The first explicit attempt to utilize the vaguely classical Beaux-Arts architectural style, which emerged from the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, for the explicit intent of beautification and social amelioration was the Senate Park Commission's redesign of the monumental core of Washington D.C. to commemorate the city's centennial. The McMillan Plan of 1901-02, named for Senator James McMillan, the commission's liaison and principal backer in Congress, was the United States' first attempt at city planning.

The original plans of Pierre L'Enfant had been largely unrealized in the growth of the city, and with the country's growing prominence in the international arena, Congress decided that Washington D.C. should be brought to the magnificence decreed in L'Enfant's plan. The members of the commission convened by the Congress included Daniel H. Burnham, former Director of Construction of the World's Columbian Exposition; architect Charles McKim, of McKim, Mead, & White, New York City; sculptor and World's Fair alumnus Augustus Saint-Gaudens; Frederick L. Olmsted, Jr.; and Congressional liaison Charles Moore. Together they sought to revitalize the capital city through the monumental forms of the Beaux-Arts style. Using their experience at the World's Fair as a jumping-off point, the commissioners sought to accomplish a number of goals: to obtain a sense of cultural parity with Europe; to establish themselves as cultural and societal leaders in the rapidly growing professional class; to revitalize Washington D.C.'s "monumental core" as an expression of continuity with the "founding fathers" as well as an expression of governmental legitimacy in a changing and confusing era of expansion; and finally, to utilize the beauty of the monumental center as a means of social control and civic amelioration.

The means to these ends was the 1901 plan. The group began their research for the comprehensive city plan by visiting the "great cities" of Europe. Vienna, Paris, and the town planning of Germany were their destinations in an attempt to recover the spirit of L'Enfant. "Their pilgrimage in general, and their specific itinerary, reflected the reverence of the City Beautiful mentality for the culture of the Old World..." (Hines, 87) The commissioners were particularly impressed with Paris, seeing it as a "'well-articulated city--a work of civic art.'" (Hines, 87) The broad Parisian avenues and gardens of Versailles were a great influence on the men, and with their predilection for the Beaux-Arts style, an understandable influence on the final plan.

The plan itself was a reworking of L'Enfant's plan, creating a monumental core, a great public Mall, and a series of public gardens. The focus of the plan, however, was on the Mall itself.

Briefly, the Commission proposed to surround the Capitol square with a series of monumental buildings for Congressional use and for the Supreme Court. These, together with the existing Library of Congress, would form a frame for the Capitol and its towering dome. Extending westwards on a rectified axis, a broad Mall with four carriage drives would lead to the Washington Monument. Lining the Mall on both sides would be major cultural and educational buildings. (Reps, 109)
The buildings surrounding the Capitol eventually included Burnham's immense Union Station and Columbus Plaza. The placement of this railroad station is important in the 1901 plan. Not only does it demonstrate the Commission's mania for symmetry, harmony, and building groups rather than individual buildings, it also demonstrates its power. For the preceding decades the Pennsylvania railroad had its station at the base of Capitol Hill, its tracks cutting across the Mall. Daniel Burnham, used his influence with the railroad's president, Alexander Cassatt, and convinced him to move his station, as a matter of civic beauty and national loyalty.

At the opposite end of the monumental core stood the Washington Monument, anchoring the two axes of power--the Capitol and the White House. However, the Monument had been built a few hundred yards off the White House's sight lines. "Elaborate sunken gardens proposed for the western side of the monument attempted to correct the off-center north-south axis from the White House. South of the monument were projected sites both for a principal memorial honoring the founding fathers [now the Jefferson Memorial] and for facilities for indoor and outdoor sports." (Gutheim, 90) In addition, a monument to Lincoln was planned for the reclaimed swampland west of the Washington Monument, as well as Memorial Bridge leading to Arlington Cemetery. The placement of the Lincoln Monument (a hotly debated site, which the Speaker of the House, a representative from Illinois, called a "damn swamp") served to enclose the Mall, creating a monumental core, a national civic center. L'Enfant's vision of a processional avenue similar to Paris' Champs Elysees became, in the hands of the Senate Park Commission, "a tapis vert that was similar to elements at Versailles and to the Schoenbrunn Palace gardens in Vienna." (Hines, 94) The Mall was "unified and stripped of the...undulating walks as well as the intrusive railroad station and tracks, long a civic disfigurement. Elms were to be planted along the Mall's longitudinal edges, defining this space and its central panel of sward." (Gutheim, 34) This visual reference to great European cities was not an accident. Not only were the designers influenced by the French Beaux-Arts style, they took Europe as an explicit model for their plan. America had been struggling with defining its identity since its inception, and on the centennial of the national capital, was still not quite sure of itself. To visually equate the American capital with European capitals was to create instant social and cultural cache for the nation.

