"Washington, D.C. -- City of Lakes!
In addition to its two great rivers, the Potomac and Anacostia, Washington is also home to two great lakes, Rock Creek and Kingman. With its rocky promontories and high cliffs, the 2,600-acre Rock Creek Lake is 140 feet deep at its lowest and supplies the city with more than 2 billion gallons............"
You never heard of Rock Creek Lake?
That's because it was never built. But it almost was...
From 1802 to 1871, Washington was governed by a mayor and 13-member council, all of whom were appointed by the President of the United States. But development of the city was so slow and haphazard that in 1871 Congress replaced this system with a three-member Board of Public Works. Congress also merged the City of Washington, the City of Georgetown, and undeveloped "Washington County" into a single entity called the "District of Columbia." For the next three years, the Board's chairman, "Boss" Alexander Shepherd, practically spent the city into bankruptcy. In 1874, Congress abolished the Board of Public Works and replaced it with a Board of Commissioners. Shepherd, however, did everything which the city had lacked for the past 75 years: He built extensive sewers, extended the city's roads and avenues by 200 percent, laid asphalt over practically every road, gave practically every house natural gas lighting and heating, and installed street lights on every thoroughfare.
The new Board of Commisssioners had three members. One was appointed by the U.S. Senate, one by the President, and one was appointed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Since only the Corps' representative was a full-time commissioner, the Corps ran the city for all intents and purposes. The Corps' mission was to build, and build it did. Millions of dollars a year were spent building the city, especially the central historic core. It was during the period from 1880 to 1920 that most of the land which is south of the National Mall was created from material dredged up from the Potomac River, the city made safe from floods, and nearly all the great memorials and monuments built or completed.
On October 29, 1881, Lt. H.M. Hoxie, the Army Corps of Engineers' deputy commissioner for Washington proposed damming Rock Creek at Massachusetts Avenue. A massive new national park would be formed, its boundaries essentially being Blair Road NW, New Hampshire Avenue NW, Columbia Road NW, and Wisconsin Avenue NW. The new park would occupy a third of the city! The heart of the new national park would be a gigantic reservoir, beneath whose waters would lie the present-day neighborhoods of Woodley Park, Cleveland Park, Van Ness, and half of Adams Morgan.
The rationale behind Rock Creek Lake was that Washington, D.C., was growing too quickly. The city's water supply was only 150 gallons per person, half that of European cities. And water use was expected to triple within the next 25 years.
Well, Rock Creek Lake never got built.
But plenty of other projects were proposed....................
The Washington, D.C., that might have been -- Pt. 2
Anyone cross Ulysses S. Grant Memorial Bridge lately?
That's not unsurprising, as it never got built, either. In 1809, a bridge was built connecting 14th Street SW with the Arlington County, Virginia. Known as the "Long Bridge," this bridge was one of the most critical bridges in the region. It was burned during the War of 1812 and rebuilt. Massive sheets and blocks of ice coming down the Potomac River in 1831 destroyed the bridge, but Congress bought it from its private owners and built it again. It was destroyed again by ice in 1840, and rebuilt in 1843. It was washed out by a flood in 1857. A railroad bridge was built next to it in 1865. With increasing traffic between Arlington and Washington, D.C., in the 1870s, however, the bridge became clogged with traffic. At times, wagons and horse-drawn trams backed up for three hours on either side of the bridge.
Clearly, another bridge across the Potomac to Arlington was needed.
The death of President Ulysses S. Grant in 1885 plunged the nation into national mourning. Grant was the Savior of the Union, the great general who had turned the tide during the Civil War and vanquished the South. Although as president Grant had been seen as weak and tolerant of corruption (although personally clean), Grant was the victim of a financial swindle that left him nearly bankrupt and generated immense public sympathy for him. Mark Twain offered Grant, now terminally ill with throat cancer, a book deal which gave the ailing ex-general 75 percent royalties on articles and books. Grant wrote a series of articles for The Century magazine, and then began working feverishly on his memoirs. Unable to eat or talk, Grant spent hours on the porch of his home in New York City, writing as fast as he could. Grant finished his book just days before dying on July 23, 1885. His memoirs were a massive best-seller, and military scholars and historians consider them even today one of the finest military memoirs ever written.
Almost immediately, calls arose in Congress for a great memorial to the legendary general.
The architectural firm of J.L. Smithmeyer & Co. was hired to submit designs. The company was led by two of the most prominent architects of the day, J.L. Smithmeyer and P.J. Pelz. Congress had already been soliciting designs for a "library for Congress," and Smithmeyer & Co. had been submitting designs for a Victorian Gothic structure that was highly derivative of the British Parliament building. Their library design didn't go anywhere. (Congress abandoned the plan to build a library at Judiciary Square and instead built the Thomas Jefferson Library of Congress just east of the Capitol in 1897. Don't worry -- Smithmeyer and Pelz designed that one, too.) But when Congress wanted to build a new bridge across the Potomac, it turned to Smithemeyer & Co. again.
Smithmeyer & Co. proposed building the new bridge opposite Arlington Cemetery. The Cemetery had been established in 1864 on 200 acres of land formerly belonging to Robert E. Lee. In 1877, the federal government seized the rest of the Lee estate in a tax sale. Arlington Cemetery was fast becoming the location of choice for Presidents and members of Congress who wanted a peaceful, militaristic background for their speeches and events. But getting there was proving impossible. Thus, Smithmeyer & Co. proposed connecting 22dn Street NW with Arlington Cemetery by constructing a major new bridge there. The proposed bridge, Smithmeyer & Co. said, would not only function as a memorial to the Civil War dead but to Ulysses S. Grant as well. It would additionally serve as a spectacular memorial gateway to the City of Washington. (It wasn't a new idea to put a bridge here. President Jackson had proposed one there in 1831, and Daniel Webster in 1851, and even Grant himself in 1865!)
