited to the studios, which stay open late, to do some holiday shopping to find those unique gifts. Every year a new theme to the event is named. Past activities have included a children's scavenger hunt, raffles, giveaways, live music, snacks, and a special visit from Santa.

If you are shopping for the art aficionado in your life, this may be a great place to get your shopping done. The Torpedo Art Factory Center is located at 105 Union St., in Old Town right on the waterfront. 

Carlyle House's Annual Soldier's Christmas Open House

Alexandria is tightly entwined with Colonial America and its rich history is still very present today due to the wonderful preservation that goes on in Old Town. One of the reminders of early American history is Carlyle House. 

Every year, coinciding with the Scottish Walk parade day, Carlyle House holds its own event to re-enact how soldiers lived and celebrated Christmas during Revolutionary times. 

Visitors can see military drills, music and other festivities in full living history. Visitors can expect to see military drills, music, and other festivities with costumed living history members portraying 18th-century soldiers from the First Virginia Regiment. In the past, food and beverages were also shared. Learn about Army medicine during this era. Also, there will be Colonial games for the kids.

Carlyle House is located at 121 N. Fairfax St., Alexandria, Va. 22314. In addition to regular tours, many special events are held throughout the year.

Alexandria Archaeology Museum's Ornament Decorating Workshop

Every year during the holiday season, the museum hosts a free event where visitors can decorate and take home dough ornaments. These ornaments are designed to replicate the museum's own pottery collection; a great hands-on event for the kids! The Alexandria Archaeology Museum is located at the Torpedo Factory Art Center (3rd floor) at 105 N. Union Street. For more details on this event and others, you can visit their website (scroll down to see this event).  

Parade of Lights Holiday Boat Parade

This annual parade takes place down on the waterfront in Old Town Alexandria. Boat owners decorate their vessels and compete for prizes. Visitors can come down to the riverfront and see the boats cruise along the Potomac River. The fun typically starts at 5:30 p.m.
Early December is usually a busy time in Old Town!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday weekend. Thank you for stopping by and checking out my posts.

Today's post features a photo of a turkey pardoned by President Obama in 2013. Photo taken at Mount Vernon.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

10 fun facts about the Old Post Office Tower Building (Washington D.C.)

The Old Post Office building, part of the Federal Triangle in Washington D.C., is one of my favorite structures in Washington. It used to house some eateries and souvenir shops, along with the elevator up to the bell tower, which is run by the National Park Service (NPS).

Today, that's all changed.

The Trump Organization has been steadily renovating the historic building after it was granted a long-term lease in 2013. If you’ve been downtown over the past few years, you’d have seen the construction barriers up. 

Trump Hotel Washington DC

For today’s post, I thought it would be fun to look at some facts about this historic structure. What its future holds now will likely be very different from its past.

10 fun facts about the Old Post Office Tower Building

1. Construction of the Old Post Office took several years. The build began in 1892 and was completed in 1899. It was designed by Willoughby J. Edbrooke, who co-designed the Georgia State Capitol and many other notable buildings found in the United States.

2. The building was intended to be a post office and served in this capacity until the early 1930s when the agency relocated. 

3. The Old Post Office stands at 315 feet (nine stories) and its tower makes the building the third tallest in Washington D.C. (Not quite as tall as the Washington Monument, but still great views from the top!)

View of the Old Post Office. The building is much larger than this photo makes it appear since I couldn't get the shot in its entirety.

4. The structure is made of granite and set upon iron and steel; it is the first steel-framed structure to be built in Washington.

5. The Bells of Congress are housed in the building’s tower, in total, there are 10 bells. They were a Bicentennial gift from the Ditchley Foundation (located in Great Britain) and are replicas of the ones found at London’s Westminster Abbey. They were not installed in the tower until 1983.

6. This massive building was slated to be demolished just a few decades after it was built. The first consideration to raze it was back in 1934, but it was too expensive to do during the Great Depression. It was later slated to be demolished again, this time in 1970. Congress had even approved the measure. 

