The Big Chair - Washington, DC

 

Martin Luther King Avenue and V Street, S.E
Washington, DC 

Height: 19 1/2 feet

Dedicated: July 11, 1959
Removed for Restoration: August 24, 2005
Re-Dedicated: April 25, 2006

 

- photos taken August 2006, TMC.

The chair, a 19 1/2 foot tall replica of a Duncan Phyfe model chair was  built in 1959 by the Virginia-based Bassett Furniture company for Curtis Brothers Furniture as a promotional ploy  after being conceived by Charles Curtis, the brother of the company's president, as a way to draw customers to the family's furniture showroom.   Curtis Brothers was  once a well-known furniture retailer whose warehouse, showroom and offices were at what is now V Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE, and then on Nichols Avenue.

On August 23-24, 2005, the chair was pulled apart with a backhoe and removed for restoration due to rot eating away at its legs and back.  On April 25, 2006 the current owners, Curtis Properties Inc., introduced a rebuilt version,  constructed from brown-painted aluminum. 

Schwartzman, P. (2006, April  26). The Return of the Big Chair: A Very Big Deal. The Washington Post, pp. B4.

In Anacostia, people still talk about the pretty woman who lived for 42 days on the big chair, high above what is now Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, eating and sleeping and waving to the crowds who came to see her.

On Aug. 13, 1960, Rebecca Kirby, then a model known as Lynn Arnold, entered a 10-by-10-foot cubicle, furnished with a bed, shower, toilet, heater, air conditioner and balcony and  was placed atop the seat by a forklift, where her meals were delivered every day and where she watched TV, read books and talked on the telephone. Every few hours, she would slip out onto the balcony to wave to crowds drawn by newspaper and radio ads that invited them to see "Alice in 'Looking Glass House' " and guess how long she could remain up there.  "For six weeks, Kirby said, she had no regular visitors except for her 14-month-old son, Richard, who was placed in a dumbwaiter for the ride up to his mother. Then, she said, with her earnings approaching $1,500, and her growing tired of life above, she decided to return to earth." 

Schwartzman, P. (2005, August 28). You Better Sit Down.  The Big Chair's Gone. The Washington Post, pp. C1.

 

Text from the Original Dedication Plaque

The World's Largest Chair presented to Curtis Bros. for their outstanding leadership and service to the public by the Bassett Furniture Industries.  The Chair made of solid Honduras Mahogany is 19 12/2 feet tall and weighs 4600 pounds.  Dedicated July 11, 1959.
Designer: Leo M. Jiranek; Builder: J.E. Bassett

Text from the Re-Dedication Plaque

The Big Chair - Re-Dedication - April 25, 2006; This community landmark represents the Curtis Companies long-standing allegiance to the neighborhood and steadfast commitment to unity, prosperity and good will to all Washingtonians and friends of Anacostia.
Designers: John Kidwell & A Lomax Project; Fabricators: Cinnabar and Nelson's Welding

 

 

 

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