Smithmeyer & Co.'s first proposal (the first image, above) was an odd fish. On either end, the bridge would be a black steel truss, to reflect the "modern warfare" which Grant's army had waged. But in the center, the structure would be a series of low masonry arches. As one left the District of Columbia, a person would pass through two low, fortified "gatehouses" dedicated to other generals. Then a vehicle would pass through a high triumphal arch dedicated to Civil War dead. On top of the arch would be a massive equestrian statue dedicated to William Tecumseh Sherman. Midway over the bridge would be a still-higher triumphal arch, this one dedicated to Grant and topped with an even-yet-larger equestrian group. Grant would face south, "defending" the city from its Confederate enemies. On the southern half of the bridge, a person would pass through two or three more sets of "fortified" gatehouses dedicated to various battles or generals.
Certain members of Congress complained that this bridge was not monumental enough. So Smithmeyer & Co. came up with a second design (second image, above). This design retained the steel trusses on either end and the masonry arches in the middle. But instead of gatehouses and arches, Smithmeyer & Co. proposed mucch taller Neo-Romantic circular towers and massive, sky-scraping rectangular stone towers surrounded by smaller circular stone towers and surmounted by battlements and turrets. Statuary groups would be placed on the front and back of the towers, allowing for more statues and more dedications. Five such massive towers were planned across the bridge. The design was intended to echo nearby Healy Hall at Georgetown University, with Smithmeyer & Co. was close to finishing.
But practical problems (e.g., money) raised their ugly heads. Congress never appropriated the money for the bridge, and Smithmeyer & Co.'s plans for this massive structure died. A bridge -- Arlington Memorial Bridge -- was built on the site between 1925 and 1932. President Warren G. Harding had got caught in one of the bridge's famous three-hour traffic jams, and demanded that Congress do something about it. Congress hired the architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White to design the structure. They dusted off the old Smithemeyer & Co. plans, and kept the masonry arches (extending them all the way to each shore, eliminating the steel trusses). Their Neoclassical bridge contained just two Art Deco equestrian sculptures (Sacrifice and Valor) on the District side, and simple marble columns on the Virginia side.
Then there was the National Mall... Although the Smithsonian Institution had been established in 1846, the museum had built only two structures by the turn of the century: The Smithsonian "Castle" (a Normanesque Revival red sandstone structure finished in 1855) and the Arts & Industries Building (finished in 1881). Most of the National Mall, however, remained undeveloped. At the time, Jefferson and Madison Avenues were just rutted dirt roads. The B&O Railroad tracks passed over the Mall at 4th Street NW. On the north side of the Mall near these tracks was the B&O Railroad Station, and just two blocks to the west was Central Market -- the city's first and largest fresh food marketplace (and the first to feature refrigeration). Large greenhouses (supplying Congress and the Executive branch agencies with live and cut flowers) occupied most of the land near the Capitol. The Mall was landscaped based on a naturalistic design beginning in the 1850s. Instead of the broad, flat grassy area flanked by tree-lined dirt footpaths you see today, the Mall was thickly covered in deciduous trees. Winding stone- and gravel-covered footpaths curved through the trees. There was no Lincoln Memorial, no Reflecting Pool, no Grant Memorial. Until the late 1880s, the Washington Monument was actually on the Potomac River's shore. Where Maine Avenue, the World War II Memorial, the Reflecting Pool, the Korean War Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, and West Potomac Park are today was all under water. East Potomac Park was just a sliver of its current size.
There were deep concerns among many people in the 1880s and 1890s that the city had grown too fast, too haphazardly. Pierre L'Enfant's plan for the city remained unfinished, and rapidly-built new developments threatened to obliterate the landscape before the plan could be implemented fully. In 1900, the U.S. Senate established the Senate Park Commission (led by Michigan Senator James McMillan) to study competing proposals for the city and come up with a master plan to guide long-term development. In 1901, the Park Commission (also known as the "McMillan Commission") published the "McMillan Plan."
The critical element in the McMillan Plan was the National Mall. What should be done with it? The Commission had worried that development was encroaching on the Mall, and that large sections on the north were close to having large buildings established on them.
Pierre L'Enfant had argued for a series of large, monumental, federally-owned buildings along the Mall on the north and south sides. The Mall would form the "monumental core" of the city and government, and help create a sense of permanency.
The McMillan Commission had a better idea: It planned to cover the National Mall in a series of interlocking, massive, tall Egyptian Revival, Greek Revival, Romanesque, Assyrian, Byzantine, Neo-Romantic, Medieval, Hindu, and Italian Renaissance structures that would all be owned by the Smithsonian Institution. Called the "National Galleries of History and Art," each building would be constructed around a central plaza, where people could congregate. Down the center of the National Mall would be a wide "grand pedestrian avenue," over which would extend "historical triumphal arches" dedicated to great moments in American history. Where the Lincoln Memorial is today, the McMillan Commission envisioned a massive "Parthenon of the Presidents" -- a huge Greek Neoclassical temple in which monumental statues of each President would stand. The National Galleries would extend from the shores of the Potomac River up to 17th Street NW. After that, the gardens would be kept as a means of shading and protecting the U.S. Capitol. But they would be refashioned into formal, terraced, geometric Italainate gardens.
The grand visionary behind all this was James Renwick himself -- who, in his twenties, had designed the Smithsonian Castle. Now Renwick was a sick old man, but his vision of grand buildings done in the great styles of world history was the primary guiding vision for the National Galleries. Franklin Webster Smith, a dynamic young architect working for the McMillan Commission, was the one who convinced Renwick to draw up this plan. P.J. Pelz, Henry Ives Cobb, and Bertram Goodhue contributed additional work to it.
Frankly, the whole thing looked a lot like the map room from Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Smith never got his plans off the ground. He was not well-spoken, a little too hyperactive, and not well-connected enough to convince anyone that his grandiose plans should be adopted. But Smith's ideas lived on in many forms. Renwick's concept of creating a central axis on the National Mall lives today in the broad, grassy plain that you see now. Smithsonian Museums do line the National Mall (although they are hardly the Neoclassical monstrosities Renwick envisioned). Smith's plan to fill in the Potomac River was accomplished over the next 30 years. And although a Presidential Parthenon never was built, the Lincoln Memorial was -- and it currently anchors the National Mall's west end.
