A Head Start for National Harbor
Thursday, February 21, 2008
From the foot-thick layer of wood chips and soil, the crane hoisted a foot, a hand, a head and a leg, and then finally an arm that was bent at the elbow, its hand curled as if clawing its way from the earth. After 28 years, the giant was freed.
The cast aluminum sculpture known as "The Awakening" left its earthen home on the southernmost tip of the District's Hains Point yesterday, and made its way on a convoy of three flatbed trucks and then a barge to a new sandy beach on the eastern shore of the Potomac River.
"Welcome home, Charlie!" shouted an ebullient Milton V. Peterson, using his pet name for the piece. A crane swung the body parts into position at their new resting spot as workers reassembled the sculpture, the $725,000 maraschino cherry to garnish Peterson's $4 billion National Harbor waterfront development.
Construction workers stopped what they were doing in the surrounding complex of hotels, restaurants, condominium units and office buildings to take pictures with their cellphones. A pair of documentary filmmakers captured the scene. A visiting delegation of Nigerian bankers who happened to be in the neighborhood watched in amazement and wondered aloud: Are they going to put the pieces back together?
"My business is all about ideas," Peterson said moments later, surveying it all from his office three stories above the shore. "And that was one of the most hot . . . ideas I ever had."
Peterson said he spent at least $725,000 to move the figure and anchor it at his project. National Harbor, conceived before the current economic downturn, is intended to be the largest non-casino, mixed-used development on the Eastern seaboard. In April, Nashville-based Gaylord Entertainment plans to open a mammoth hotel and convention center there, but portions of a nearby condominium development have been delayed, and at least two restaurant operators have backed out of plans to open.
Peterson is undaunted. He envisions a lively development featuring a marina, stores, offices, restaurants and entertainment venues. Visitors will be able to sit at water-view restaurant tables and watch the sun set behind "The Awakening" on the Potomac.
In the District, people stood behind storm fences in the morning cold watching the sculpture's excavation.
"You wonder why D.C. didn't buy it and just leave it here," said Maurice Chase, who used to visit Hains Point several times a week to exercise and take in the sight of the bearded metal giant.
The figure was "not very D.C.," said his sister, Annette Chase Bennett, as the trucks took it away. "That's what I like about it."
The District's loss is the gain of Prince George's County, which gave the sculpture a police escort during part of the trip to its new home. Peterson bought the piece last year from the Sculpture Foundation, a Santa Monica, Calif., nonprofit organization that encourages the placement of art in public places. The developer assured the artist that his work would be treated well.
The sculpture's creator, J. Seward Johnson, a member of the family of Band-Aid fame, chuckled recently over the mental image of the giant picking himself up, brushing the dirt from his limbs, and taking a quick jaunt down the river to his new location, said Paula Stoeke, director of the Sculpture Foundation, who came to town to observe the move.