Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Meigs' Pension

I took advantage of a nice day to head down to the National Building Museum near Chinatown.  I had seen something in the paper about an art-deco exhibit there that I wanted to check out.  I first became aware of the National Building Museum during Hillary Clinton's concession speech when she was running for the Democratic nomination.  I arrived to the grandiose hall, with giant corinthian columns running down the middle as people were setting up for a fancy evening event.  I arrived just in time for a tour, and we met by a presidential seal near the columns.  I will explain more about that seal later.  It was an intimate tour, there were only two of us on the tour.  The other "tourist" was the new director for volunteer services so technically she was the volunteer tour guide's boss he quipped to me.

Larry gave an excellent tour of the building which was once the U.S. Pension Building, built by Montgomery C. Meigs.  Meigs had been the Quartermaster General for the Union Army, a huge task of supplying the army with provisions and other logistical necessities. Meigs was an engineer and had been the engineer for the Capitol Dome and Cabin John Bridge.  For this structure, he essentially copied the facade of a building in Rome. The giant red brick building was home of the U.S. Pension Bureau, an extremely important governmental institution during its day.  Apparently, pensions from the Civil War took up one quarter of the government's GDP in its day, for all the vets, war widows and other assorted pensioners.  The exterior is marked by a ribbon frieze of terra cotta statues related to the Civil War, of different soldiers and units.  The building was created in red brick in order to be fire resistant so that all the records would be safe.

Meanwhile, the ornate interior served to host inauguration balls even up until the present.  For many years it also served more functionary purposes as the office for the GAO.  Nice office space.  We toured all the way up to the top, which offered some exquisite views of the sun light draping the amber corininthian columns.

After the thorough and interesting tour, I finished my own tour to visit an exhibit on Hildreth Meire.  Meire was responsible for some of the most famous art deco installations in America.  She designed the beautiful art deco murals of the Nebraska State Capitol.  She also did many of the famous art deco works in New York like the facade of the Radio City Music Hall.

The National Building Museum had some other interesting exhibits like famous skyscrapers built out of legos, including a number of Chicago's skyline and an interesting model of Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water.  There was also a good exhibit on DC's architecture leading from its founding to various turns through history.  

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