One of Smith's plans had a reverberation on the other side of the city, though. A major flood in 1881 had left most of downtown D.C. under four feet of water. Congress resolved that the Potomac River should be dredged to a depth of 200 feet. The question was what to do with the material that was hauled to the surface? The Army Corps of Engineers used it to fill in the shoreline, so that we now have the National Mall in its current form (along with West and East Potomac Parks).
Over on the other side of the city, the Corps was also dredging the Anacostia River. The Corps was dredging the Anacostia for altogether different reasons. The construction of several bridges over the Anacostia as well as the clear-cutting of large swaths of forest on the river's southern banks had led to massive runoff problems. At one time, the Anacostia had been a fast-flowing, crystal-blue river known for its vast oyster beds and abundant fish. Now it was filled with mud and silt, and as brown as the earth itself. There was so little oxygen in the river that the only life biologists could find were sewer worms (and only two of those!). With the river flowing so slowly, the silt was washing up on the shorlines, creating vast marshy flats. These wetlands were attracting vast numbers of wildlife and migratory birds, which was good. Huge water lilies and large fields of wild rice could be found growing in the silt. But the city was dumping raw sewage into the Anacostia, and this sewage was getting trapped in the flats. This was causing disease, and incredible numbers of mosquitoes were carrying this disease into the city. Typhus, dysentery, malaria, and yellow fever were common ailments among Washingtonians of the late 1800s.
Along with the dredging of the Potomac, Congress authorized the dredging of the Anacostia. The material lifted from the Anacostia's riverbed would be used to build up the flats, so that they remained dry and free of disease.
But the Corps realized that dredging the Anacostia could have little economic value. The Potomac waterfront was an exceedingly active dock area until the 1930s. But the Anacostia waterfront had not been so since the 1840s. What point (other than disease prevention) could there be for dredging the Anacostia?
The Corps came up with a better plan in 1901: Dam the Anacostia!
All right, so that Rock Creek Reservoir idea hadn't panned out so well. But the Anacostia was a different animal! Much of Anacostia at the time was still vast forest. Only Uniontown (about 16 blocks of rowhouses clustered at the foot of the 11th Street Bridge) and Barry's Farm (a settlement for freed blacks) existed over there. A few farms still lingered, but the area was primarily forest. Traveling through this part of the city was like moving through a dense, dark, scary wood -- with only a few settlements here and there to provide light and defense.
Anacostia needed developing.
The Corps decided that the best way to do this would be to build a dam near Gallinger Hospital (later renamed D.C. General Hospital). Massachusetts Avenue SE did not run over the Anacostia, but this dam could function not only as a dam but also as a bridge to permit the avenue to link up with its other half on the eastern shore of the river. The dam would create a vast lake. The lake bottom would be dredged and the material used to build up the shoreline to contain the lake. This lake could be used for pleasure boating, fishing, commerce -- anything! The Corp even envisioned large manor homes placed along the lakeshore, providing a new playground for the rich. And with the rich would come business and development.
It never came to pass, however. Once more, Congress ran out of money for the project. The dredging material went to build up the flats, which today form the land on which RFK Stadium and Anacostia Park sit.
Smith's ideas for the National Mall, however, didn't die with Congress' fiscal woes, though. They were picked up by the most prominent architect of the early part of the 20th century -- a man appropriately named Pope.
He was John Russell Pope, "Washington's builder."
Pope was born in New York in 1874, and studied architecture at Columbia University. After graduating in 1894, attended the newly-founded American Academy in Rome, a post-graduate school whose mission was to promote Neoclassical and Renaissance art and architecture back home in the U.S. and create an "American Renaissance." In 1896, he studied for another four years at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, which was also working to export the Neoclassical style to the U.S. Returning to the United States, Pope mostly designed large, Neoclassical homes for the ultra-wealthy for the next decade.
Pope burst onto the national scene in 1912, when the Washington Council of Masons asked him to build their House of the Temple (located on 16th Street NW in Washington, D.C.). Pope's design, which replicated the Tomb of Mausolus (only on a scale about three times larger than life), was the talk of the architecture world. A decade later, a national poll of architects called it "one of the three most important public buildings in the country". Pope was appointed to the Commission on Fine Arts in D.C., where he heavily influenced not only the Commission's work but the design of hundreds of public and private buildings. (His term ended in 1922.) Pope would go on to design the National Gallery of Art (Main Building), the National Archives, impose a Neoclassical design on the entire Federal Triangle complex, the Jefferson Memorial, DAR Constitution Hall, National Christian Church, and the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Arch in New York City.
His career, however, might well have stalled had his appalling design for the Lincoln Memorial been adopted...
In 1867, Congress passed legislation approving the construction of a Lincoln Memorial to be located somewhere within Washington, D.C. Clark Mills, a well-known sculptor of the day, was hired to turn out a design. His equestrian statue of George Washington still stands at Washington Circle, and his equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson stands in Lafayette Park. His foundry, located on the outskirts of the city of Washington, cast the statue of Columbia which stands atop the U.S. Capitol buidling. But what Mills came up with was really a war memorial. A huge triangular granite base would form the foundation of the memorial. On top of that would be six gigantic statues of famous Civil War generals, each seated on a horse. On top of them would be another granite slab, on which 21 larger-than-life statues of famous statesmen, philanthropists, industrialists, and other civic leaders would stand. They would support a third granite slab, on which would stand unidentifiable statues of doctors, nurses, soldiers, freed slaves, and the grieving mothers. They would hold up yet a fourth slab, on which would stand allegorical statues of Justice, Liberty, and Equality. Finally, a whopping 70 feet in the air, on yet a final slab, would be a collosal statue of Lincoln....oddly, seated at his desk, signing the Emancipation Proclamation.
