Category Archives: History

Nats Opening Day videos from Hoover to Obama

Despite the spring equinox, the season never really arrives in the U.S. until the familiar cry of “play ball!” rings out. In Washington the grand and ancient tradition is carried out as President Johnson arrives to throw out the first ball as a thousand shutters click…”

To celebrate the home opener, I’ve put together a youtube playlist of Opening Days in Washington over the years, starting with a silent movie featuring Herbert Hoover. There’s some more highlights of recent vintage as well:

For generations, the traditional start of the American League season begin in the District of Columbia, frequently with the President throwing out the first ball to the assembled Washington Senators. Presidents Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson included in black and white newsreels included on the playlist. Footage of Richard Nixon, a big Senators fan, couldn’t be found — newsreels were over by then and the Senators were by the end of Nixon’s first term. Presidents Ford, Reagan, Bush (the elder) and Clinton would throw out the first ball elsewhere, while oddly enough softball player Jimmy Carter never did, at least for Opening Day.

The tradition resumed, albeit sporadically and not always on true Opening Day, in 2005 when the Washington Nationals were reborn as a National League team. Now, it’s a first pitch, from the mound to a specific player rather than the first ball from the stands to a group. George W. Bush made two home opener appearances – 2005 at RFK Stadium and 2008 on Nationals Park Opening Night. Barack Obama, wearing a Chicago White Sox cap and Nats jacket threw an eephus pitch in 2009.

Hoping for a return to an annual Washington Presidential Opening Day is unfortunately a fool’s errand. Between other presidential duties and MLB stretching out Opening Day into Opening Week, the tradition is unlikely to return. At the very least, MLB could award Washington a regular Opening Day slot, but they tend to be more sympathetic to Baltimore on such matters.

There are a few other on-field highlights as well as a pregame hype video. Hopefully, more Opener video will find it’s way onto youtube.

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VDOT releases 1949 footage of Shirley Highway in Alexandria

va350_old_tinyThe Virginia Department of Transportation has released another Then & Now video, this time of Henry G. Shirley Highway in 1949, then known as Virginia primary route 350 and now Interstate 395. Last time, the video was of US 29 in Arlington. This time VDOT recreated about a 2-mile drive along Shirley Highway and combined it with the 1949 footage (IN COLOR!) of the same stretch of road, though nothing really is the same:

Shirley Highway predates the interstate highway system, having been built to provide access to the Pentagon and the Fairlington development that came out of World War II as well as a bypass of US 1 a bypass of US 1 between the Occoquan and Potomac Rivers. Technically, Shirley Highway did not go over either river, but provided a direct connection between the two of them.

In the original 1956 interstate highway plan, VA 350 was to be part of I-95. The new number may not have been posted as such until massive rebuilding in the early 1970s that included 2 reversible express lanes. The designation was short-lived though as the proposal to build I-95 between New York Ave (US 50) and the Capital Beltway near College Park was cancelled. Shirley Highway was re-designated I-395 in 1977.

The contrast between then and now is striking of course. The video begins near Edsall Road which today is just south of the terminus of the “EZ Pass Express” toll lanes that supplanted the 1971 express lanes. The two lanes in each direction with no shoulders of 1949 is unrecognizable to the 11 lanes over three separated roadways of now. The hills of the Alexandria area are quite visible too — it looks like a rural area then. Because it was.

Concrete arch bridges (similar to the Washington Blvd spans over Columbia Pike that are being replaced now) and sporadic white guide signs have been replaced by steel girders and frequent big green signs. A conspicuous NO THRU TRUCKS signal also makes an appearance.

Rolling along in 1949 Shirley Highway was through untouched country side past the current Landmark Mall (opened as a shopping center in 1956) and the new Mark Center. Van Dorn Street, which parallels Shirley Highway now wasn’t even there yet, nor was it’s residential development. That would come within a decade. The large Mark Center building would only open in the last few years.

This is a fun exercise for me, seeing what the area close to my current home looked like long before I was born. A late former neighbor grew up in Fairlington and told me about how they would ride their bicycles along the grading for an Shirley Highway when it was under construction; I wish I could show him this video.

There is a lot more to learn about Shirley Highway and see maps and photographs and I recommend the following sites:

Adam Froehlig and Mike Roberson’s Virginia Highways Project – VA 350

Scott Kozel’s Roads to the Future – Henry G. Shirley Memorial Highway

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VDOT releases 1949 footage of US 29 in Arlington

us29_va_old_tinyThe Virginia Department of Transportation found footage of US 29 (Lee Highway) from Key Bridge to Cherrydale filmed in 1949. VDOT recreated the same drive and combined that and the 1949 footage into one video and posted it on youtube:

us211_va_old_tinyThe 1949 footage isn’t perfect, but still gives an idea of post-WWII Arlington County. Streetcars are visible and along with the billboards that faced Georgetown at the Virginia end of Key Bridge. It’s also noteworthy that there are two US 29 signs visible, but not US 211 which was officially multiplexed with US 29 until 1980 according to the Virginia Highways Project when it was officially truncated at Warrenton. I had previously heard 1984, but I suspect that the completion of Interstate 66 outside the Beltway hastened the demise of US 211 since it was no longer than only continuous route number from the Shenandoah Valley to Washington, D.C. This video suggests that the predecessor agency of VDOT and/or Arlington County was disinterested in the US 211 designation near Washington in that designation long before it was technically removed.

In the last frame, beyond the intersection of Kirkwood Road, is a trestle for the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad. That right-of-way would later be used for Interstate 66, completed in 1982 and the Custis Trail, BeltwayLand’s most challenging bicycle path. Starting that year, the intersection with Kirkwood Road was also the northern terminus of the George Washington Memorial Parkway according to Steve Anderson’s dcroads.net. Since 1959, that part of the GW Parkway has been a spur called Spout Run Parkway.

Highway markers from Shields Up!

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