FS 1 - "The Man Who Made Concrete Beautiful" the Works of John Joseph Earley

  • Saturday, October 30, 2021
  • 11:00 AM - 3:00 PM
  • National Zoo and Meridian Hill Park
  • 2


(depends on selected options)

Base fee:

A walking tour of two case studies in conserving exposed aggregate concrete. Led by Elizabeth Milnarik, architectural historian with the National Park Service and Connie Lai, Historic Preservation Manager, Grunley Construction.

Directions to the field session, Covid-19 safety protocols, and other relevant information will be provided in your registration confirmation.

This field session will focus on several works executed by the studio of John Joseph Earley, whose eponymous construction method revolutionized the use of exposed aggregate concrete as an architectural building material. 

The session will begin at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, where visitors will tour the historic Bird House, currently undergoing a restoration and renovation in preparation of new exhibits to open in 2022. The Bird House, designed by the Municipal Architect of the District of Columbia Albert Harris, was completed in 1928 and renovated in 1936 and 1965. Earley’s contribution to the building included the historic mosaic portal, consisting of a gabled porch with a door surround, executed in poured colored concrete, featuring colorful birds and flowers interspersed within an abstract motif. As part of the Bird House restoration, the  historic mosaic portal will be relocated to a more prominent location within the building lobby to reintroduce a focal point at the terminus of the visitor arrival experience.

The session will continue at Meridian Hill Park, where the Earley studio pioneered the “Earley Process,” using colored stones as aggregate, exposed by scraping away the outer layer of concrete before it fully cured. The technique, which Earley called “architectural concrete,” imbued the material with color rather applying it afterward, and elevated the perception of how concrete could be used in the building industry. Meridian Hill Park was developed between 1914 and 1936 by the U.S. Government, laid out in the Italian Garden style by landscape architects George Burnap and Horace Peaslee, who made use of the sloping site to create a series of tiered plazas and lawns. The park’s lower terrace is currently undergoing a year-long rehabilitation to improve the landscape’s infrastructure and accessibility, repair the architecture concrete elements, and replace and restore original vegetation.

Participants will then take a short walk up Sixteenth Street--passing by historic mansions and apartment buildings within the recently designated Sixteenth Street Historic District--to arrive at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart (located at 3211 Sacred Heart Way, NW). Designed by Murphy and Olmsted and dedicated in 1922, the Shrine was modeled after the Byzantine cathedral in Ravenna, Italy. Earley’s influence is visible throughout the Shrine, and in particular its resplendent polychromy interior.

Links for further reading:

  1. www.nps.gov/places/meridian-hill-park.htm
  2. www.sacredheartdc.org
  3. www.nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/exhibits/bird-house-0

    Photo credit: DCist-Flickr

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