Johnston's Auto Body Set for Demolition!
Johnston's Auto Paint and Body Works, at the corner of Lee Highway and Gallows Road in Merrifield, VA, has been a unique landmark since the 1960s, ever since owner Edward Johnston started decorating the sprawling old house he used as a garage with cement figures and bizarre paintings he had one of the body shop workers create. The shop has been something like a showcase for outsider art as well as an "outsider environment in itself." At this point, there are signs on the building announcing that the busines has closed. A faithful reader, Bill Harris, investigated and reported that VDOT owns the building, which is slated for demolition. There have been threats to buy the property, which sits in the corner of a shopping plaza's parking lot, remove thebuilding, and expand Gallows Road for a long time. But now they've finally made their move. VDOT told Bill Harris they don't playn to remove the remaining paintings from the outside walls of the building, citing the possibility of "lead content built up on the paintings over the years." Feel free to contact VDOT and vent, that is voice your opinion: 703/383-VDOT; email:

Photo gallery of Johnston's  Garage in better times

Awakening Statue moved from Hain's Point in DC to National Harbor in Prince George's County
A fixture of East Potomac Park on Hain's Point, in DC just south of the Jefferson Memorial, since the 1980s, the Awakening Giant has been a much loved antidote to the official, heroic public sculpture that abounds in DC (not that there's anything wrong with that). But the statue has always been "squatting" on the land; it wasn't owned by the National Park Service, and could have been purchased and relocated at any time. Now Milton Peterson, the developer of the National Harbor project, on the shore of the Potomac River in Prince George's County, across the water from DC, has purchased the massive sculpture as a set piece for the project. On February 20, the sculpture was uprooted, moved and replanted in its new home. The good news is that the Awakening Giant is staying in the Washington area, and that now he's a permanent resident. And now there's room for another sculpture to squat at Hain's Point!
Black Fashion Museum Closed, founder passed away
Black Fashion Museum founder Lois Alexander Lane passed away at the age of 91 on September 29, 2007. She had Alzheimer's disease and liver cancer.  In her long career, Mrs. Alexander Lane wrote a pioneering thesis on the history of African Americans in the fashion industry, started the Harlem Institute of Fashion in 1966, and the Black Fashion Museum (also in Harlem) in 1979. The DC branch of the museum opened in 1988, and it became the sole location in 1993. DC's Black Fashion Museum closed for renovations in 2005, but in June 2007, it closed it's doors for good.
Squished Penny Museum Closed!
Sad news for penny squishers everywhere: the premier museum for elongated coins was closed this past summer of 2007. In their closing announcement on their website, curators-for-life Pete and Christine note: "After 11 yearsof spreading the joy of squishin' to anyone who would listen, we're closing shop. it's time for us to get back to doing what inspired us to open the museum in the first place: the excitement of travelling to new places, the delight of meeting fellow adventurers, and the thrill of the hunt for copper. Read more at
Big Chair Resurrection!
There are plenty of �big chairs� in small towns all over America, and DC�s Big Chair long ago lost it�s crown as �world�s largest.� One thing those other chairs can�t claim is a resurrection. Back in August of 2005, when the mahoganny chair was removed, no one imagined it would ever be back. It had been declared a hazard, the wood too rotted to remain on-site. But Curtis Brothers was determined to keep this community landmark alive. �We looked at it as a landmark, and we were fond of it,� says Lou Rizzo, vice president of the Curtis Investment Group that sponsored the new chair. Lots of people give lip service to the idea of community, but Curtis Brothers put their money where their mouth is. The original estimate for a new chair in long-lasting aluminum--cut by lasers and welded together--was $40,000. The actual cost ran over that. How much over? Rizzo won�t specify, but he will offer that the overrun was �considerable.�  A brief recounting of the manufacturing process clarifies that expense: �Most of the aluminum was cut in DC, taken to Florida to be assembled and then brought up,� Rizzo explains. �They got it here in three days. Arrived fully assembled. Started out with Nelson�s Welding to do some work. The designer was from Maryland. He had worked with Cinnabar, who makes props for Disney. They assembled it. It was a referral from the designer.�

We�re lucky that Curtis Brothers understood the appeal of a landmark like the Big Chair. The aluminum chair fully restores the way the original looked when it was first put here in 1959. At the time, this was indeed the world�s biggest chair, at just over 19 feet tall. This aluminum one was dedicated in April 2006, and it�s the same height, the same Duncan Phyfe model--but in much better condition. When you visit, note the striped cushion and the deep dark mahogany finish. 

The original Big Chair was made by the Basset Furniture Company. Curtis Brothers used it as a promotional item and as a community centerpiece. As if the chair couldn�t get any better, they actually hired a model to live on the chair; she stayed up there for 42 days in a glass house. Ever since, the chair has been Anacostia�s challenge to Greater Washington to do something really whacky with their neighborhood center.

What�s really remarkable isn�t just the willingness to foot the bill, but the desire to preserve a quirky landmark that has just one purpose: to make people feel good. Usually, funky old buildings and cool signs and roadside sculptures like the Big Chair get torn down to make room for new development. In this case, somebody--a corporation no less-- stood up and said this Big Chair was important. I find it truly remarkable that the effort was made to keep this in the community. It�s not just a gift to Anacostia but to the whole DC area. It�s something we all can visit and enjoy. Every home needs a goofy nicknack to start conversations and help people relax. We don�t have enough nicknacks in DC, but at least we don�t have one less. The Big Chair lives!

Bull Run Castle--Sold!
News has reached Mondo DC headquarters that the Bull Run Castle was sold to a private owner. Castle builder John Miller's daughter and son-in-law continue to live in the home he built for them on the property. Their understanding is that the new owner wants to preserve the castle rather than remove or alter it. Great news! Good luck to John Miller in his new, castle-free life!
Pinck Room--Closed!
Noche Crist's fabulous boudoir installation, the "Pinck Room" has closed. The Corcoran Museum purchased the Millenium Arts Center building, an old public school turned into artists studios by local arts entrepreneur/visionary Bill Wooby, with plans to use it for their art school's expansion. Construction has forced the eviction of the remaining artists, including the Pinck Room. Caretaker Judy Jashinsky hopes to reopen the Pinck Room at a new location sometime in the future.
National Museum of Health and Medicine--Safe and sound!
News of the Army's plan to close bases nationwide--including DC's Walter Reed Army Base, home of the National Museum of Health and Medicine--lead some to fear that the museum itself might be in jeopardy. Not so, says Steven Solomon, Public Affairs Officer with the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology which oversees the museum: "The museum has been preserved as a DoD asset. It's been recommended that it be consolodated with the National Navy Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland." The move is planned for 2011. The museum was probably never in jeopardy, anyway; after all, it's the only museum in DC whose entire collection has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Aside from it's astonishing collection of children's skeletons, pickled punks, diseased organ specimens, horrific displays of Civil War injuries and "medicine," the NMHM also has:
  • the world's largest microscope collection, owning about 1000 and displaying roughly one-fifth of these;
  • the only shoe store fluoroscope (x-ray machine) on display in the world;
  • the only brain with attached spinal cord on display in the world;
  • and a very large human hairball