Never again will I complain about restricted building heights along Pennsylvania Avenue, drabness on K Street or ticky-tackiness in our subdivisions.
I have just seen the most horrible piece of architecture in all the land. Be grateful that it's 612 miles away.
Once upon a time, Soldier Field in Chicago was a graceful evocation of the early 20th century.
Yes, the grand old arena houses football games, which aren't noted for grace (at least not lately, since the Bears of the National Football League have been stinking up the joint).
But in its original form, Soldier Field was never a gray box, a missile silo or a space-age sendup like so many other American stadiums. Soldier Field was built to honor the honorably dead, and it did so, with dignity.
And then came capitalism, on little cat feet.
It said to the owners of the Bears: You guys could be making a lot more money if you had sky suites at Soldier Field, the better to separate corporate titans from their wealth.
Thus began a multiyear effort to fit out Soldier Field with a new ring of profitability. The addition is within eight months of completion. It's as garishly modern as the rest of the building is not -- which means this is not a match, not a mesh.
Yet construction crews are steaming ahead. Appeals have been filed, but they have a Chicago snowball's chance of success.
As one Chicago pundit put it, it looks as if a spaceship has crash-landed inside the bowl of Soldier Field. For a lawsuit to succeed, a judge would have to order the entire spaceship ripped out, to the tune of $632 million. Don't bet the rent.
I had heard about the disaster that Chicago was visiting upon its famous stadium, but I hadn't seen it with my own baby blues. The other day, as I rode along the lakefront in a cab, the new Soldier Field rose up and smacked me in the face. It felt like a forearm shiver delivered by my favorite Bear of yesteryear, Dick Butkus.
One local scribe calls the addition a "disfigurement." Another calls it "menacing," "depressing," "bizarre and comic." I call it a lesson for Washington.
We have more historic buildings here than any other American city. We've done a superb job of maintaining their period look. We've never allowed the power of private dollars to interfere (unless you're talking about the Smithsonian, and even there, the pooh-bahs haven't allowed a Fuddruckers on the main level of the Museum of American History).
Here's the danger for us: that even the smallest give in the interest of private profit can lead to more of same. Which can lead to National Historic Landmark status being yanked.
That may well happen to Soldier Field. The architecture critic of the Chicago Tribune, Blair Kamin, wishes it would.
The federal government could "send a message when Soldier Field reopens next September," Kamin wrote -- namely that Uncle Sam "will not stand by and do nothing as the nation's cultural treasures are sacked" in the name of big private bucks.
Was Brother Kamin's rhetoric machine red-lining when he wrote those words? You wouldn't think so if you saw Soldier Field.
I asked the cabby to slow down so I could drink it in. I gasped. I cursed. He giggled.
"You're the fourth person this month who's told me how horrible it is," he said.
I won't be the last.
My heart goes out to Chicago, and to the long-gone burghers of that fine city who built Soldier Field. They intended it to be a place for prep-school football and public rallies. It's now a place where big-bucks pro football can make bigger bucks -- period.
Can you imagine a food court at the base of the Washington Monument, replete with Sbarros and Cinnabons? Can you feature sky suites grafted onto the Jefferson Memorial? How about a shopping center between the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial, so slightly bored tourists can shop for bargain pullovers?
Of course these notions sound absurd, remote and politically impossible.
So did the new, horrifying Soldier Field.