Thursday, August 20, 2015

Yards Park - KEEP OUT

Lounging on the lounges

Last Sunday, I ran away from home. This came shortly after My Prince, with a smile, announced that it was mid-August. Summer, he said most peppily, is almost over.

A tidal wave of images ensued. Hanging at the pool, literally. Elbows propped on the coping, nose in book, legs wriggling in the cool.  Beach trips, bags packed with Pringles (the only chip to stay crunchy and sand free, as long as you remember to put the lid on). Hours of alternately staring at a book and the waves. Moving the chair down to the water's edge to stare at more pages and waves. Sunburn. Gin and tonics on the porch.

Absolutely none of which happened this year. There was this that and the other tedious thing occupying our weekends, which meant no pool no beach oh BAH.

Since Baby married the lovely Pete there is no longer the goof-off imperative of having to entertain The Child, even unto the furthest reaches of childhood, which matched what I consider middle age in length. 

Riverwalk to Navy Yard

On this day he agreed, with martyred eyes, to go to the pool. I said thanks but no, sniff, do as you wish and I'll do...

So I packed my trusty pocket Sony and the new House Beautiful (with its unappetizing shades of orange Fall cover, just to rub in the misery) and marched a mile in the 95 degree heat to Yards Park which, several years in, and despite a raft of awards, remains one of Washington's least discovered pleasures.

At the west end there's the baseball stadium, which alternates concertos by the world's Taylor Swifts and the thwack of Nat's games, punctuated by fireworks. To the east is the walled fortress of the Washington Navy Yard, for which the park was named, which bustles industriously on weekdays but is nearly abandoned on weekends.

Bridging the two is the Park. There are marvelously cool gardens and fountains, a futuristic soaring bridge, restaurants and sidewalk cafes, a lawn for picnics, and a quiet glen with banks of built-in lounges to doze or read or sketch out some fantasy of turning the attic into a master bath, reached by a ladder up the wall -- I mean, how else are we going to get another bath in this house?

There appears to be an unspoken code of silence under the trees. The quiet people are here, doing quiet things.
The wallowing pool and, at left, the waterfall

An enormous shallow pool for wallowing has concrete pads for I don't know, posing like Greek statues maybe. The Kardashians would find a use. There's a waterfall at one end to jump through (in the tropics that would be the swim up bar, but you can't have everything. I suppose).

Notice how empty the pool is? This is early afternoon on an August Sunday. No whistle blowing lifeguards, no admission gates or fees, no eyesore sign of regulations.  Just a bunch of contented adults cooling their heels and kids splashing mindlessly about as they do. Probably peeing in there as well, which is why no adult is sitting down.
The park is fronted by a segment of the Riverwalk, which is actually twenty miles of walking, biking, and running trail on either side the of the Anacostia -- a beautiful river that leads into the more famous Potomac. (Unfortunately it's somewhat tainted by its association with a shall we say difficult (though topographically magnificent) part of town and various bouts with foul floating whatnots over the years).

Behind the park, office buildings and apartments with terraces and rooftop pools are sprouting. New townhouses mingle with old on side streets. A few nice hotels have gone up. There's a fancy gym for the aspirationally svelte and a trapeze school offering curbside entertainment, or classes if you've got the guts.

Despite its brand newness, this area is the oldest in the Federal City (which did not include Georgetown), dating to the 1790's and the construction of the Capitol and the Navy Yard.
Under the waterfall, coolest place in town

The wading pool reflects the series of inlets carved like gapped teeth into the river bank, which once led to wharves where marble and sandstone arrived from far-flung places for the building of the Capitol. This was then horse-hauled up 8th Street, now known as Barracks Row, then west on Pennsylvania Avenue to the construction site. Food stuffs arrived for the original Eastern Market which was erected in 1805.

Trapeze School New York
The area continued to bustle until after WWII, and then fell into disrepair. Public housing mingled with a handful of derelict row houses. A few corner stores and bars were interspersed with a random assortment of buildings containing  mysterious (because who then was interested?) public works.

Then, about 20 years ago, a series of extremely tedious meetings were held that eventually spat out a half-assed Plan to put up a monolithic corridor of office buildings with no space for shops or restaurants.  Workers, it was eventually agreed, could take a shuttle bus to Barracks Row for lunch.

That's enough of that story.

I don't recall mention of the park or the Riverwalk in the several boring years I spent at these interminable meetings, at which the high point was donuts.

Thankfully, like the mysterious fire that gutted the second Eastern Market -- erected in 1873, in the adjacent residential neighborhood of Capitol Hill -- and ended decades of angsty meetings about what to do, a cool new neighborhood emerged and somehow, someone, got this park done.

Now it just needs a few visitors. Or does it? Maybe not. Forget I said anything.

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