Yesterday morning I walked to the office along a well-worn route. It's a route I've taken many times before, each building and curb and patio duly noted a hundred times before. When I lived further away, this was the path I would take when I stayed with a friend in the city, but since moving closer in, it’s been less frequently trod.
The grand and very well-preserved Heurich House. (Photo: National Trust for Historic Preservation)
One of the reasons I chose this particular path (aside from distance and directness) was that it ends near the Heurich House, a Victorian home once owned by Christian Heurich, a Washington, DC, brew master. The interior is opulent, boasting a variety of technological marvels, and there is a gated garden in the back that is open for visitors on beautiful spring days. On this particular day, I had just enough time to smile at the building before barreling past.
It was then that I was struck speechless by a sudden jolt of creative happiness, because sometime in the last six months a commissioned mural had gone up across the street.
The colors are vivid, with bright emotion pulling passersby out of whatever day dream in which they're absorbed. You stop, stare. Shift your position to pull you closer to the fence, and stare again.
Peeking through to the mural. (Photo: National Trust for Historic Preservation)
It’s a relatively simple tableau - a toy theater set with a view of two of the first mansions built in the surrounding historic district. Commissioned by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and designed and painted by Peter Waddell and a group of aspiring artists, the mural is an unexpected burst of joy.
Seeing this, however, made me think: What else do I not see amidst the familiar, the well worn, and the everyday? What exactly is it about the built environment that gives me (and I know others feel the same way) that rush of euphoria much like seeing the sun after days of rain?
The full Toy Theatre mural, in all it's vibrant glory. (Photo: National Trust for Historic Preservation)
Over the long weekend my sisters and I talked about place and happiness - about how much where we live and the particular spaces we inhabit affect our moods and contentment. Since we were in New York City, we discussed how for some people the city spurs on creativity and provides excitement, while for others it is often filled with loneliness and a lifestyle that is so fast it’s hard to catch your breath.
We talked about Frank Lloyd Wright and his use of using space to push where we lived out into nature, to have his homes be more organic, or as is the case with Taliesin West, mimic the flow of music - each detail meant to connect, to settle, and to allow us to thrive.
Place is just as important as the people you're with or the job you work in. So next time you’re walking along your well worn route, look to the left instead of the right or look up when you usually stare at the ground. Step over to another side of the street for a new perspective. You might just see something to remind you why this place, this city, this town is a part of your heart.
Priya Chhaya is Associate Manager for Online Content, Preservation Resources at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A public historian at heart, she sees history wherever she goes and believes that it is an important part of the American identity.