Mills' design was accepted, but money -- that savior of Washington aesthetics -- was tight and the design never built.
By 1910, pressure was building for a memorial to be built. The 100th anniversary of Lincoln's birth had come and gone, and nothing was left in the City of Washington to mark the memory of the Great Emancipator. An embarrassed Congress acted again, and this time established a federal commission and appropriated money for a design competition.
Enter John Russell Pope. Pope had not yet won the commission to build the House of the Temple. But he had been reading the McMillan Commission's report, and had seen the designs for the National Mall developed by James Renwick and Franklin Webster Smith.
Pope entered the design competition for the Lincoln Memorial, which was held in 1911. His design drew heavily on Renwick's ideas for the Mall. Pope suggested a gigantic pyramid. On each of the four sides of the pyramid would be Egyptian Revival temples, which permit entry to the memorial. Inside, an oblong space would be carved out of the interior of the pyramid and a 30-foot tall standing statue of Lincoln would occupy this space (lit from above). A reflecting pool would be built in the center of the National Mall, flanked by two sphinxes on large marble bases.
It was a grotesquery, of course. Had it been chosen, Pope would have been ridiculed. Had it been built, he would have be tossed into the Atlantic Ocean and forced to swim for Europe. Instead, a design for a classical Greek temple by architect Henry Bacon, with a seated sculpture of Lincoln by Chester French, was chosen. The Lincoln Memorial Commission chose the west end of the mall for the memorial, and required that it be built up on a 50-foot high foundation to create a false hill on which the memorial would appear to sit.
Franklin Webster Smith's ideas lived on in another way, too: The air.
The Wright Brothers had demonstrated the feasibility of powered, controlled heavier-than-air flight on Decembeer 17, 1903. Rapid advances in aeronautics led to the development of military fighter aircraft by 1911, and in 1926 Charles Lindbergh flew solo non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean. Three years later, Australian Charles Kingsford Smith and his crew flew in three stages across the Pacific in the "Southern Cross." Kingsford circumnavigated the globe in the "Southern Cross" a few weeks later.
Commercial air travel began to boom in the U.S. in 1925 and 1926. The United States also began air mail service in 1926.
At the time, the construction of airports was unregulated, and the D.C. area was home to more than 15 airports!
Remember "Long Bridge" (mentioned way, way, above)? Long Bridge had been replaced in 1906 with the "Highway Bridge" -- a much stronger, modern structure that could accommodate the much heavier weight of automobiles. This structure was placed on a pivot, and the middle third of the bridge could swing out of the way to permit boat traffic to pass.
On the Virginia side of Highway Bridge were a bunch of farms. In 1926, Thomas Mitten decided to build an airport there. Mitten owned the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company (which later became SEPTA), and the Sesquicentennial Exposition -- a World's Fair celebrating the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence -- was being held in Philadelphia that year. Mitten wanted to feature some stunt that would boost interest in the fair, and he lit upon the idea of twice-daily commercial airline service from D.C. to Philadelphia.
Named for Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover (a big booster of air service), Hoover Field opened on a former horse racing track on July 16, 1926. There were big problems with the airfield, however. Military Road ran right across the single runway. Whenever a plan was due to take off, a guard had to string a rope across the road and stop traffic. (When the airport tried to put up a stop light, Arlington County police fined the airport for obstructing traffic!) An amusement park, known as Arlington Beach, stood on the shores of the Potomac River on the northern edge of the airport, its Ferris wheel, rollercoaster, and other attractions providing dangerous obstacles to planes. (Arlington Beach later put in an "airplane ride" attraction, in which children sat in tiny fake metal planes attached to steel cables. The cables were attached to a tall iron pole, which whirled the planes around and around in a circle. When in motion, the planes actually flew out over Highway Bridge! The cables were so long, they posed a danger to the runaway, and no plane could take off or land while it was in operation.) On downstream side of Highway Bridge, right on the Potomac, stood a big landfill. The trash in the landfill was on fire, and smoke often obscured the landing field. On the south side of the airport, several tall smokestacks existed which made approaches from that side exceptionally dangerous. On the eastern side of the field where several high-tension power lines. Pilots had to fly low and hop over the wires before plunging down onto the field.
Hoover Field was considered the world's most dangerous airport. Noted pilots of the day said that Siberia had better landing fields. The U.S. Postal Service considered it such a flight risk that it refused air mail service to the city. (Air mail service moved "temporarily" to Bolling Field for the next 15 years, but only after Presidents Coolidge and Hoover ordered the Army Air Corps to take it.) Hoover Field was in such a bad location that Mitten abandoned it in 1927, and it passed through a series of hands over the next 15 years. It never closed, though, because it was far, far too convenient to the city.
Most cities, however, were building fabulous municipally-owned airports in ultra-safe locations with plenty of room to expand. Yet, the nation's capitol continued to struggled with clunky ol' Hoover Field.
The Washington Board of Trade (the forerunner to the D.C. Chamber of Commerce) was desperate to find a location to build a new, safe airport.
And this is where Franklin Webster Smith and the Army Corps of Engineers come in again.
Since 1882, the Corps had been building up the Anacostia Flats, following Smith's plan to beautify the eastern portion of the city. But there was so much material that the Corps simply could not find a place for it all. It had radically filled in much of the eastern and western shorelines of the Anacostia River, and had actually built more than 200 acres of new land near Gallinger Hospital (this is where RFK Stadium and the D.C. Armory are today). What to do with the rest of it?
The Corps had never abandoned its desire to build a lake on the Anacostia River for the idle rich, and in 1920 came up with the bright idea of building an island in the Anacostia River. In fact, the Corps built two: 40-acre Kingman Island (named for the general in charge of the Corps at the time) and 6-acre Heritage Island. (In fact, there was so much crudge coming off the bottom of the Anacostia that two more islands -- Island No. 3 and Island No. 4 -- were built near the northern end of Kingman Island as well.) The Corps then sealed off the Anacostia River near the north and south ends of Kingman Island, creating a de facto lake! This new lake, just six feet deep in most places, was called Kingman Lake. (How original.)
