“Surprises Just Down The Street” | Blog #34

“Surprises Just Down The Street” | Blog #34

Wednesday broke sunny and warm, a perfect antidote to Tuesday night’s rain. My first stop of the morning was out at National Presbyterian Church to meet an old Bethlehem friend who teaches at the National Presbyterian Church School. Unfortunately, my friends on the church staff, Donna Marsh and Quinn Fox, are both away. Donna is on her own sabbatical and Quinn, along with his wife Nancy (Chair of The Outreach Foundation Board), is on a tour of the Holy Land with Whitworth College. National is the first church I joined. Just a block or two off of American University’s campus, I joined Maundy Thursday my freshman year. My home church had an intensive 2-year confirmation process that, because of my work schedule, I could not do. National offered 6 week new member classes and I was able to make 4 of the 6 so they let me in! 

For those of you reading my blog, you’ll remember my mentioning that National was Dwight D. Eisenhower’s church and that the chapel on the grounds of his Presidential Library/Museum looked like it was designed by the same architect. While I’m not much a fan of modern architectural idioms, I always enjoyed worshipping in National and find the stained glass remarkable.

After visiting Dale, I returned to the hotel, parked the car, and walked up to the Phillips Collection to meet Ben. The Phillips is a Washington jewel. Like Frick in New York or the Walters in Baltimore, the Phillips started out as a family collection that through generosity became public museums housed in old family mansions. Although modern buildings have been added to expand the collections, one still can appreciate the Gilded Age Glory of the family home and collection. Ben had generously suggested the tour and I hadn’t done any reading ahead of time, so I was delightfully surprised to discover the Phillips was hosting a major exhibit from Picasso’s Blue Period. What a joy! And such a bonus to see “old friends” from the permanent collection. 

My last semester at AU I had a job just a few blocks away on the other side of DuPont Circle. It was funded by the old “southern” Presbyterian Church – the PCUS. I was hired by to work with an organization called the World Hunger Education Service and my job was to organize and intensive two-week “Politics of Hunger” seminars for Presbyterian Hunger Action Enablers from across the church. Through the last semester and into the summer after graduation I worked in an office overlooking DuPont Circle and would often visit the Phillips over lunch or after work. 

After the art, Ben joined me for a tour of a mansion that I had heard about the day before. The Heurich Mansion is a Victorian Pile on New Hampshire Ave between DuPont and Washington Circles. It was literally two blocks away from my hotel. I knew the building, because of its size and grandeur, but always thought it was an embassy or converted office building. The night before my friend MB Theisen told me it was a museum with a groomed garden that made for an oasis in the city. It turns out the building was built by one of DC’s leading citizens, Christian Heurich “The King of Been in the District.” Seriously! He had a brewing empire that survived the anti-German wave of the Great War, Prohibition, and the challenges of competition from large national breweries. Christian died in ’45 at age 102. The house is distinctive because not only has it retained the Victorian integrity on the exterior, but on the interior as well. It boasts 14’ ceilings and intricately carved wood throughout on all four levels. It was an absolute surprise and revelation. After the excellent historical tour, we ended in the carriage house at the rear of the garden where we could purchase newly brewed beer from the old “Senate Beer” recipe that was Heurich Brewing Co’s most popular brand. Sitting in the biergarten amongst the trees and flowers, enjoying an afternoon with Ben was a perfected ending for a great day.