Saturday, March 15, 2014

The original 1925 plan for Arlington Memorial Bridge, the Lincoln Memorial, and the entrance to Arlington Memorial Cemetery.

To the right is the Lincoln Memorial, which was supposed to have this vast concrete plaza around it. Cars would flow free-form across the plaza (no kidding, that was the plan), mingling with people as they walked across the plaza to the Watergate Steps that led down to a bathing beach on the Potomac River. The plaza was never built, obviously. The Watergate Steps were built, but they are split in two by Ohio Drive SW. No bathing beach was built. It's almost impossible to cross Ohio Drive, because there are no crosswalks to stop-lights. The lower Watergate Steps are crumbling and decrepit.

The Arlington Memorial Bridge, as built, is in a straight line between the Memorial and the new ceremonial entrance to the Cemetery. It's considered one of the most beautiful bridges in America. It'll be undergoing the first major renovation in its history next year.

The second big idea was to have a double-wide avenue extending from Columbia Island to the new entrance at the Cemetery. This "Memorial Avenue" was to be lined with a vast number of monumental statues of war heroes. At the entrance of the Cemetery, new marble gates would be built. A Hemicycle would be constructed, with a giant apse in which there would be a statue to Valor. A fountain in front of the apse would complete the deal.

The avenue was built, but it was half as wide as planned. No statues were placed there for a long time. Today, there are only a handful of statues, and they mostly represent military units or battles, not heroes. The gates and Hemicycle were also built. No statue was placed in the Hemicycle. It became decrepit and overgrown, but in 1997 it was turned into the Women in Military Service for America Memorial.

The biggest change is Columbia Island. The "Virginia Channel" separating the mostly man-made island from the Virginia shoreline was never really finished. It's shallow, weed-ridden, and often runs dry. The George Washington Memorial Parkway was supposed to run along the boundary around the island's exterior, and a huge grand plaza complete with two 165-foot-high columns commemorating the North and the South in it. A north-running straight roadway would lead off the plaza to another, smaller memorial plaza in which a Greek-like temple would exist and contain another memorial. A similar road would run south to another temple-memorial. A local road would extend south of the southern plaza bridge and cross the Virginia Channel via a small, stone bridge to connect with local Virginia roads south. A double-wide memorial avenue was to extend northwest from the northern plaza, crossing a major masonry bridge to connect with a major new memorial roadway to be built in Arlington County.

Almost none of this was built. The Great Depression made most of it impossible, while the columns were never constructed because they would have interfered with flights departing National Airport. Northbound GW Parkway still runs along the border of the island, but southbound GW Parkway avoids most of the island and only runs on the south part of the island. No Great Plaza was built, just a grassy circle. Neither the northern or southern plaza was built, although a series of narrow, connecting roadways was constructed to make it easy for wayward drivers to turn around and go in different directions. Essentially, the island is just a big, oddly-shaped cloverleaf.

Arlington County officials could not decide on the politically charged issue of where to build the new roads. Debate raged for eight years. When Arlington Memorial Bridge opened in 1932, it led to the Cemetery -- but connected with no other roads in Virginia!!!

Once Arlington County road routes were chosen in 1933, it took another five years for the county to obtain financing. In 1938, a connection was finally made to Lee Boulevard (since renamed Arlington Boulevard).

In 1941, Congress approved construction of The Pentagon just south of Columbia Island on the Virginia shoreline. A series of roads, cloverleafs, highways, and bridges was designed and built to allow people to drive to the massive new office building. The following year, Washington Boulevard was completed -- which also connected with the island and Arlington Memorial Bridge.

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