It was not only the nation for which the Senate Park Commission was attempting to attain social and cultural cache. As members of a growing professional class, which included professors, writers (such as Henry Adams, William and Henry James), architects, and civil servants, they were attempting to define their roles in this new category in a modern society. As social roles changed, government grew, and America underwent the last death pangs of an agricultural society, this new class of professionals sought recognition and power. The Senate Park Commission, whether consciously or not, identified themselves with the power of planning the national capital, using the Beaux-Arts style to indicate that they (and America) had as much class as the Europeans, and just as much right to be a part of the upper echelons of American society.

However, it was not only European forms that the Commission used in its 1901 plan. The Beaux-Arts style gave the impression of being vaguely classical, connoting not only the democracy of ancient Greece and the Roman Republic, but also the early American Republic of L'Enfant's plan. "Classic architecture symbolized the historical heritage of the United States in a way that the Gothic, Romanesque, or commercial styles never could." (Wilson, 89) The classical reference in architecture was well-known in America, flowering through the late 1840s before the advent of Victorian eclecticism and the more austere and functional forms of the Chicago school. (Wilson, 89, Craig, 214) The very fact that the initial intent of the plan was to revisit L'Enfant demonstrates the Commission's attempt to link the growing power of their class and of the government itself with the ideals and forms of the early Republic. "It was the first large effort to retrieve and restore the historic capital of the Founders, one of the earliest major attempts in the history of the republic to reestablish for any city a sense of continuity with its origins and with the national heritage, as expressed in architectural forms." (Hines, 95)

This explicit reference to the Founders allowed the government at the turn of the century, and subsequent governments, to align themselves with the powerful symbolism the Founders invoked. Drawing on this well of myth, the Mall was to present "the public a symbol of the power of the national government." (Gutheim, 43) In the past, the Mall was simply an open space for residents of Washington D.C.; with the new plan it "was reconceived as a new kind of governmental complex, a combined civic and cultural center that is at once a national front lawn and an imperial forum. This long, wide swath of open space--something between a park and a boulevard--and the buildings along its edges have long served, in effect, as a sacred enclosure, a tenemos for a democracy." (Stern, 263) The growing power of the government and its bureaucracy needed the kind of legitimacy that classic forms and Republican allusions provided.

Yet the monumental core was not the only part of the city the 1901 Plan addressed. The 1901 Plan was the first real expression of the City Beautiful movement in America, believing in the power of beauty in the urban center to not only increase business and property prices, but to induce civic pride and its attendant moral and economic reforms. The Plan did not explicitly address the problems of the overcrowded and impoverished tenements and alleys surrounding the monumental core; instead government buildings were to replace "notorious slum communities" with names like Swamppoodle and Murder Bay. (Gutheim, 43) The intent of the plan on its social level was not to address economic issues head-on; instead Burnham suggested the way to deal with the impoverished neighborhoods would be to cut "'broad thoroughfares through the unwholesome district.'" (qtd. in Boyer, 271-72) These City Beautiful proponents believed in the power of fountains, statues, and tree-lined boulevards as an "antidote to moral decay and social disorder." (Boyer, 265-66) but did not include the displaced poor in their city plans. Earlier planners, including Frederick Olmsted, Sr., believed in the restorative effects of beauty, as expressed in natural and park settings. His famous plan for New York's Central Park was conceived as a place where all economic classes could relax and mingle, "the locale of class reconciliation." (Wilson, 31) rather than a place where city dwellers (who were mostly working class or poor) would be imbued with the spirit of civic/national idealism, and be inspired to pick themselves up out of moral decay and into economic success. Olmsted, Sr. was never reconciled to the civic idealism or neoclassicism of the City Beautiful movement, although his son Olmsted, Jr., was a force for beauty's restorative effect within the Commission. The plan "might have emphasized primarily ceremonial aspects had the experience and sympathies of the younger Olmsted not been present." (Gutheim, 35) Olmsted's legacy in the plan is felt in the open green spaces of the Mall, and the park systems he included in the D.C. area. Yet in the end, the Commission "believed less in the Olmstedian view of beauty's restorative power and more in the shaping influences of beauty." (Wilson, 80)

The potential for monumentality, beauty, and community building was immense in the redesign of Washington D.C. But as Norma Evenson observes in her article "Monumental Spaces," : "As a planned city, Washington provided opportunities for the creation of large scale urban unity: the axial government complex could be harmoniously embodied within, and related to, a comprehensively ordered street fabric." (21) Yet this was not the case with the 1901 plan; in fact many, even at the time, saw the focus on the Mall as exclusive rather than inclusive, a lost opportunity to address not only city beautification as well as social and economic reforms, but also thoughts for the future as the growing national government expanded the borders of Washington D.C.

The 1901 Plan for Washington D.C. was not at its core a plan for the growing metropolitan city, but for a monumental center which would invoke European and classical forms in order to legitimize the power of the planners, the growing government, and America in the international arena. It would also provide a focus for civic and national pride, which would in turn somehow magically ameliorate the city's and nation's economic and social problems. When the Commission presented the Plan to President Roosevelt and the public in an exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery, the estimated $200-600 million required to put the plan into place was only one of many concerns voiced. The legacy of the City Beautiful movement in Washington D.C., and throughout the country, is being felt even today in debates over city beautification versus economic redevelopment.

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