Gelato, Prosecco and the Italian influence on Washington, DC


The artful hand of Italy can be found in Meridian Hill Park, Dumbarton Oaks, McMillan Park and many other locations throughout the city laid out by Frenchman Pierre L’Enfant. The first of two 2012 What’s Out There Weekends focused on the spirit of Bell’Italia in the nation’s capital and included a lecture at Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens, and a very elegant reception at the new Washington, DC studio of Charles Luck Stone Center.

From the start, What’s Out There Weekends have been very successful, drawing large crowds in Washington, DC, Chicago and San Francisco.

But this time for the first time, we sold out every tour. And, after we doubled the number of tours, we sold those out, too!

Charles Luck launch
Guests at the Charles Luck launch party discuss
the weekend's tours

The weekend kicked off with Charles Birnbaum’s lecture at Hillwood about the Italian influence on American landscape architecture – a topic he explored while a fellow at the American Academy in Rome. Prior to the image and idea-packed lecture, attendees were treated to delicious gelato and prosecco, and strolled Hillwood’s lush gardens and ornate museum.

The following week, longtime supporter Charles Luck Stone Center hosted an elegant reception at their swank new studio in Cady’s Alley, located in historic Georgetown (great weather, great wine, great music – great hosts). Le Pain Quotidien, a sponsor this year’s weekends in DC and New York, provided the exceptional catering with antipasti, sweets, finger sandwiches and much more. Le Pain Quotidien also provided free coffee to energize participants during the two days of tours.

Meridian Hill Park

Franciscan Monastery
upper: Sonja Duempelmann leading the tour of
Meridian Hill Park; lower: taking in the sights and
smells of the Franciscan Monastery
The Weekend itself included the Ellen Shipman-designed elegant gardens and woodland trails at the Tregaron Conservancy, with a lively tour by Bonnie Lepard.

The Franciscan Monastery, a huge hit in the inaugural Weekend in 2010, was again a big draw. Members of the Garden Guild provided an insider’s look at everything from the rosary portico to John Joseph Earley’s revolutionary concrete aggregate technology (also used at Meridian Hill Park).

Speaking of which, the waters of the grand cascade at Meridian Hill flowed down the terracing, inspired by the Villa Aldobrandini in Frascati. University of Maryland professor Sonja Duempelmann led tours highlighting the park’s design and how it fit into the McMillan Commission’s early 20th century master plan for the city.

A different sort of tour site, McMillan Park, is normally closed to the public. The park is a quasi-industrial landscape – a former sand filtration site for DC’s water supply – designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. and Charles Platt.

Dumbarton Oaks and Dumbarton Oaks Park were originally a single property but are now separated by a gate (and separate ownership). Gail Griffin, Director of Dumbarton Oak’s Gardens and Grounds led visitors throughout the gardens and the new Cao | Perrot Studio cloud installation. Rebecca Trafton explained the relationship between the two sites and discussed the park’s Conservancy recent findings of bridges and waterfalls, and their plans to re-establish native woodlands.

Dumbarton Oaks Park

McMillan Park
upper: Dumbarton Oaks Park visitors sit on one
of Farrand's built-in benches; lower: McMillan
Park's surreal and beautiful industrial landscape
Finally, the Weekend concluded with tours of the S Street Landscapes led by architectural historian Heather McMahon, which wove together the history of the Spanish Steps, and landscapes at Woodrow Wilson House, Textile Museum, and Kalorama neighborhood.

Participant responses were enthusiastic. Of the S Street tours, one said, “You made me see the museum gardens in a new way.” And of Dumbarton Oaks/Park, another said,“we’ve been in the area for 30+ years and never been to either of these places. Thank-you for introducing us to another set of hidden treasures of DC.”

Lastly, we did get this: “My only complaint—too many tours and not enough time! Hope that you plan another DC weekend so I can visit more sites.”

That’s a complaint we can live with. We’ll see you at the next What’s Out There Weekend in New York October 6-7.