The Washington Board of Trade took one look at Kingman Island, and decided it was the prime spot for a major airport. After all, this was federal land. There wasn't much development on the north, west, or south sides. In fact, the only problems with the site were its small size (permitting just a single runway) and the fact that three tall smokestacks of the Potomac Electric Power Company existed on the east short of the Anacostia River. And that Benning Bridge cut across the middle of the island.
In fact, the Board of Trade envisioned two major terminals on the island (one for passengers, one for cargo), several hangers, and even a blimp shed. (See the image above!)
It was the existence of Benning Bridge that proved the deal-breaker. At the time, about 90 percent of the city's power ran through cables that ran over Benning Bridge. It was clear that Benning Bridge couldn't be moved without disrupting both the city's power supply and a major route into Anacostia. (There was no East Capitol Street Bridge at the time.)
After all the problems with Hoover Field, everyone wanted a perfect site. And so, instead of a city airport smack in the middle of a sewage-filled river we now have National Airport (which is hardly the perfect site, either, but that's a different story).
But back to the McMillan Plan.........................
The Corps had filled in most of the National Mall south and west of the Washington Monument between 1882 and 1910. It had also created the island we now know of as West Potomac Park. The sliver of marshland that existed southeast of that had also been built up, and was now East Potomac Park. Instead of a gigantic, circular tidal pool, there was not just a long sliver of tidal inlet between West Potomac Park and the main shore.
The McMillan plan realized that this created the possibility of a cruciform structure of memorials and monuments in the city. Originally, Pierre L'Enfant had envisioned Pennsylvania Avenue to be the city's central axis. The White House and Capitol were the two key buildings. Sure, the Washington Monument could form a right triangle with them. But past the Monument there was little but a few acres of marshy shoreline and then the wide, deep Potomac.
But after the Corps' activities, the city looked far, far different.
The McMillan Commission realized that the brand-new west promontory of the National Mall and West Potomac Park were ideal locations for major new monuments. These monuments could help create a cruciform structure to the Mall -- Congress in the east, a new monument in the west. The White House to the north, a new monument on the island to the south. And in the center (sort of), the Washington Monument.
But what to put there?
Well, by 1910 (as we've seen) Congress wanted to put the Lincoln Memorial on the west promontory.
So what about that island?
The death of people always seems to motivate Congress to do something. And in 1919, Theodore Roosevelt kicked the bucket.
Theodore Roosevelt was mightily esteemed among members of Congress and the public. He had been the last great Republican President before the weak, corrupt, do-nothing presidencies of Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover. Among Democrats and liberals, he was deeply admired for his successful fight against big business, his deep respect for the environment, and his abiding interest in diplomacy rather than war. Roosevelt had written extensively after his retirement, and his books and magazine articles were widely read and very popular. He'd won the Nobel Peace Prize for helping to negotiate an end to the Russo-Japanese War. And his extensive specimen-collecting trips in Africa had helped create the first environmental movement in the U.S.
The Commission of Fine Arts really wanted to use the Tidal Basin site for a Roosevelt memorial.
Re-enter John Russell Pope.
By 1926, Pope was one of America's leading architects. The Commission of Fine Arts asked him to develop plans for a Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial, to go on West Potomac Park. Among the Commission's concerns were that any monument not obstruct the White House's views of the Potomac River. So whatever Pope came up with had to be low and unobtrusive. There was also a lot of land there, so whatever Pope came up with should occupy all that land. There was also concern that any memorial not conflict stylistically with the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Capitol, or White House. So whatever Pope came up with had better be Neoclassical in style. (That was never a problem for John Russell Pope!)
Pope's Theodore Roosevelt project (above) was, frankly, massive. The monstrosity was nearly 500 feet wide! Two vast, curving colonnades were designed, with the open end of the structure facing north toward the Washington Monument. Between the arms was a vast marble plaza. (That'd heat up nicely in the summer...) A flat, rectangular tongue of marble extended out into the middle of the Tidal Basin to a large, circular island of dark granite. A pool would be cut from the center of this granite island, and an Art Deco bronze sculpture (sort of like a brazier) would form the base of a fountain. The fountain would send a single jet of water more than 200 feet skyward. The fountain was supposed to represent Roosevelt's "vital spirit." The pool was designed to overflow on every side except where the tongue of marble attached it to the shore. This was supposed to represent how Roosevelt's spirit overflowed to touch us all. The water from the fountain would flow down over these steps and into the tidal basin. At the four geographic corners of this circular island, four Winged Victory of Samothrace statues, representing the spirit of America carrying democracy to the four corners of the world.
Ah, but it was never built.
The National Capital Parks and Planning Commission -- remember them? -- refused to permit it to be built. The Theodore Roosevelt Memorial was far too massive, the NCPPC said. It utilized all the land on West Potomac Park, leaving nothing for future memorials. It overwhelmed all the nearby memorials (like the District of Columbia Memorial to World War I Dead), and was so much more massive and spectacular than the Lincoln Memorial that it threatened to detract from that much more important monument. Pope's plan also required that the 6,500 Japanese cherry trees (so much a part of D.C. history today) be uprooted, which would cause an international incident. Worse, many people unfavorably compared Pope's plan to Thomas Hasting's recently-completed Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery, and said Pope merely copied this designer's plans.
What really killed Pope's design was that Congress was not on board with any TR memorial. Without Congressional backing, any effort was really dead.
Not to worry, though: Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president in 1932. FDR was a great admirer of Thomas Jefferson, and he began to press for a memorial to Jefferson on the Mall. Congress approved a Jefferson Memorial in 1934, and Pope was commissioned to design it in 1935. Pope's original plan was predictably monumental and gaudy (a massive Parthenon with two out-buildings). Forced to scale it down into a circular temple with a simple statue, the revised plans were accepted. Pope died in 1937, but the Jefferson Memorial was completed in 1943. (Due to war-time restrictions on raw materials, a plaster cast of Rudolph Evans' statue of Jefferson was used, and painted to look like bronze. The actual statue wouldn't be cast until 1947.)
