This past Saturday, your Notebook biked a few minutes to Arena Stage for the theater’s Community Day.
A long line of people — in good spirits despite the long line — was waiting to get into Arena Stage’s costume sale. Many other visitors wandered around the theater’s complex and restaurant, taking in the dramatic space located at 1101 6th St. SW in the burgeoning Southwest Waterfront area.
Molly Smith walked around, too. She blended right in with the crowds. Except for the workers and volunteers, it seemed few knew who this smiling woman might be. Smith is beginning her 20th year as Arena’s artistic director, where she has brought national theatrical recognition to the theater from its relatively humble origins to today’s soaring, glass-surrounded palace.
Arena is a nonprofit and considered one of the premier regional theaters in the nation. But Saturday was hometown day. Children were getting face-painted, live music was playing, people were being mesmerized by artists from the New York Trapeze School near Nationals Park, and Halloween wannabes were snatching up costume apparel at ridiculously low prices.
We say all this because here in the “swamp” that the president and his admirers condemn, we are real people doing real things that bring life to our diverse families and communities. We live here. Thank you very much.
Arena’s history dates back to 1950. Its boxy theater at today’s Southwest location opened in 1960 when the neighborhood was being converted into the stark architectural complexes of brick and concrete popular at the time. In the early 2000s, Arena nearly joined the movement to the 14th Street NW theater scene. Some thought it a mistake when Arena stayed in Southwest. But no more.
It opened its masterpiece complex in 2010 just as the Southwest renaissance and $2 billion development The Wharf was beginning. Now, Arena is in the center of one of the city’s newest and most dynamic locations. (Yes, the Notebook moved to this neighborhood 10 years ago.)
■ A different image. Meanwhile, in Northeast, a different revival is occurring in the neighborhood that borders the Amtrak rails at 3rd and R streets.
On the face of an old warehouse, visible from the Metropolitan Branch Trail, a 160-foot-long mural depicts the construction of the Lincoln Memorial. The president himself is almost incidental to the mural, which mainly features the African-American workers who helped move, cut and place the 28 blocks of stone used for the Lincoln statue.
Muralist Garin Baker won a nationwide contest for the $50,000 project. It’s part of the Art on the Trails program and a citywide effort by the District government to enliven spaces and encourage redevelopment. “In 1916 and 1917, the sons and grandsons of slaves, first- and second-generation freemen, African-Americans, quarried those stones,” Baker told WAMU 88.5.
“While many cities across the country and in our region have been taking down controversial monuments, in one corner of the District, a memorial of sorts has been created,” Armando Trull reported on WAMU 88.5. “But the mural isn’t intended to honor Lincoln. That image, in tones of gray, black and white, is almost an afterthought.”
When NBC4 was doing our own story on the mural recently, the Metropolitan Branch Trail was alive with joggers, walkers and cyclists. A crew from the Washington Area Bicyclist Association was patrolling the trail, removing sticks, stones and other debris from the pavement.
And all were transfixed by the mural. Cyclist Mya Zeronis said she usually zoomed by this site because there was “nothing to look at.” Now she slows to enjoy it. And the bicyclist association’s trail ranger, Thomas Worth, declared the mural “great. We can all use a little more art in our life.”
Yes, we can. Find the mural and walk or bike by. You’ll be glad you did.
■ Watch that space. NBC4 reported last week that the Washington National Cathedral is considering speeding up a decision on what to do with two stained-glass windows that honor Confederate leaders Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.
A year after the 2015 church massacre in Charleston, S.C., the Cathedral leaders removed two pieces of glass painted with the Confederate battle flag. It said then it would reconsider the four stained-glass panels and make a decision by summer 2018.
Now the Cathedral says in the wake of the Charlottesville, Va., violence, it will make a decision “soon” on whether to remove the panels or add historical context to them. The panels were installed in the 1950s with the support of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The panels are nearly lost in the size and magnificence of the Cathedral, but it seems the panels themselves may be destined for removal.
There is another, more prominent Civil War remembrance in the Cathedral. It is two hands holding an olive branch, a symbol of the reuniting of the Union. No one objects to that.
Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.