Off the Tracks

Is That a Barge on Constitution Avenue?

October 17, 2019

The Lockkeeper’s House is located at the corner of 17th and Constitution Avenue, and until two years ago, was inches away from the street - windows boarded up, roof in bad shape.  Through the efforts of the Trust for the National Mall and multiple donors, it was moved 30 feet from the street and renovated.

It’s an important place in terms of our history.  Built in 1837, the Lockkeeper’s house was located at the confluence of the Tiber Creek and the Potomac River.  Yes, Constitution Avenue was actually Tiber Creek, and was connected to the C&O canal for use in the distribution of goods and products in and out of the city. 

Nick Larson of TimeLooper with Maggie and Jeff (Photo by: Constance Chatfield-Taylor) Nick Larson of TimeLooper with Maggie and Jeff

Last week, at the Lockkeeper’s House, Jeffrey Nichols, Executive Director of Georgetown Heritage and Maggie Downing, Director of public programs and partnerships, met with executives of TimeLooper, an immersive content company out of Manhattan.  On display, or actually ‘in hand’ was the new experience that would throw visitors back a couple of hundred years, while looking through the window to Constitution avenue.

It’s actually VR, or Virtual Reality, combined with Augmented Reality and XR, or extended reality.  But instead of defining the technology, let’s take a look.  Andrew Feinberg, one of TimeLooper’s founders handed me a tablet and I walked to the window.  OK.  I see traffic on Constitution Avenue, the White House in the distance.  ‘Now hold it up to the ‘picture’ in the window’, Andrew tells me. ‘Move the tablet around.’  The picture is actually a QR code with ‘markers’. The camera recognizes the pattern and overlays the content, in this case the canal, barge, mules...

I pointed it straight ahead and watched the lock operation.  The first gates opened and the barge entered the lock area, the level of the lock area dropped through water release, the lower gates opened and the mules pulled the barge forward.  So that’s how it works!  I became immersed with the operation and forgot about the technology.  I studied the background, with the White House in the distance.  I heard the noises of the lock operation, the mules walking, the birds.  I moved the tablet and followed the barge as it headed downstream.  

TimeLooper has captured a number of monuments on the national mall, as well as  Pearl Harbor, the Tower of London, Angor Wat, etc.  Its an ingenious combination of rendering from old photographs, high end ‘green room’ production, and a melding of the virtual reality world, one in which you can ‘feel and hear’ the surroundings.  It’s not a game, but it uses some of the qualities of ‘gamification’.  It’s not a production, even as the original elements are shot in period perfection and integrated into historical renderings taken from old photographs. The final effect is an immersion into another time, another world, which brings with it an understanding, and a feel for history.  

(Photo by: Constance Chatfield-Taylor)

And what does this have to do with Georgetown?  Georgetown Heritage is working to revitalize, activate, and interpret the first mile of the C&O canal into an inviting, inclusive, and inspiring destination. It hopes to create learning spaces and provide restoration of the industrial canal that was essential to life in the 1800s, a gateway to our historical past.  History defines us.  It gives us a grounding, a reason to continue to preserve our houses, our streets, our ‘walkable’ way of life.    Designers now expose brick walls, steel girders, roughhewn beams – taking buildings back to basics, exposing history.  Why do we feel a certain way when we walk into those renovated spaces?   Perhaps we will better understand the Flour Mill, the warehouses, the furnace on the Ritz Carlton - some of the architectural treasures along the canal in Georgetown.

Andrew also showed me a recorded ‘immersive’ experience of George Washington’s inauguration in New York.  It literally gave me chills.  And isn’t that what its all about?  The FEEL of looking at the Wall Street location today, and then having it change to April 30th, 1789, to Washington’s inauguration.  The SOUNDS of industry on a busy street, the fife and drum corps (shot in a green screen environment), brought into the historical rendering background.  Being able to ‘look around’ 180 degrees, where I want to look, the way I want to experience it.  I’m there.  

It’s not old sepia toned photos pieced together with slow zooms.  YES, those photos are incredibly important to the overall historical accuracy.  But combined with studio shooting, green screen, virtual reality, rendering - those elements combine to create an augmented reality situation – and it works.  

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Jonas and Lady Kenmore

August 27, 2019

It all started out so nicely. I went downstairs very early this morning to enjoy the freshly painted, cleaned, spruced up garden level apartment - you know – just for a minute, as it was being turned over to new tenants tomorrow. I took my coffee and asked alexa for classical music and opened the door, enjoying the clean, fresh morning air and uncluttered sparkling space inside.


So peaceful.


The cat came in, as he does, announcing his arrival and jumped up on the windowsill behind me. Apparently he misjudged or thought the window was open (they had been open all day yesterday in the beautiful weather) , because he landed behind me with a thud, which caused me to jump, my cup falling to the floor and shattering, sending coffee and white porcelain pieces all over the (clean, sparkly) floor. Our carpenter/painter came in the open door at the same time, amid the fresh chaos. The cat, the cup, the coffee everywhere.


