March 17, 2005
Cherry Blossoms Inspire Capital Walk
As the Cherry Blossom Festival kicks off on March 26, the spring weather descending on Washington, D.C., makes it great for walking among the cherry-inspired events throughout the nation's capital. And one neighborhood ripe for a stroll during a D.C. weekend getaway is prestigious Georgetown.
Shady tree-lined streets showcase a treasure trove of historic homes that look much the same as they did when George Washington and Thomas Jefferson walked them. Georgetown is a charming, hip mix of Old South and New North. It's the getaway of choice for savvy tourists and D.C. locals who want to do more than a visit to the Smithsonian Institution and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, or a walk along the National Mall to see the Washington Monument or the Capitol Building.
Established in 1751 in honor of King George II, Georgetown was once part of Maryland until it was annexed to Washington, D.C., in 1871. Dotted with Queen Anne "curb-up" row houses, elegant mansions and Federal townhouses, the neighborhood is a quiet residential community that is home to those making history today. Notables include New York Sen. Hillary Clinton (Whitehaven Street), Henry Kissinger (3026 P St.), Watergate reporter Bob Woodward (3027 Q St.) and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (3322 O St.).
Georgetown is bordered by Rock Creek Park on the east to Georgetown University on the west, and from R Street in the north to the Potomac River Edge in the south, Georgetown is a short walk from D.C.'s "other" trendy neighborhood, Dupont Circle.
Start your stroll by the waterway that defined its prosperity in the early 1800s. Barges pulled by mules floated tons of cargo through the calm and shallow Chesapeake and Ohio Canal until floods sent it into receivership in 1924. Its adjacent towpath is popular with cyclists, joggers, birdwatchers, skateboarders and anyone else who likes to wander through one of the only places you can walk without traffic. In less than 15 minutes on foot, the hustle of the city morphs into the serenity of the countryside. Once you pass under the 34th Street Bridge, vine-covered trees and wildflowers replace the flowerbeds and the bricks. If you're lucky, you may share the path with wood ducks, beavers, foxes and turtles. It's particularly busy when the sun sets at 5 p.m.
The oldest-standing building in Washington, D.C., is the Old Stone House (3051 M. St.) that sits incongruously in the middle of the main shopping drag. Built from locally quarried blue granite as a one-room dwelling in 1765, this pre-Revolutionary house has had a few facelifts over the years, including the addition of a second and third floor. Its handsome garden and majestic weeping willows is a patch of tranquility on an otherwise busy street, and an ideal spot to take a load off.
Further down M Street, at Wisconsin, is the gold-domed Riggs National Bank, which dates back to an era when only farmers and mechanics were allowed to use its services. North on Wisconsin to Martins Pub you'll find the local version of the bar from "Cheers." Every president from Harry S. Truman to George W. Bush has eaten there since it opened 70 years ago. Although discreet about his famous customers, fourth-generation owner Billy Martin may dish a secret or two if you ask nicely.
The Tudor Place House at 1644 31st St. was purchased with an $8,000 legacy from President Washington, and six generations of Martha Washington's descendants have lived in this manorial mansion since 1805. Perched on an entire city block and overlooking the former wilds of Virginia across the Potomac River, the long-fronted house with its striking white portico and four tall pillars is one of the notable survivals of Georgetown architecture. A sizeable collection of Washington relics remains and trees planted more than 100 years ago still stand on the sloping south lawn.
Also significant but less grandiose is the three-story chocolate-colored stucco house at 1527 35th St. It was home to Dr. Alexander Graham Bell and is believed to be where he contemplated the idea of the telephone. If the walls could talk at the Dumbarton House (2715 Q St.), it would be about that day in 1814 when Dolly Madison took refuge in one of its rooms as the British burned the White House. During World War II, the Red Cross moved in and today it's a museum owned by the National Society of Colonial Dames.
The first public market in the area stands uptown at 32nd and M streets. Built for butchers, fishmongers and dairy farmers in 1795, the current tenant is quite thematically correct. The gourmet food store, Dean and Deluca, has taken over continuing Georgetown's love affair with the freshest and the finest.
The Four Seasons Hotel at Pennsylvania and M streets is where people watching is at its finest. Kings, queens, dignitaries, politicos and movie stars pay big bucks for the hotels unrivalled discretion, but if you sit long enough in the lobby there's a good chance you'll see a famous face or two.
And then there are those cherry blossoms. If the weather forecasters are right, they should be in bloom by March 26, with celebrations lasting until April 10. This year marks the 93rd celebration of the original gift of the 3,000 Yoshino cherry trees from the city of Tokyo to the people of Washington, D.C.
Highlights include the Cherry Blossom Opening Ceremony (March 26 at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel), Smithsonian Kite Festival (April 2, 10 a.m.-4 p.m), Lantern Lighting Festival (April 3. 2:30 p.m. at the Tidal Basin Viewing Area), Cherry Blossom Parade (April 9, 10 a.m. Constitution Avenue from Seventh to 17th Street), Sakura Matsuri-Japanese Street Festival (April 9, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue).
There's also plenty to do for sports enthusiasts, including Bike the Blossoms tours, Blossoms Secrets Walking Tour, Cherry Blossom 10-Mile Race (April 3), Cherry Blossom Festival Rugby Tournament (April 9 -10) and the George Washington Invitational Crew Classic (April 9).
For more information, visit www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org or call (202) 547-1500.