IV. The Capital’s Space | Washington DC, the Place and Space Series

In honor of Veteran’s Day and Armistice Day, thank you.

While DC is a city never far from federal jurisdiction there are several places that have always been part of the capital as opposed to the city: the Capitol, the White House and the National Mall–though the separation became more complete over time.  Where L’Enfant drew up the original plans for the National Mall, what we see today is a renovated design based on the 1901 McMillan Plan.  Some of its designs have been implemented, but as Dr. Judy Scott Feldman and her organization, the National Coalition to Save Our Mall, have pointed out the Plan has faltered and is now in the hands of several different departments and jurisdictions.  Plans for the National Mall are first and foremost in the hands of the National Park Service which has projects for the Mall that it tackles as money comes in.  Additionally, the Capitol Architect, the National Capital Planning Commission, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts and the District government all have competing plans in the pipeline.  So, while the space has failed to be fully developed along the original plans, and has in fact evolved in some respects away from these plans, the future is unclear and a cohesive whole–part of the goal for McMillian Plan–seems unlikely.

Andrew Ellicott's remembered version of Pierre L'Enfant's original design.

Notice the position of the Potomac River in these two images!

1901's McMillan Plan, intended to create a cohesive design for a democratic stage.

The competing visions and boundaries of the National Mall.

The Mall has always been a disorderly space of competing claims and as a result is really a compilation of ideas and interests.  Dr. Mark Levitch spoke at the conference this past weekend about the plans and ultimate failures to build a World War I Memorial where the National Gallery of Art now stands–a plan that would be tied to providing the city with a large auditorium space.  The World War I Memorial was tied to existing plans for a George Washington Memorial–again the main feature here was an auditorium.  At first, George Washington was dropped and the emphasis was to build just a World War I victory memorial, and there existed a real fever among Americans to fund and build such memorials.  George would be reinstated in the plan and there was an attempt to link the hero of the Revolutionary War with General John J. Pershing, American hero of World War I.  In the end, neither building would be built (only a foundation would be laid) and no National World War I memorial would be built on the National Mall–the only 20th century American war not so represented (though a DC WWI memorial can be found among the trees on the south side of the Reflecting Pool).  Levitch suggested that the project’s chameleon-like nature to re-envision itself into various George Washington and [other] plans was as much to blame as anything, though other factors contributed.

While tomorrow’s post will look at the use of this space as a democratic stage (mostly through photography), I did want to direct interested people to the website for Feldman’s organization, which provides information about existing plans and a suggested direction for future management called the 3rd Century Mall which specifically considers its democratic functions as public space.



Thanks to Mark Farrell for directing me to this particular workshop at the conference!!

1 Comment

Filed under Historian's Journal, Lectures

One response to “IV. The Capital’s Space | Washington DC, the Place and Space Series

  1. Pingback: Top Ten Most Popular Posts – Korea, Baseball, Beowulf, Soccer, DC and MORE! | Brush off the dust! History now!

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