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Archive for December, 2016

If Walls Could Talk

By Linda Tancs

We often ponder what might be learned if walls could talk. Well, there’s no need to wonder. At Washington, D.C.’s National Building Museum, the walls do plenty of talking. In fact, the site is the leading cultural institution devoted to interpreting the history and impact of the built environment. Telling the stories of architecture, engineering and design, its exhibitions run the gamut from “please-touch” walls made out of different materials used in residential construction over time to advances in sustainable architecture. The museum building itself is a conversation piece. Located just blocks from the National Mall, its exterior was modeled after the Palazzo Farnese in Rome and boasts a 1,200-foot-long frieze wrapping the building and depicting a parade of Civil War military units. Inside, the soaring Great Hall is set off by colossal 75-foot-tall Corinthian columns. Free docent-led historic building tours are available daily.

Big Sur’s Golden Gate

By Linda Tancs

Along California’s sun-kissed Pacific Coast Highway is Big Sur‘s celebrated alternative to the Golden Gate Bridge. Known alternatively as Bixby Creek Bridge or Bixby Bridge, the span is a reinforced concrete open-spandrel arch bridge. Completed in 1932, the historic structure is one of the tallest single-span concrete bridges in the world, soaring 260 feet above the bottom of a steep canyon carved by Bixby Creek. A favorite of shutterbugs, the view is particularly impressive from the bridge’s south end at sunset.

Longest Suspension Bridge in the Americas

By Linda Tancs

Connecting Brooklyn with Staten Island, New York’s Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is the longest suspension bridge in the Americas. Now over 50 years old, the gateway bridges the Narrows, the mile-wide channel at the entrance to New York Harbor. Its span reaches four-fifths of a mile (making it the 11th longest in the world), punctuated by two towers 70 stories tall and four cables spun with enough steel wire to reach halfway to the moon. The bridge is named for 16th century Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano, the first European to discover New York and Narragansett bays. Eagle eyes will notice the discrepancy in spelling between the bridge and its namesake (the explorer’s surname being spelled with two Z’s). This typo persists since the bridge’s inception, allegedly resulting from an error in the building contract.

Pinball Wizardry

By Linda Tancs

The world’s largest pinball collection is housed at the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas. It’s a museum of sorts but quite interactive; fun is mandatory here. Close to The Strip, it’s run by a veteran arcade operator. You’ll find 152 machines: Gottlieb, Bally, Williams and other makes. Solid-state and electro-mechanical. It’s all there, including the 1975 Bally Wizard, featuring pinball score glass art work with Ann-Margret and Roger Daltrey of The Who’s “Tommy” musical.

A Museum for Spam

By Linda Tancs

A museum for spam. No, not the electronic kind. The facility in question celebrates a more welcome variety—the canned delight that has Americans all aflutter since its introduction in 1937. Located at the Hormel meat plant in Austin, Minnesota, the SPAM Museum includes a production toteboard (over 6 billion cans and counting), a mock assembly line and exhibits recounting everything from the can’s evolution to its role during wartime America. Don’t try to sample the exhibits. You can buy any of the 12 varieties in the gift shop.

A Lone Survivor in Belfast

By Linda Tancs

The only major naval surface engagement of World War I, the Battle of Jutland was fought by the British Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet against the Imperial German Navy’s High Seas Fleet. Although both sides claimed victory in this indecisive battle celebrating its centenary this year, the spoils clearly go to the British as they lay claim to the lone surviving ship from the skirmish. Now open as a visitor attraction in Titanic Quarter, Belfast, HMS Caroline has undergone extensive restoration to enable visitors to experience life at sea through state-of-the-art special effects and hands-on interactive exhibits. The historic vessel rounds out the maritime experience in Northern Ireland’s capital city, which includes Titanic Belfast, located in the heart of Titanic Quarter. The world’s largest Titanic visitor experience, it tells the story of the Titanic, from her conception in Belfast in the early 1900s through her construction and maiden voyage and subsequent place in history.

A Salute to Early America

By Linda Tancs

With an inheritance from George Washington, granddaughter Martha Washington and her merchant husband Robert Peter (Georgetown’s first mayor) built a Neoclassical house on over eight acres of farmland on Georgetown Heights in Washington, D.C. Completed in 1816, Tudor Place has overlooked Georgetown and the Potomac River ever since. Occupied by the same family for six generations, it was dedicated to the public in the 1980s following the last owner’s death and remains one of the nation’s few historic urban estates retaining the majority of its original landscape. Viewable today by hourly guided tours, the grand residence remains as the Peters lived in it, showcasing over 15,000 items dating from the mid-18th to the late 20th centuries, including early land records, maps, photographs, moving pictures, diaries, household receipts, correspondence and one of only three letters extant from George to Martha Washington. The garden is equally storied, sporting native trees and shrubs that date back centuries. Enjoy four seasons of color with a self-guided tour.

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