The First Decade | Antebellum
Period | Civil War and Reconstruction
Turn of the Century | The Mall Since McMillan
Further Reading | Index of Maps/Landscapes
In 1791, Pierre L'Enfant was given the unusual opportunity of designing the capital city of the United States. Several established cities like Philadelphia and New York had vied for the chance to be named the Nation's Capital; competition was so intense that George Washington, among others, feared the issue would be divisive for the young republic. The solution was in part at least economic; the southern states offered to defray Revolutionary War debt if the nation's capital could be established in a more southerly locale. Congressional leaders decided to create a capital de novo, on a site at the confluence of the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers. L'Enfant was fully aware of the possibilities. In a letter to George Washington written in 1789 he enthused, "No nation, perhaps, had ever before had the opportunity offered them of deliberately deciding on the spot where their capital should be fixed" (qtd. in Kite, 14).
It seemed entirely appropriate to L'Enfant that the capital of a new democratic republic should have been created 'out of the wilderness' rather than established in one of the cities born during the colonial period. A 1996 federal report on the District of Columbia stated that Washington's "broad avenues and expansive public spaces are reminders of America's democratic values," symbols of "a government that is accessible to its people and a nation with room to grow."
Paradoxically, in planning the new capital of the democratic republic, L'Enfant chose as his models capital cities and royal estates from several European monarchies. In particular, Pamela Scott and others have suggested that L'Enfant's inspiration for the Mall, his "Grand Avenue," came from the royal chateau of Marly and from Versailles in France (Scott 43). Scott argued that L'Enfant's plan was on such an "immense scale" as to symbolically represent a "vast empire."
Yet L'Enfant's democratic intent can be more clearly understood through an
examination of the city plan as a whole. L'Enfant laid out
his "Grand Avenue," running west from the Congress House. He specified it
should be "400 feet in breadth, and about a mile in length, bordered with
gardens, ending in a slope from the houses on each side. This Avenue leads
to Monument A. and connects the Congress Garden with the
I. President's park and the
K. well-improved field, being a part of the walk frm the president's house of about 1800 feet in breadth, and 3/4 of a mile in length. Every lot, deep-colored red with green plots, designates some of the situations which command the most agreeable prospects, and which are the best calculated for spacious houses and gardens, such as may accomodate foreign Ministers, etc."
'Monument A' was to feature "the equestrian figure of George Washington, a Monument approved in 1783 by the late Continental Congress" (Reps 22).
L'Enfant designated other areas for monuments and memorials in the city. He dispersed these widely through fifteen public squares, and directed that each of the fifteen states in the republic develop a particular public square with memorials "to perpetuate not only the memory of such individuals whose Counsels or military achievements were conspicuous in giving liberty and independence to this Country; but also those whose usefulness hath rendered them worthy of general imitations" (qtd. in Reps, 22). L'Enfant's placement of these public squares at various points throughout the capital reinforced his belief that development of the city "should be begun at various points equi-distant as possible from the center;...because settlements of this sort are likely to diffuse an equality of advantages over the whole territory allotted" (qtd. in Reps, 8). L'Enfant's interest in the even development of the city was in part economically driven; local landowners from various parts of the district were anxious for assurance that their property values would rise. But his plan also displayed his sensitivity to the balance between federal and state powers in the American system of government, and an awareness of the threat of regional factions. By insisting that development proceed equally throughout the district, and by allowing states a role in shaping national history and mythology, L'Enfant demonstrated a remarkable understanding of American ideals. Norma Evenson noted that L'Enfant's design "provided opportunity for large-scale urban unity: the axial goverment complex could be harmoniously embodied within, and related to, a comprehensively ordered street fabric" (Evenson 21). L'Enfant had created a governmental complex which was responsive to states' rights and to the idea that government should be accessible to individual citizens, whose work and residence existed in a harmonious fashion with the governmental presence.
L'Enfant's plan wasn't so popular with many of his contemporaries. Although he is hailed today as something of an urban-planning genius, at the time government leaders including Washington and Jefferson feared he had gone too far. They believed that his plan was too ambitious and too costly for the young republic. Their immediate concern was chiefly for the construction of the Capitol, the White House, and the area around Pennsylvania Avenue, in a practical effort to house the government when it relocated from the North in 1800. Jefferson's notes from a meeting with the planning commissioners reflected his belief that "the public squares [on the map of the city] are to be left blank except that for the Capitol and the other for the executive departments, which are to be considered as appropriated at present, all other particular appropriations of squares to remain till they are respectively wanted."
