National Geographic : 1957 Jan
Pennsylvania Avenue, Route of Presidents in a black velvet suit. Some choose to believe that Gilbert Stuart was the artist. Many more throw up their hands and hope for de cisive evidence. Others think that this portrait is a copy of a Stuart, perhaps by the English-born artist William Winstanley. One thing is sure: Gov ernment records for July 9, 1800, show that a warrant was issued for $800 for "a portrait full length of the late General Washington ... for the President's House." There is more certainty that this is the Washington portrait that Dolley Madison had removed from the frame and delivered into safe hands during the War of 1812. One frantic day in August, 1814, she wrote that she was "within sound of the cannon" that presaged the invasion of the Capital and burn ing of the White House by the British.* Leaving by way of the stately north por tico, we headed across the Avenue to Lafa yette Square where, despite a chill wind from the Potomac, people idled on benches and fed squirrels and pigeons. Everyone who hears about the plan pro posed some years ago to replace the old struc tures on the square with Government build ings gives a sigh of thanks that it failed. What would the historic old park do without its first private dwelling, Decatur House, and its church, little St. John's? Both are revered and preserved as prime examples of the skill of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, the Nation's first outstanding professional architect. Decatur House, facing the northwest cor ner and built for Stephen Decatur only a year before he was killed in a duel, wears a proud tradition. Among those who have lived here were Henry Clay, Secretary of State under John Quincy Adams, and Martin Van Buren while Secretary of State under Andrew Jack Page 92 - Boys Choir Leads Easter Recessional in Unfinished Washington Cathedral President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907 helped break ground for this Episcopal cathedral. Today the Gothic edifice is more than half completed. Stone for the pulpit (right) came from England's Canterbury Cathedral. Altar blocks were hewn from the quarry that supplied King Solomon's Temple. Columns 19 feet thick at left and right will support a 288-foot tower still to be erected. Before appointment to the choir, boys undergo six months of auditions. Successful candidates get scholarships to St. Albans School, close by. © National Geographic Society Volkmar Wentzel and Donald McBain, National Geographic Staff son. Recently the house with its furnishings was bequeathed by the late Mrs. Truxtun Beale to the care of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the use of its rooms offered the United States Navy for official entertaining. Opposite the square's northeast corner stands the old home of the Cosmos Club, which moved a few years ago into the Town send mansion on Massachusetts Avenue. The club's former quarters consist of several build ings joined and connected, and are now used as headquarters by the National Science Foundation. One of the buildings in the group is the house Dolley Madison occupied during her last years and in which she died. It is con siderably changed since then. Another is the Tayloe-Cameron House, known as the "Little White House" during the McKinley administration. A few yards away, toward the Avenue, a USO club entertains service men and women in the old Belasco Theater. Cows Grazed in Lafayette Square Not so many years ago the square was a grazing ground for livestock that wandered in from neighboring farms. Today it comes close to being Washington's "village green," shaded by giant elms, beeches, cypresses, magnolias, and many kinds of evergreen. Its squirrels and pigeons live extremely well, fattening on the peanuts and popcorn handed out by casual passers-by and "regulars" who come daily to the park for just that purpose. Oddly enough, Lafayette Square's central and most prominent piece of statuary honors Andrew Jackson rather than the French noble man for whom the park was named. The heroic figure of Old Hickory on a rearing, short-coupled charger was erected in 1853 the work of Clark Mills, a plasterer with no formal art training. The Lafayette bronze, which came later, stands in relative obscurity at the southeast corner. Statues of Count Rochambeau, Baron von Steuben, and Gen. Thaddeus Kosciusko, who also came from Europe to help the Ameri can cause in the Revolution, adorn the other corners. A buff-colored house, with dark-green shut ters and burnished brass knocker, stands near * The first name of President James Madison's wife is correctly spelled with an "e". She was baptized Dolley and spelled her given name this way when ever she wrote it. Usually she signed herself "D. P . Madison."