All this building was occurring on the west side of the U.S. Capitol. Between 1922 and 1945, the following had all been built west of the Capitol: Dept. of Commerce, Dept. of Justice, National Archives, Dept. of Labor, Interstate Commerce Commission, Internal Revenue Service, Federal Trade Commission, National Gallery of Art, Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Grant Memorial, Organization of American States building, DAR Constitution Hall, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Arlington Memorial Bridge...
Frankly, D.C. was getting a little west-heavy, don't you think?
In fact, that's exactly what the National Capital Parks and Planning Commission began to feel. L'Enfant's plans for the city had called for South Capitol Street, North Capitol Street, and East Capitol Street to be developed as well. But that had not happened. South Capitol Street was lined with warehouses and industry. North Capitol Street was lined with nondescript, low-level private office buildings close to the city's central core, and junky two-story rowhouses north of that. East Capitol Street had developed into one of the wealthiest sections of town (thanks to the many members of Congress who were buyinng rowhouses there).
Enough of this haphazard development, the NCPPC said. It was time for an "East Mall".......
The problem the NCPPC faced was a legal one. Back in 1789, the Constitution set up a separate "District of Columbia" for the seat of the federal government. The "Great Compromise of 1790" established this seat of government in the South in exchange for Southern states helping to pay off Northern Revolutionary War debt. George Washington was permitted to choose the site, and he chose the current location of the District of Columbia. The site Washington chose straddled the Potomac River, with two-thirds in Maryland and one-third in Virginia.
Only, dear ol' George just so happened to own a lot of land on the Virginia side of the river. Congress was worried that if it ratified Washington's choice of a capital, dear ol' George would make a boatload of cash from sales of his land to people wanting to buy land for homes and businesses in the new city. On the other hand, Congress didn't want to offend Washington (the greatest hero of the Revolution). And everyone knew that Washington was too honest to really be a land speculator...
Congress compromised again: It ratified Washington's choice in the "District of Columbia Organic Act of 1801." However, in that legislation, Congress banned the construction of any and all federal buildings on the Virginia side of the river. The goal was to avoid any appearance whatsoever that Washington had chose the site to get rich. Congress also banned the federal government from housing any Cabinet departments outside the District of Columbia. The goal, after all, was to build up D.C. -- not New York City, not Baltimore, not Richmond, not Philadelphia, not Charleston.
In time, this compromise would leave the Virginia side of Washington, D.C., utterly undeveloped. The city of Alexandria, once a thriving port, would begin to shrivel and die. Alexandrians began to petition Congress to save their town by ceding the Virginia side of D.C. back to the state of Virginia. The thought was that if Alexandria were part of Virginia again, people would want to buy land and build buildings there again. The move was eventually successful in 1846. It didn't save Alexandria, however, which continued to decline as a port city. (It's problems were caused by sweeping changes in the way ports and shipping occurred, not by the congressional compromise in the 1801 legislation.) More construction occurred in Arlington County (the former District) than in Alexandria. But that's another issue...
The thing is, because of the 1801 Organic Act, no federal buildings had been constructed in Virginia. All the construction had been downtown, around the White House and Congress and along the waterfront and near Georgetown.
The thing is, because of the 1801 Organic Act, D.C. was also getting pretty full by 1930. The federal government had ballooned in size from just a few hundred people to more than 30,000 workers under Hoover, and under FDR and the impact of World War II the federal workforce would hit more than 2 million.
Where would all these workers be housed? Congress had clearly banned the government from constructing headquarters for Cabinet departments outside the D.C. city limits. There was little desire in Congress to amend the 1801 Organic Act for fear that federal agencies would flee D.C. for the distant Maryland and Virginia sururbs -- where land was cheap, agencies could grow enormous in size, and parking very, very, very plentiful. Democrats didn't want agencies abandoning D.C., and Republicans wanted to control the size of government. No way was the Organic Act being amended!
A solution had to be found within the city limits.
Beginning in 1930, the NCPPC began studying the issue. Their concerns fell into three categories. First, they wanted to dramatically expand the space allocated in the city to federal buildings, monuments, and memorials. Second, they wanted to balance the city's growth so that the "monumental core" could expand rather than be increasingly dense around the National Mall. Third, they wanted to adapt to and accommodate the automobile.
This last issue may seem petty, but it was not. During construction of the Federal Triangle complex from 1926 to 1937, federal planners had estimated the need for 12,000 to 20,000 new parking spaces for federal workers. They ended up needing more than 60,000. Downtown D.C. was a madhouse: Cars were being parked on lawns, in alleys, in the middle of streets, on sidewalks. Traffic was so dense that it could take an hour to travel just eight blocks. (Gee, welcome to 14th Street traffic on a Thursday in 2010!) The city was so desperate to move more people, it was even considering getting rid of the trolley system and moving to buses (which could haul twice as many people for the amount of space and didn't need special electrical systems or tracks or maintenance; D.C. dumped trolleys for buses in 1962).
Hearings were held. Engineers were consulted. The Commission on Fine Arts was consulted. Congress was lobbied. Federal agencies were briefed. Demographers were contacted and interviewed.
In 1946, the NCPPC unveiled its master plan. A new "National Mall East" would be constructed that would mirror its counterpart in the east. The "Mall East" would extend clear to the Anacostia River. East Capitol Street and Lincoln Park would remain, but little else. A full two blocks on either side of East Capitol Street would be razed (as well as A Streets NE and SE), and 33 massive marble federal office buildings (each about five to six stories high) would be constructed. On the shores of the Anacostia would be built a new sports stadium, a new armory, and other outdoor athletic fields and sports structures.