Another view of the Old Post Office Tower Building, which better illustrates how large this building really is.
7. The official name of this building was renamed to be the Nancy Hanks Center. Nancy Hanks, Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, was the woman who spearheaded a campaign to fight for the Old Post Office’s survival. She succeeded. In 1973, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and got a renovation. The name of the building was changed in 1983.

8. The Old Post Office Tower Building was used for multiple purposes over the years. After The Trump Organization leased it, a number of small eateries (think “mall”) and souvenir shops in what was known as the Old Post Office Pavilion were closed in 2014. There was also a small stage in the food court where live entertainment took place. The other space inside the building had also been used for federal offices and as storage. (I remember riding the elevator up the bell tower and seeing all the boxes lined against some of the walls in various rooms.)

I was standing in the tower looking down when I took this photo. You can see parts of the former Pavilion shops and eateries.

9. Come 2016, this iconic building will become a luxury hotel run by The Trump Organization. The company has signed a 60-year lease. According to a March 2016 announcement, the hotel anticipates a fall opening. (Edit: The Trump hotel had a "soft" opening in September 2016. The tower also had a "soft" re-opening in early spring 2017).

10. Visitors are still able to take the NPS-run tour and ride the elevator and, in this respect, history can be actively shared. NPS will still run the clock tower itself (my understanding is the elevator/tower is not part of the Trump lease). Although the future of the bells being rung is still unknown.

Old Post Office elevator

The Old Post Office Tower Building is located at 12th Street and Pennsylvania Ave., N.W. 

Thanks for reading! For more history about this historic building, I invite you to my earlier post that has more detail and photos.

Update May 2019: Last month I had the chance to take the elevator trip again and took some pics of the former pavilion. 

Looking down on the former pavilion area which now appears to have been transformed into a restaurant and other spaces.

Years ago you could see former offices (and boxes in storage). Today, these spaces are hotel rooms - this is the "hallway" that overlooks the main floor

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

More Christmas and holiday-themed events in Northern Virginia

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve begun to post about the various Christmas parades, holiday craft shows, and other fun events going on in Northern Virginia. Most of these posts are based on things I’ve seen or done in previous years. Today I wanted to post about a few events I haven’t gone to yet, but would love to check out. 

Plantation Christmas at Gunston Hall

Gunston Hall
Plantation Christmas takes place every December. Visitors to Gunston Hall can see Santa, ride in a horse-drawn carriage, enjoy warm cider by a fire and sample 18th century food prepared in the hearth kitchen. Costumed characters round out the experience as they greet you inside the home and throughout the grounds.  

Gunston Hall is a lovely property to visit. I’m really hoping to make this holiday themed event this year.

Sully Historic Site

Sully Historic Site hosts many educational programs throughout the year. We’ve been there a number of times for various events or programs, including some in December. In years past we’ve attended A Victorian Christmas and World War II Christmas at Home. It seems in recent years they are mixing it up a bit, still offering some candlelight tours, along with other fun stuff for history buffs. Additionally, there are programs geared towards kids. 

Many of Sully Historic Site’s holiday events do require pre-registration and some of these fill up quickly in my experience. See the official website for prices, tour times and to register (they also tell you how many spaces are available). 

Christmas Illuminations at Mount Vernon

Visiting Mount Vernon during the holidays is one of our annual traditions as we like to see Aladdin the Christmas Camel, the property’s decorations, and also tour the third floor of the mansion which is only opened on a limited basis each year.  

Visitors spending time with Aladdin
I haven't been to it yet, but Christmas Illuminations at Mount Vernon is a tradition on the historic property. Mount Vernon advertises the fireworks are choreographed to holiday music. It sounds as if there will also be a lot of other holiday themed fun going on these evenings as well.

Meadowlark’s Winter Walk of Lights

This is one I have heard of, but just haven’t made it yet.  This event kicks off in November and runs through early January. Meadowlark advertises more than 500,000 lights and displays and is about a .6 mile walk. Timed entry is required and the website recommends pre-purchase of your tickets (but a limited number of tickets can be purchased at the door each night).

This is only a handful of events going on, there are many more. So many places, so little time! I’ll continue to post as I visit and/or hear of other events.