L'Enfant disagreed strongly and often with the three commissioners; he disapproved of their plans for development and land sales, of their budget, of their allocation of resources, and of the limitations they placed on his authority. His repeated clashes with the commisioners, Jefferson, and Washington led to his dismissal in February 1792. The engraving published by James Thackara and John Vallance in November 1792 became the "official" city map for government and for property speculators. L'Enfant was incensed that his name did not appear on the map, and that several aspects of his original plan had been changed (among them, the straightening of Massachusetts Avenue, the elimination of twelve civic squares, and the alteration of the shapes of public spaces). Only minor changes were made in the area of L'Enfant's "Grand Avenue," but Jefferson and Washington's influence was present. After L'Enfant was fired and his assistant, Andrew Ellicott, took over the project, Jefferson directed that subsequent maps of the city be changed to show only the White House and the Capitol as labelled buildings (in L'Enfant's draft, capital letters were used as keys to several public buildings in the vicinity of the Mall, among them a national church and a judiciary center).
Mathew Carey's 1802 map was the first one to name the stretch of land west of the Capitol as "The Mall." The map was fairly accurate in showing the development across the city (solid-shaded blocks represent occupied land), although on The Mall, the planting of trees, the canal, and the university west of the White House were, in 1802, nonexistent.
The story of The Mall from 1800 until the Civil War is largely one of neglect. The federal government which under Washington and Jefferson had been unwilling (or unable) to finance and support large-scale development remained unwilling to do so for the first half of the nineteenth century. Private citizens and public organizations alike used the land for ornamental gardens, for raising produce, for grazing livestock, and for fairs and public markets.
In 1812 Congress approved a plan to allow private individuals 10 year leases to public land within the district. All public lands were up for grabs, provided the individual improved the land for eventual public use. While Congress was not interested in financing large-scale development or monuments, it clearly had to do something about the waters of Tiber Creek, which at the time came up to the base of the Washington Monument site, and whose stagnant waters regulary overflowed, turning southwest D.C. and the Presidential Park into a soupy, malarial mess. Further, a canal was needed to provide better access into the city for construction materials. An engraving by Robert King, made in 1818, shows Tiber Creek as it existed before the canal's construction. Congress's only other Mall appropriation during this time was for the construction of a Botanical Garden at the foot of the Capitol in 1823.
During the first decade of the nineteenth century, traveler Charles Janson described the capital city, apart from the federal buildings and scattered houses of the legislators, as "a mere wilderness of wood and stunted shrubs, the occupants of barren land. Strangers after viewing the offices of state, are apt to enquire for the city, while they are in its very centre" (qtd. in Reps, 60). Federal neglect of the Mall began to slowly change when Congress received word of an unexpected gift from an Englishman, James Smithson, who had bequeathed a considerable sum to the United States government for the establishment of an institution "for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men." The will was not settled until 1838, but ideas for how best to use the gift began to circulate earlier: among them were an observatory, agricultural gardens, and a national university. In 1840, a government commission settled on a National Institute which would house botanical and scientific specimens donated to the national government. Joel R. Poinsett, head of the commission, appointed Robert Mills to design the building and to landscape the grounds of the Institute, to be located on the south side of the Mall between Seventh and Twelfth streets.
Mills took the opportunity to lay out a plan for the entire Mall. Mills proposed that the central area of the new capital should be a showcase for different styles of world architecture; he felt that all of these represented the true inheritance of the new world. Mills's self-promotion as "the first native born American to enter the study of architecture in the United States" helped him win himself the commission(qtd. in Reps, 85).
The establishment of the Smithsonian Institution was perceived by contemporary critics as a great tool for an educated, democratic citizenry. An editorial in Harper's Monthly in 1852 declared, "The importance of the Smithsonian Institution in the centre of our country, and the benefits it will confer, have not yet been truly estimated. Science, literature, and art will concentrate here; and in the enlightened encouragement they will receive, they will diffuse their radiance over the whole length and breadth of the land" (qtd. in Reps, 104). Others cheered the construction because it began the improvement of the long-neglected Mall; there was "now some prospect that what has been so long delayed by the indifference of Congress, will be, in part, accomplished indirectly by the liberality of an individual" (qtd. in Reps, 104).