The critical component of the "East Mall" was not merely the new office buildings but the two huge new FREEWAYS that would soar alongside them. The NCPPC planned to build two six-lane freeways from the Lincoln Memorial to Capitol building. These freeways would be elevated on 15-foot-high embankments, with on-and-off ramps located at strategic points here and there. (Existing streets would still cross the National Mall, only via tunnels running through this embankment.) The freeways would plunge into tunnels as they reached the Grant Memorial, and pass under the Congress. The freeways would run in open ditches where Constitution Avenue NE and Independence Avenues SE are today. Independence Avenue would curl around the sports stadiums and the two freeways would rise up out of the ground to join one another and cross over Benning Bridge.
As Judge Doom said in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, "My god, it would be beautiful."
But can you imagine the National Mall blocked off by gigantic elevated freeways? Or huge freeways running in deep, massive ditches alongside Lincoln Park? Naturally, people living in the Capitol Hill neighborhood didn't take too kindly to having a four-block-wide cement and marble cemetery (which would be devoid of people at night) plunked down in the middle of their community.
Within four years, citizen opposition to the plan had killed the entire thing.
The NCPPC began calling for federal headquarters to be dispersed out of Washington, D.C. And that's exactly what happened: Beginning in 1952, the Office of the President issued a legal memorandum concluding that the Organic Act of 1801 prevents "Cabinet departments" from being built outside Washington, D.C. No one said anything about sub-cabinet agencies (like the Environmental Protection Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the IRS Processing Facility, NASA, etc.) or non-headquarters portions of Cabinet departments from being deployed to the suburbs.
And in fact that's just what has happened. Nearly all of the federal government is now located outside the city.
None of this stopped the federal government from proposing more freeways, however. Remember, NCPPC's traffic engineers had already concluded that the city of Washington would suffer parking gridlock by 1970 (buses or no buses).
To avoid this problem, in 1956 the Federal Highway Transit Authority proposed building three Beltways in and around Washington, D.C. One of the goals was to get north/south traffic to bypass the city and divert it off city streets and highways. The second goal was to make it easier to get around inside the city.
First there was the Inner Loop -- a six-lane expressway set about a mile from the White House. Beginning at the Kennedy Center in the west, the Inner Loop would run southeast along what Ohio Drive SW (through West Potomac Park) until it linked with the Southeast/Southwest Freeway. It would swing north along I-395 and run underneath the National Mall in a tunnel. It would turn west on K Street NW, and run underneath K Street in an underground tunnel to join up with the Whitehurst Freeway and Interstate 66 -- completing the loop.
Then there was the Middle Loop. Southeast/Southwest Freeway would not merely come to a dead stop at Barney Circle near Pennsylvania Avenue SE as it does today. Instead, the "Barney Circle Freeway" would cut north through Anacostia Park until it reached the Trinidad neighborhood. It would then angle north-northeast along Mt. Olivet Road NE (past Gallaudet University) until it reached the Amtrak rail line. It would follow the railroad north to Missouri Avenue NW, then travel along Missouri Avenue NW to Military Road NW, along Military Road NW across Rock Creek Park to Nebraska Avenue NW, down Nebraska Avenue NW to New Mexico Avenue NW, and then down New Mexico Avenue NW and across Glover-Archbold Park until it terminated near 37th Street NW at the north end of Georgetown.
The outermost route, the Capital Beltway, would encircle the city of Washington.
Because some people still wanted to travel north through the city, a north-south Interstate (I-395) was also conceived. I-395 would extend northeast from I-95 through Arlington County, cross the 14th Street Bridges, and then cut across Southwest D.C. (which was in the process of being completely razed anyway to build townhouses for upper-middle class whites). It would turn north at 2nd Street NW, and tunnel under the Mall and Union Station, running where New Jersey Avenue NW is today to emerge north of New York Avenue NW. It would run in an open ditch (cutting across the Howard University campus) up Georgia Avenue and then New Hampshire Avenue, finally merging with I-95 again near Adelphia, Maryland.
The "Beltway plan" freak out nearly half of all D.C. residents. Most of the city's middle-class black neighborhoods would have either been destroyed or sundered by freeways. Amazingly, despite opposition from the city's residents, Congress went ahead with construction anyway. Southwest Freeway, Southeast Freeway, and I-395 from I-95 to to New York Avenue were all built. Black residents were practically rioting in the streets. But still the money flowed. That's because the Democratic congressman who chaired the House committee which had control over the funds, Rep. William H. Natcher of Kentucky, was a big booster of freeways. He also believed that black people, while decent and honorable, were incapable of self-government. He refused to allow the city to have any funds to build Metro unless the city also agreed to build these freeways. Local residents formed the "Emergency Committee on the Transportation Crisis" and began holding raucous rallies, protests, pickets, and even occupied a few buildings here and there (terrorists!) -- always shouting the slogan "no white men's roads through black men's homes!"
It took 20 years of active protest by the local community to finally kill the Inner Loop and Middle Looop. All portions of the network not yet started were completely canceled in 1977. The portions that were built, however, created traffic nightmares. For example: Southeast Freeway dead-ends at Barney Circle, causing terrific gridlock. I-295 doesn't connect with Southeast/Southwest Freeway, forcing massive numbers of commuters from southern Prince George's County to leave the freeway, travel through clogged local city streets, and re-access the highway from on-ramps. I-66 -- which was supposed to cross the city and connect with the John Hanson Highway and Baltimore-Washington Parkway -- dead-ends on Independence Avenue SW. I-395 dead-ends at New York Avenue NW. There is no way for the half-million commutes who come from northern Prince George's County or Montgomery County to reach the federal office buildings where they work downtown except by traveling on gridlocked local city streets.
Were there no successes?
Yes, there was. But it was never built, either.
In the 1950s and 1960s, a number of urban planners were trying to get away from the top-down, alienating type of mega-structure that typified the East Mall or National Galleries of History and Art plans that D.C. architects were so fond of. These architects didn't think much about what people wanted or needed. They merely decided that "this would be best for the unwashed masses," and designed accordingly. Actual human behavior rarely concerned them.
Joseph Miller believed differently.
