National Geographic : 1967 Apr
Flowering Washington Illustrationsby National GeographicphotographerJAMES P. BLAIR Book Room of the Library of Congress to re read the journal of Henry Spelman, slain by Indians along the Potomac in 1623; and finally to the lonely towpath of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal where, in the last luminous light of a rifting sky, winter jasmine glows like a candle flame, setting early spring afire. No other kind of day will quite do, either, for that long journey into a man's past-to the old neighborhood of brick row houses where I spent the first seven years of my life. I had in mind a particular oak I longed to see-a galleon of adventure whose leafy sails unfurled to the winds of fortune and the iron whims of her young master. Ho for the Spanish Main, the Isles of Spice, Zanzibar.... I do believe my heart skipped a full beat when I turned the final corner. The old oak was not there. My first home was not there. The entire block where once had lived the McCarthys, the Rices, the Judges, the Walkers, the Petrones was not there any more. In its place was a rubble-strewn lot where a damp wind casually folded the pages of a month old newspaper. Capital's Greatest Change in Progress Forlorn, I stumbled through the pulverized brick until I found a friend, a battered lamp post still standing. In those bygone years, it had served as third base in our stickball games. As I leaned against it, remembering evenings thick with fireflies when we gathered there to play kick the can, a small boy saun tered by on his way home from St. Gabriel's School. I summoned him. "Why did they knock these houses down?" He considered for a moment. "I expect they're knocking this whole town down." "Nobody asked me about it," I said. He shouldered his book pack, mumbled to himself, and went on his way. In the days and weeks that followed, I found that obliteration of the scenes of my child hood is only a fraction of the most ambitious transformation in Washington's history. Planners, politicians, and private investors are renovating, remodeling, and rebuilding almost the entire Federal City that appears on Glory of nature and strength of man com bine in Washington's splendid landscapes; the gleaming Capitol, in a frame of magnolia blossoms, lifts its Statue of Freedom high above the skyline. Cherished for its verdant beauty and majestic monuments, the city today ventures extensive changes as it strives to realize the lofty vision of its planners.