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Christmas at President’s Park

Photograph the Holiday decorations in President's Park and the beautifully decorated DAR Headquarters on 17th Street

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President’s Park and the adjoining area along 17th Street make wonderful subjects for nighttime photography during this holiday season on this safari led by Sherryl Belinsky.

President’s Park, which is one of America’s 423 national parks, includes the parklands surrounding the White House and is composed of approximately 82 acres. On the north side, the park encompasses Lafayette Park. On the south side of the park is the magnificent open parade ground known as the Ellipse.

In November 1923, First Lady Grace Coolidge gave permission for the District of Columbia Public Schools to erect a Christmas tree on the Ellipse. The organizers named the tree the “National Christmas Tree.” That Christmas Eve, at 5 p.m., President Calvin Coolidge walked from the White House to the Ellipse and “pushed the button” to light the cut 48-foot Balsam fir, as 3,000 enthusiastic spectators looked on.

From 1924 to 1953 live trees, in various locations around and on the White House grounds, were lit on Christmas Eve. In 1954 the ceremony returned to the Ellipse and expanded its focus but used a cut tree. Local civic and business groups created the Christmas Pageant of Peace. Smaller cut trees representing the 50 states, five territories, and the District of Columbia, formed a Pathway of Peace. Cut trees continued to be used until 1973.

Starting in 1973, in response to conservation and environmental concerns, the National Christmas Tree has been a living tree, planted on the Ellipse. The first living tree on the Ellipse was a 42-foot Colorado Blue Spruce from York, Pennsylvania which was donated by the National Arborist Association. Also planted were 56 live trees for the Pathway of Peace.

For the past 49 years, the National Christmas Tree has been a Colorado Blue Spruce. In the course of that 49 years, there have been 5 Blue Spruce trees planted, with one of the trees living 37 years. In the last 10 years, there have been four different trees planted, with the most recent tree, a white fir, being planted in October 2021. The National Park Service selected a white fir because it is more resilient to needle cast disease, a fungal disease that affects spruce trees and causes their needles to turn brown and fall off.

2022 marks the 100th Anniversary of the National Christmas Tree in President’s Park, so the decorations should be extra special this year!

After photographing the National Christmas Tree with the Washington Monument and the White House in the background, we’ll walk across the Ellipse to the
Daughters of the American Revolution Headquarters on 17th Street.

The Daughters of the American Revolution which was founded in 1890 is a non-profit, non-political volunteer women’s service organization dedicated to promoting patriotism, preserving American history, and securing America’s future through better education for children. Encompassing an entire city block, DAR Headquarters is one of the world’s largest buildings of its kind owned and maintained exclusively by women.

Memorial Continental Hall, the oldest building of the DAR complex, was designed in 1905 by prominent Washington architect Edward Pearce Casey, designer of the interior of the Library of Congress. Memorial Continental Hall, which faces 17th Street, was designated as a Registered National Historic Landmark in 1935 for its role in world history, which includes hosting the famous Conference on the Limitation of Armaments in the wake of WWI (1921). Diplomats from all over the globe met to discuss limits on the proliferation of arms. Their work at Memorial Continental Hall remains a recognized milestone in global peace efforts towards disarmament.

Constitution Hall which faces 18th Street, was built in 1929 and designed by John Russell Pope. (Pope also designed the National Archives, the Jefferson Memorial and the West Building of the National Gallery of Art.) Constitution Hall is home to the DAR Annual Conference, known as Continental Congress, which takes place each Summer and is the largest concert hall in Washington, D.C. In 1985, the Department of the Interior designated the building a National Historic Landmark due to its national recognition as a center for the performing arts.

In between Memorial Continental Hall and Constitution Hall is the Administration Building, which houses many of the DAR’s administrative offices. On the C Street side of the Administration Building is the DAR Founders Memorial, which is a tribute to the 4 women who founded the DAR in 1890, after being denied membership in the SAR. The entire complex of buildings are decorated for the Holidays.

If time permits, we will walk down to the Headquarters Building of the Organization of American States at 17th & Constitution, and photograph it as well. The building, known as the House of the Americas, was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Bring a tripod, a remote release and a wide angle prime or zoom lens.

Metered Street parking is available on the side streets (C & D Streets) off 17th Street. The closest Metro is the Blue/Orange Line at Farragut West or McPherson Square.