The Jewish Miller attended Catholic University of America (CUA), where he graduated with a degree in architecture and design. After many years working for the War Department and in private practice, he returned to CUA and began teaching in the architecture program. Miller had seen enough bad solutions from competent architects to understand that much of architecture's role had to be not merely the design of personally interesting and expressive buildings but structures that would help solve a city's urban problems. Miller established CUA's avant-garde Urban Design Studio, and started mentoring young, socially responsible architects.
In 1961, they came up with this design for RFK Stadium.
D.C.'s civic boosters had been trying to build a major athletic stadium since the 1920s. They had attempted to build an Olympic-sized complex in the 1920s, but no suitable space could be found. They tried to build a stadium on Kingman Island in the 1930s, but failed. Finally, in 1956, Congress agreed to turn over a vast section of Anacostia Park at the eastern end of East Capitol Street to the city for the construction of a stadium.
The new stadium was a "cookie-cutter design," meant to be utilized by football, baseball, soccer, and all sorts of sports teams. Instead of parking garages, the city opted to turn vast tracts of land into parking lots. The stadium was never really a good one. The lines-of-sight were poor, the baseball seating was expensive to maneuver into position (it cost $40,000 every time they had to change over), and it had no skyboxes or VIP suites.
It's not like the city did a good job with RFK Stadium. Miller thought it could do better.
One thing plaguing Washington, D.C., in the late 1960s was housing. The city had plenty of poor people, but little low-income housing. The Martin Luther King, Jr. riots of 1968 had destroyed vast tracts of the city, including most of its middle-class black housing. Couldn't this be remedied somehow??
In 1971, a team of students supervised by Miller attempted to solve both problems. What they envisioned was nothing short of astonishing. First, they decided to frame the north side of RFK Stadium with a second indoor athletic arena to compliment the D.C. Armory. The city had always lacked good public athletic facilities, and the addition of the new arena would complete plans first laid out in the 1940s and 1950s for a second structure. Second, they decided that RFK Stadium itself needed framing from the south. RFK Stadium is on a slight hill, with exceptional sight-lines directly down East Capitol Street to the Capitol and the Washington Monument beyond. The design team decided that RFK Stadium itself was too much of a mere lump to serve as the back end of the city. Framing RFK might help in that regard. The students designed two thin, curving buildings on the north and northeast, and the southeast. These buildings would be tall enough to provide backdrops to RFK Stadium, no not taller than the stadium itself. Unlike modern stadiums, which promise lots of development, RFK's vast parking lots left it isolated and alienated from the surrounding low-income community. What that community needed was shops, restaurants, and public services. These two thin, curving buildings would not only serve as a backdrop to RFK but also house the very amenities which the local community desperately needed.
The third goal was to provide housing -- lots and lots of housing! From above, the geometric forms that were created (the oval RFK, the square armories, the arcs of the retail buildings) gave the students the idea to add even more geometrical structures. The students decided that RFK's parking lots should be removed and parking garages built instead. This would permit about half of the existing parking lots to be converted to parkland, improving the stadium's appearance. The parking garages would be covered over with stepped pyramids open to the sky. The pyramids would help get rid of the boxy shape, protect vehicles inside, and yet be cheap enough so as not to break the bank.
Beyond the parking garages would be more stepped pyramids, linked by long rectangular structures which would also be stepped on the sides. These would be the housing complexes. No more than seven stories high, these apartment buildings would be stepped to allow each apartment balcony space or communal gardens at each story. Because each building would be fairly small (containing about 100 apartments or less), they would lack the impersonal feel of most public housing.
The apartment buildings took up a lot of space. More buildings were needed. The student design team resurrected the Army Corps of Engineers' old idea of damming the Anacostia River, but instead of a dam they built a bridge -- an apartment building, set right over the river but not obstructing it in any way. This not only gave even more space to the housing project, but it also gave local citizens a way of linking the Anacostia side of the river to the main part of the city without the use of yet more bridges, more cars, and more roads. You could just walk through the apartment building!
The students also embraced -- literally! -- the Corps' old concept of a lake. Instead of a real lake, why not create the illusion of one? The student design team proposed building up Kingman and Heritage Islands so that more housing could be built on them. (In fact, they pushed the housing right up to Benning Bridge!) This not only gave the city a lot more housing, but gave residents in those apartment buildings footpath access to the parks and recreational facilities on the islands (as city planners had long desired). To create the sense of a lake, the design team decided to build more pyramidal apartment buildings on Anacostia Park as a way of "embracing" the "lake".
It was a fascinating, wonderful, human, economical, magnificent design.
Sadly, it was nothing more than an academic exercise. No one was asking for this, no one was planning for this, and no one had any money to build this.
Today, RFK Stadium is practically abandoned. DC United (the losing local soccer team) plays there sometimes, but the stadium sits empty 300 days a year. Its parking lots are cracked and full of trees and weeds. When it rains, there is so much untreated runoff from them that the Anacostia River turns blackish nearby. Kingman Island remains an undeveloped trash dump. Heritage Island is reachable by a wooden footbridge with local vandals seem to burn down every few years. There is still no retail, no low-income housing, no services, no shops, and no restaurants over in that neighborhood. No one can decide to tear RFK down, or keep it, or what. It just rots.
And it need not have.
Sunday, September 17, 2017
The press is up in arms about the Ken Burns Vietnam documentary series airing now. So good, so wonderful, so awesome, blah blah blah.
Doens't anyone remember the far superior Vietnam: A Television History that aired on PBS a long time ago?
Doens't anyone remember the far superior Vietnam: A Television History that aired on PBS a long time ago?
I refuse to post these to the front page of Wikipedia any more. But I will post them here. The article I wrote or assisted with is in bold.
Did You Know ... that although the NFL debut of rookie Cleveland Browns running back Duke Johnson was highly inauspicious (he suffered a hamstring injury on the first day of training camp), he ended the season ranked first in receptions and receiving yards among all NFL rookie running backs and second in receptions among all NFL running backs?