Who doesn’t love a man in uniform? I admit I’m a sucker for 80′s romance movies where the hero in his pressed military whites sweeps the girl off her feet and rides off into the sunset. SWOOOOON… Oh Richard Gere, why aren’t there more of you these days and why has Hollywood replaced you with the scrawny Robert Pattinsons and Shia Labeoufs of the world?
So now that you know about my infatuation with men in uniform, you won’t be surprised that on a romantic weekend getaway to Annapolis with hubby, I made us take a tour of the US Naval Academy (USNA) there. To put it simply, the USNA is the Navy’s equivalent of West Point, a higher education military college that trains and grooms future officers for the US Military. At USNA, it’s specifically for the Navy although the grads can move on to join the Marines corp or SEALs as well.
Let me start off by giving you a brief description of Annapolis. If you’ve never been, it’s a BEAUTIFUL historic city located on the Chesapeake Bay, about half an hour due east of Washington DC. Not only is the town center impeccably maintained and quaint, literally everyone there looks like they stepped out of a JCrew or catalog or fitness magazine. You will drown in a crowd of seersucker pants, pastel polo shirts, boatshoes and Lily Pullitzer frocks.
The Naval Academy occupies 338 acres on the northeastern edge of the city. When it was founded in 1845 by Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft, it started out as 10 acres in an area that was secluded from the town with the intention of separating students from the distractions of town life. However as you can guess, as the city grew, the academy and main street soon became fast neighbors.
Today, the USNA has an enrollment of 4000 students, all on scholarship culled from an enormous pool of applicants from around the country. To even qualify, their grades have to be immaculate and they need a letter of nomination from a US Representative, two senators and the Vice President of the USA. (Your college essay doesn’t seem as daunting now does it?…)
Once you are accepted into the USNA the course is 4 years long and includes your traditional bricks and mortar classrooms as well as summer training on ships and aircraft carriers on actual operations. Calling the classes “bricks and mortar” are not giving them due credit though. The buildings on campus preserve the historic value of the area and are living breathing museums in themselves.
Most of the campus takes its design cues from Beaux Arts architecture, a signature style of Ernest Flagg (1857-1947), the principal architect for the USNA and advocate for urban reform. The main structure on site, Bancroft Hall is his piece de la resistance. An imposing horseshoe shaped building that wraps around a huge courtyard, this is where graduation ceremonies take place. The steps approaching up to the the three main doors enforces the domineering power of the academy. You do NOT want to mess around in here. The first space you enter is Rotunda Hall, a pristine white three story cavern of a room. From this receiving room, you then proceed down either wing or up upwards to Memorial Hall. Unfortunately the day we visited, Memorial Hall was closed for a ceremony.
Honestly, the building that most caught my eye was Dahlgren Hall. Originally built as an armory, it’s now used as an assembly hall and part restaurant. What I love most is the industrial quality of the space, 70 -foot high ceilings with iron trusses left exposed. Light filters in from the large windows on the upper balcony. Additional lighting is provided by some very cool old world lamps marching up the trusses. At one end of Dahlgren hangs a Wright model B-1 plane, the first aircraft built for the US Navy. At the other end of the hall, there’s a sail ship that used to be a recruit training tool for rigging and seamanship. Truly a remarkable building ( also by Ernest Flagg) which was completed in 1903.
The last building I’ll point out on campus is the intimate but impressive Naval Academy Chapel.. This multi denominational religious building was dedicated in 1908 and boasts an domed oculus and copper cupola which as be seen from the city. It’s also home to exquisite stained glass windows by Tiffany. Bathed in royal blue and dark oak, the pews aren’t flashy but stoutly carved and look like they’ll survive the next hundred years too. The interior walls are simple and free of the ornate plaster reliefs typically found in European church designs. Head outside and underneath the chapel lies the black marble crypt of John Paul Jones, the father of the American navy. A silent tomb of historic significance that is only part of what this campus has to reveal.
I admit I cannot do justice in describing the architecture on USNA’s campus. There’s so much more to see there besides what I wrote about and thoroughly worth a visit whether you are interested in architecture or history. make a weekend trip to Annapolis, you won’t regret it. And maybe… just maybe you’ll meet your very own Richard Gere