And, boy, was it beautiful.
It was Saturday around 8:30 a.m., and I was walking east on L Street from Farragut North. It was chilly, the streets quiet, the office buildings empty of their besuited worker drones. This was my old work neighborhood, and in the four years since The Washington Post moved from 15th and L to 13th and K, it has undergone the customary alterations. Restaurants have turned over, office blocks have been renovated, buildings — like The Post’s — have been torn down and replaced by new ones.
Each change ripples across the streetscape in different ways. What I didn’t expect was a rainbow straight to the optic nerve. A four-story swath of the Architect Hotel was glowing pink. It was sunlight reflected from a building across the street — 1441 L St. NW — which, not long ago, got a new facade. That facade features slim vertical panels of tinted glass that apparently reflect and color the sunlight.
I’d happened upon the scene just as it was bathing the corner of the hotel in fuchsia.
Now, I’m not sure how I would feel if I was a guest staying in one of those hotel rooms. Would it be like when Kramer’s apartment was bedazzled by the Kenny Rogers Roasters sign? Or would it be pleasant to wake up in the morning through literally rose-tinted glass?
As I walked farther on, I saw that a building at Vermont and L was also getting the color treatment. The doorway to 1029 Vermont Ave. NW — home to Stan’s Restaurant & Lounge and Ida’s Idea boutique — glowed a pale but insistent green. It was also being spotlit by 1441 L St. I stood in the iridescent shaft and delighted in the shadow I cast. (I apologize if you’re reading this column on a black-and-white page in the newspaper and looking at a black-and-white photo.)
Two hours later, I walked back through the intersection. The colors were gone.
I don’t know how often these prismatic reflections manifest themselves. Maybe they appear every morning. Or maybe they’re like Yosemite’s Horsetail Fall, which, for a scant few days each February, glows like a stream of fire just before sunset and only when the sun is at the right angle.
As I walked back to the Metro, other glass buildings on L Street cast less-colorful reflections, their searing white light reminding me of signal mirrors blinking across a valley.
When you’re walking downtown, you can’t trust your own shadow. Is it being cast by the sun? Or is it the sun’s reflection being bounced from building to building like a billiard ball made of photons?
They weren’t even planted on purpose. They grew in a vacant lot in Eckington. I first spotted them from the Metro train between the Rhode Island Avenue and NoMa stations, when they were about four feet high: two trash trees growing side by side from seeds that had found purchase in a patch of dirt.
I never knew what kind of trees they were, but I looked for them every time I rode the Metro. They were fighters, survivors. Surely they’ll be mowed down, I thought. But they never were, even when the grass and weeds around them were trimmed.
A few years ago, the sliver of land between the Metropolitan Branch Trail and the Red Line tracks started getting used as a public works depot, a place for old streetlight poles, piles of asphalt, construction equipment . . . No way these trees will last, I thought.
But they did. They must have been 20 feet tall.
Over the summer, I looked out the train window and they were gone. A new development — Eckington Park — is going up there now, built on what I learned is called the NoMa Green site. I’ll miss my little trees, but I’m happy to hear that the development will include a park. I hope the trees purposefully planted there will bring as much joy as my accidental friends.