Friday, July 31, 2009

Fir to the Cafritz Mansion. Maintenance Was Required.

As Gretchen and I were leaving DC Thursday morning, the traffic report on WAMU indicated a massive fire near Nebraska Avenue and Foxhall Road that was holding up traffic. It was suggested that traffic crossing Chain Bridge Road heading up Arizona find alternative routes. As I have come to learn, the fire destroyed the home of a local arts patron, Peggy Cooper Cafritz. While I have not read any information on the cause of the fire, what has been reported is that low water pressure contributed to the total destruction of the property.

As an aside, in some ways, there are two strange ironies. The DC Art Bank just purchased two of my works. One of them is a collection of fire hydrants photographed in Ward 6; each hydrant is in service requesting maintenance. So, the city is purchasing art work that reflects a problem the city has recognized and is at present getting lots of negative press regarding how it is handling the problem. The other irony, they chose not to review the Ward 3 battery of hydrants I have photographed; Ward 3 is where the Cafritz home is located.

This tragedy for Ms. Cafritz and for the DC art community will remain a black eye for WASA, which has been working diligently over the last two years to locate, repair or replace 2500 of the 10,000 broken hydrants within Washington, DC. Of course, to label their process as diligent is gleaned only from their website and the math. They had given themselves 5 years to get 2500 replaced, and were ahead of schedule last time their website reported (i.e. much more than 1000 hydrants are claimed to have been repaired or replaced in the last 2 years).

However, what WASA reports on their website and the truth of the matter might be different. It certainly doesn't help that Ms. Cafritz's neighbor, NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell, is quoted in The Washington Post about complaints to the city regarding low water pressure. Regardless, as I have travelled parts of the city documenting broken hydrants, I see the signs change from "Out of Order," to "In Service," or disappear all together. So, I have to believe that something is being done, and that this is a very unfortunate circumstance for WASA. I have also seen "Out of Order" signs return to what I presumed were repaired hydrants. And, in parts of Ward 6, some "Out of Order" signs have "In Service Signs" placed on top of them, which is conspicuous at best, and a great sign of incompetence (on a potentially criminal level) at worst.

Whatever the case of WASA's handling of the situation, the destruction to Ms. Cafritz's home is a tragedy on many levels. For the DC art community, where art appreciation and art collection seem anemic, it strikes at the Achilles heel.

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