He was there to secure an end cabinet piece over the fridge. I gathered the pieces of the broken cup and walked to the kitchen to look at the cabinet, and after he left to get his tools, I looked down and realized that I was bleeding all over the (clean, sparkly) kitchen floor. Ugh. Grabbing paper towels I wrapped one around my finger, went in the living room, wiped up the coffee spills, and then cleaned the blood off the kitchen floor. I thought as long as he was here, I’d pull the fridge out to have him look at the icemaker water line. As I was pulling the fridge out the end cabinet piece came crashing down on my wrist. The good news was, the nails missed me, the bad news was a large bruise popped up immediately on the bone. But there was other good news - the former tenant had left one of those gel face masks in the freezer (thanks Rachel!) which made a pretty good ice pack. I wrapped it around my wrist and thought while the fridge was pulled out that I’d better clean back there. Ugh. Now I was dirty in addition to being bloody and bruised.

Jonas (Photo by: Constance Chatfield-Taylor) Jonas


The fridge was an ancient ‘Lady Kenmore’ and had been the top of the line years ago, and still worked great. It had all the bells and whistles of its time, and was trimmed in fancy wood paneling. I am a sucker for great old appliances that are well designed. I just had to give up an old jenn air fridge at the Mill House in the country as it just wasn’t keeping food cold enough. My son JJ called as it was being taken out and a new one was being installed. ‘Mom, did you vacuum the coils? Its probably all it needed – that’s a good fridge’. Well no, I told him as it was being removed. ‘What?! Why didn’t you ask me, I do know a little bit about refrigeration,’ he said. He is a paleo/keto chef in Salt Lake City with his own business. I watched as it disappeared through the door.

And here I was in the kitchen of the apartment with an ancient but wonderful Lady Kenmore. As Jaime was fixing the end piece on the cabinet, I asked him how to get to the coils. He motioned to the covering at the bottom – ‘down there,’ he said. ‘remove the panel.’ OK, I thought, I’ll just look. I pulled off the panel. What? ‘I don’t see any coils.’ He got off the ladder and leaned down and added the light of his phone to mine. ‘That’s because they’re covered in dirt. I’m surprised its still working.’


I got the vacuum and lay on the floor and started cleaning the coils. It was addicting. Little by little you saw the outline and then the coil itself. I could just feel the fridge breathing easier. I did not want to unplug it as Jaime suggested, but was glad he was there in case I really hurt myself. I was actually enjoying it, you know – kind of like ironing pillowcases, there is such visible IMPROVEMENT -and for a split second I imagined traveling around and cleaning refrigerator coils for fun. Of course I made a big mess and had to clean the floor but here it was barely 9 am and I had already had so much fun!


Serenity having been restored in the sunny apartment, I closed the door quietly and went upstairs to take a SHOWER and start my day. Maybe I’d bring a glass of wine downstairs tonight to enjoy the clean, sparkly apartment and beautiful evening.

Or maybe not.

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O and P Streets Project Ribbon-Cutting Celebration

September 18, 2012

Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray officially commemorated the completion of the rehabilitation project of the historic Georgetown blocks of O and P Streets Tuesday morning.

(Photo by: Constance Chatfield-Taylor)

In attendance at the ribbon-cutting ceremony were Jack Evans, Ed Solomon and Jeff Jones.

r/l - Abel Pereira, Superintendent, Tracy Moore, Safety Assistant; Reyes Fuentes, Field Superintendent; Jeckson Fuentes and Cristian Merino, support laborers (Photo by: Constance Chatfield-Taylot) r/l - Abel Pereira, Superintendent, Tracy Moore, Safety Assistant; Reyes Fuentes, Field Superintendent; Jeckson Fuentes and Cristian Merino, support laborers

Afis Idowu (left), project manager, The Temple Group, and Gary Hetrick, supervisor, were on hand daily and provided great support for neighbors. (Photo by: Constance Chatfield-Taylor) Afis Idowu (left), project manager, The Temple Group, and Gary Hetrick, supervisor, were on hand daily and provided great support for neighbors.

The ceremony took place at 3219 O Street in front of Hyde-Addison Elementary School.

(Photo by: Constance Chatfield-Taylor)

ANC Commissioner, Jeff Jones (Photo by: Constance Chatfield-Taylor) ANC Commissioner, Jeff Jones

Jeff Jones thanked the crowd for being there. "I call this completion to be significant not only physically, but also symbolically as a connection ... Our City is comprised of over 130 different neighborhoods, and Georgetown is one of those.  To me this project connects our neighborhood east to the rest of D.C.  It starts at Georgetown University and leads directly toward One City DC."

Continuing, Jones said, "The O&P streets renovation also connect us to Georgetown’s rich and long history.  As early as 1873, horse-drawn railway service ran through these streets.   And prior to that, I can only imagine workers placing these exact pavers on our streets.   Today, right now, we are not only preserving but we are connecting with this past.  And, this is part of the reason the entire community of Georgetown is designated a National Historic Landmark."

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