Spring arrives in Washington with the blooming of the Japanese cherry trees, an event that attracts over half a million visitors annually.
It was in 1912 that the first trees were shipped to Washington from Japan as a gesture of friendship between the two countries. The first tree was planted by first lady Helen Herron Taft, and two decades later a festival was held to celebrate the blooming of the trees.
This year's National Cherry Blossom Festival, which opens next Sunday and runs through April 12, commemorates the 80th anniversary of the gift of the cherry trees. It will be a week filled with ceremonies, concerts, sporting events, a banquet and ball, fireworks and a parade that is the largest spectator event in the nation's capital.
The official festival opening will take place next Sunday at 4 p.m. at the Sylvan Theater, on Washington Monument grounds. The Japanese ambassador, local and national dignitaries, and the 55 Cherry Blossom Princesses, one to represent each state and U.S. territory, will attend the ceremony, which is open to the public without charge.
The same day, traditional Japanese festival banners will decorate the southwest waterfront area (off Water Street Southwest near Main Avenue Southwest) during the second annual Washington Waterfront Arts Festival. American and Japanese artists will display their artwork and crafts for sale from noon until dark.
On April 7 a gala luncheon will be held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel at 11:30 a.m. All the princesses will be present, along with NBC-TV weatherman Willard Scott and WRC-TV news anchor Doreen Gentzler.
The luncheon is open to the public, and tickets cost $40. Half the proceeds will benefit Children's Hospital.
The National Park Service will sponsor a paddle boat regatta in the Tidal Basin April 8 at noon, weather permitting. College athletic teams will compete against each other in paddle boats. The next day a luncheon cruise will be held on the Potomac River aboard the Spirit of Washington. Advance tickets are required. Call (301) 858-0164.
A memorial service is scheduled April 10 at 1:30 p.m. at the Arlington Cemetery grave sites of President and Mrs. William Howard Taft in commemoration of the first tree planting ceremony. That evening the grand ball and banquet will take place at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. During the evening one of the princesses will be crowned queen of the festival by the Japanese ambassador.
Highlight of the week is the National Cherry Blossom Parade down Constitution Avenue between Seventh and 17th streets at 12:30 p.m. The parade features elaborate floats, giant helium balloons, marching bands and specialty groups from various cultures. This year's grand marshal is Washington Redskins defensive end Charles Mann. Grandstand tickets are available at $10 each. Call (202) 728-1137.
Throughout the day the first National Cherry Blossom Festival Regatta will be held on the Potomac River in the Washington Harbor area, and American collegiate crews from the Eastern part of the country will compete against two collegiate rowing teams from Japan. Hosts for the event are the National Cherry Blossom Festival Committee and the George Washington University Rowing Team.
The festival finale will be held April 12 at Freedom Plaza, Pennsylvania Avenue between 13th and 14th streets Northwest. features live music, traditional Japanese court dancing, ethnic food, arts and crafts and festival souvenirs from noon to 6 p.m. Admission is free.
During the week there will be free noon hour concerts in various parks around the city. For a complete schedule, call (202) 737-2599.
'Cook's Tour of Alexandria'
A "Cook's Tour of Alexandria" will visit seven homes in the Quaker Lane area of Alexandria, Va., on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The focus is kitchens, but the tour also includes dining rooms and entertainment areas. You will see kitchens designed in various styles ranging from art deco to French country to a gourmet kitchen filled with every imaginable gadget and new appliance. Local decorators and floral designers will arrange elegant table settings in each of the homes, and tour-goers can sample hors d'oeuvres and desserts at each tour stop.
Sponsored by TWIG, the junior Auxiliary of the Alexandria Hospital, proceeds will be used to benefit the hospital, which celebrates its 120th anniversary this year. Tickets cost $12 in advance or $15 on tour day. Tickets will be for sale on the day of the tour at Second Presbyterian Church, 1400 Janneys Lane, in Alexandria. For information, call (703) 838-5005.
Frederick county museums
To celebrate the spring opening of Frederick County area museums, the Frederick Historic Sites Consortium will sponsor "Hearthside Sampler," a county-wide self-guided tour of 10 historic sites, on Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. In keeping with the event's cooking theme, there will be hearth demonstrations, exhibitions and other activities relating to cooking.