On the March

Posted April 18, 2003 at 10:59am

The bleachers may be empty and the arcade deserted, but on a recent Thursday morning a half-dozen Marines from Washington’s Marine Barracks Parade Staff stoically marched in formation down the center of the parade deck.

On this particular day, the sounds of silence cast a lull over “the Oldest Post of the Corps,” but not for long. Next month, the barracks will throw open its gates for the May 9 launch of the annual evening parade season, which begins at 8:45 p.m.

Then, the fabled U.S. Marine Band — once led by John Philip Sousa — and the U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps will regale a 3,500-strong crowd with rousing renditions of traditional patriotic music, ranging from “Stars and Stripes Forever” to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Thanks in part to this annual ritual — which has been a Capitol Hill fixture for nearly a half-century — the extensive Eighth Street/Barracks Row Main Street streetscape project recently wrapped up work on the 700 block running along the barracks between G and I streets Southeast.

In addition to the new Washington globe lights and bright-red brick sidewalks with granite curbs, workers have installed Bluestone pavers on the edges of the sidewalks to create a water-permeable zone for Chinese elm trees slated to be planted this fall.

For some merchants, the completion of the block provides a reprieve from the parking scarcity and disrupted foot traffic, which the streetscape project has engendered. At Southeast Auto Supply, owner Don Rimon complains of a 10 percent loss in business over the past six months and points to the constant parking tickets he and other merchants say they’ve received for parking in the alleys behind the shops during the construction- driven street closures. “We have to go in the back and we get ticketed,” Rimon said.

The estimated $6.8 million renovations — running along Eighth Street from Pennsylvania Avenue to M Street Southeast — are scheduled for completion by October.

While not included in the original project estimate, the area around the Commandant’s House — which is currently undergoing exterior and interior renovations — on G Street between Eighth and Ninth streets is also getting new bricking, at a cost of $40,000.

Moreover, due to a design oversight, additional funds have also been required to fill in and cover the coal shutes and vaults, which dot the pavement in front of and around various Barracks Row establishments.

Construction on the street now continues south to Virginia Avenue and then M Street, before jumping back to G Street and heading north toward Pennsylvania Avenue.

Any work under the Southeast Freeway will wait until Aug. 25 in order to avoid interfering with the parades, which run through Aug. 22, said Bill McLeod, executive director of Barracks Row Main Street. During the six to eight weeks of construction, the freeway on-ramp from Eighth Street heading in the direction of the 11th Street bridge will be closed to traffic.

The revitalization of Eighth Street may get an extra boost next year with the unveiling of the Marine Barracks’ new facility on the 6.4-acre plot of land adjacent to the corner of Virginia Avenue and L Street Southeast.

In addition to housing the U.S. Marine Band, the new $30 million complex — due to open in April 2004 — will feature a 273-space parking structure, as well as a recreational facility and playing field for the 300 enlisted Marines who will eventually call it home.

“It will allow us to practice our ceremonial marching and drill down there,” said Capt. Fred Catchpole, public affairs officer for the barracks.

The injection of foot traffic from the new quarters, coupled with the 261 Marines currently residing at the barracks’ living quarters at Eighth and I streets, should also serve as a vital revenue source for the street’s resurgence.

“On nights and weekends they’ll go out. They’ll eat … shop,” said Catchpole, commenting on the Marines’ importance to the revitalization of Eighth Street Southeast. “For Marines who live and work here, we want it to be a safe and exciting place to live.”

The evening parade takes place at 8:45 p.m. each Friday from May 9 to Aug. 22. Seating is by written (or faxed) reservation only. Faxed requests: (202) 433-4076; mailed requests: Protocol officer, Marine Barracks, Eighth and I streets Southeast, Washington, DC 20390. Guests with reservations are admitted at 7:15 p.m. and should arrive no later than 8 p.m. At 8:15 p.m. unclaimed seats are offered on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information, call (202) 433-6060.