Tom Sherwood's Notebook: 11/16/11

Renovations at World War I Memorial, Cardozo High

We’ll put the ethics megaphone aside for this week to compliment a few cool things.

First, there’s the renewed World War I Memorial on the National Mall.

The National Park Service has spent almost $4 million to restore the 1931 monument to District of Columbia citizens who served in the Great War.

Its base is ringed with the 499 names of local men and women who died in that conflict. And notably, the names are not segregated by race or sex.

The monument itself, with its 12 Doric columns and domed roof, looks like the gleaming top of a wedding cake. It’s certainly a place where newlyweds might consider posing. D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said it would be a great place to hold her annual “dance day” on the Mall.

But, of course, it’s more than that. It’s a symbol showing that District citizens are part of the nation’s fabric, yet we are kept separate and unequal by our lack of voting rights in Congress.

Mayor Vincent Gray and others vowed to use the monument -- sitting just across Independence Avenue from the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial -- as a staging ground for demonstrations for voting rights.
But apart from such activism, you ought to add the modest memorial to your list of places to visit. You might be surprised by how much you enjoy seeing this bit of history.

• A WWI controversy.

Not all is right with the updated memorial, however. There is a movement in Congress to have our little piece of history renamed as a “national” monument to the sacrifices of all Americans in World War I.

The initial plan by a private foundation is to call it the “District of Columbia and National World War I Memorial.”

But District leaders and many citizens are skeptical of the renaming effort.

First, they don’t want to diminish in any way the somber, elegant and uniquely local memorial.

And surely anyone who knows how Congress works -- and how the city is disadvantaged in its hallways -- must worry that a name change could actually eliminate the reference to the District
A foundation pushing for the nationalization of the memorial insists that it’s not trying to diminish the city at all but to give it even more prominence by enhancing the purpose of the memorial.

The World War I Foundation noted on its website that the war’s centennial will be observed in 2014. It says the absence of a national memorial in Washington to almost 5 million Americans who served is disrespectful and should be addressed.

Norton and the mayor are vowing to fight to keep the memorial unchanged.
Some advocates looking for a compromise say that Pershing Park, situated at 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in Northwest, could be designated as the national memorial.

But the fight is not over.

• Cardozo proud.

The Cardozo High School building is about 95 years old. This week, Mayor Vincent Gray led a ceremonial ground breaking to herald a $100 million makeover of the 1916 building whose architecture has it on the National Register of Historic Places.

The school was built for 1,100 students, but only about 600 attend now. The hope is that a new facility will bring new interest to Cardozo.

Mayor Gray said the new school will offer high-tech classes that will equip students with the knowledge to land jobs right out of school or enhance their college choices.

The school is in a gentrifying community. It will be interesting to see how the restored school attracts -- or doesn’t attract -- new students.

At the news conference on Monday, we talked to longtime teacher Frazier O’Leary. He has taught English at the school for 34 years. He coaches the baseball team. He is anxious to get into the new school for the 2013-14 academic year.

“People should be taking care of the students,” he said Monday in an interview. “Our students have always overcome adversity and have become successful in life in spite of the building.”

O’Leary, his ruddy face beaming, got the loudest applause of all when he spoke during Monday’s ceremony. Why has he persevered for 34 years? He gave an answer that all great teachers might give.

“I love it,” he said. “I can’t wait to get here each day. It’s fun.”

• A final word.

We’re in such a good mood after attending the Cardozo event that we hesitate even to bring up the woeful Redskins, who suffered their fifth loss in a row on Sunday.

But we noticed that our neighbors in Montgomery County this week are holding an event to promote the county’s new 5 cent bag tax that goes into effect Jan. 1.

It’s similar to the fee in the District, which has cut down bag use sharply.

But what caught our attention was the county announcement. It said the event, hosted by Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, would be held on Democracy Boulevard in Bethesda “near the Washington Redskins store.”

Well, that makes sense. If you’re going near the Redskins store, you certainly won’t mind paying 5 cents for a bag that you can put over your head.

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