Joseph Varnum, quoted above, was correct in his assessment of the federal government's lack of initiative in the development of the Mall. The government was not yet in the business of building monuments. For example, in 1833 the Washington National Monument Society organized and began selling public subscriptions to finance the construction of a monument to the first president, delayed since it had appeared in L'Enfant's original plans. The group wanted it to be the largest monument in the world, because they felt Washington had been the greatest man who ever lived (Scott 50). The federal government was less than encouraging. After the group had been denied a site twice by Congress, in 1848 the government finally allowed the society to go ahead with construction on public grounds "not otherwise occupied." Congress didn't concern itself with the exact location of the Monument, choosing instead to leave that up to the discretion of the Society and of the President. The Society chose Robert Mills's design for the Monument, a design which a WPA Guide from the 1930s described as "a grand international hodgepodge" including "a decorated Egyptian shaft 700 feet high, mounted on a conic Babylonian base, the whole surrounded by a circular Greek temple, 100 feet high and 250 feet in diameter...Above the east doorway there was to be a 30-foot figure of Washington, clad in a Roman toga, sitting in a Greek chariot drawn by Arabian steeds driven by an Etruscan winged Victory" (qtd. in Reps, 89). Work on the monument proceeded piecemeal, as fundraising allowed, through the 1880s. The New York Tribune editorialized as the Monument was being completed, "The appeal for a Fourth of July contribution to the Washington Monument will not amount to much. Public judgment on that abortion has been made up. The country has failed in many ways to honor the memory of its first president, but the neglect to finish this monument is not among them...If the public will let the big furnace chimney on the Potomac flat alone and give its energy instead to cleaning out morally and physically the city, likewise named after the Father of his Country, it will better honor his memory" (qtd. in Reps, 90). The tensions between symbolic and actual solutions and between national and local priorities which were implicit in this debate have become enduring features of the discussion surrounding the space of the nation's capital.
The Tribune was not alone in its moral and physical assessment of the capital city. The canal which ran in front of the White House and the Capitol was little more than an open sewer; animals roamed the streets; and financial losses by speculators forced them to abandon half-finished houses all over the city. In 1848 Joseph Varnum decried that it was "absurd that, while thousands of dollars have been expanded on the comparatively small space within the iron railing of the capitol, all beyond, comprising a fine view of the Potomac, and facilities for forming a serpentine river out of the Tiber, each has been left a mere cow-pasture." An 1850 engraving by Robert Smith looking west from the Capitol bore out Varnum's observations. Varnum took Congress to task because "comparatively few, even of the members of Congress, are aware that it belongs to the government, or what the design of the architect was" (qtd. in Reps, 122). Furthermore, before 1850 the Robey and Williams slave pens stood along the Mall in the shadow of the Capitol; the two were often juxtaposed in artworks, and the presence of slave pens in the center of the nation's capital captured the attention of abolitionists. (Ironically, today the Museum of African Art sits less than a block away from the former location of the Robey and Williams slave pens.) Prodded into action by editorials like that of the Tribune, or by the less-than-glowing accounts of foreign travelers in the 1830s and 1840s, Congress began to appropriate money for the improvement of the Mall.
In 1851 President Fillmore asked architect and horticulturalist Andrew Jackson Downing to design a landscape plan for the Mall. The Downing plan called for a series of naturalistic parks. Downing's design was a departure from the "Grand Avenue" envisioned by L'Enfant. In some measure, Downing's design reflected a growing concern over industrialization and urbanization in America. Downing understood that although it was "needful in civilized life for men to live in cities...it is not...needful for them to live utterly divorced from all pleasant and healthful intercourse with gardens and green fields" (qtd. in O'Malley, 71). Therese O'Malley noted that L'Enfant's aim was "to take possession of and improve the whole district," turning a "savage wilderness into a Garden of Eden;" by Downing's time, writers were lamenting the "wilderness of bricks" in the capital city and calling for naturalistic settings (71). Downing, who was a champion of agrarian economics, agreed about the importance of the land. O'Malley also described how Downing's design was responsive to the moral climate of the time, in particular to the controversy surrounding slavery. Believing that residents of the capital lived in the "eye of the hurricane," the public gardens provided a sense of order and culture in response to abolitionists' charges that the slaveholders were crude and unenlightened. O'Malley argued that since Downing and his contemporaries did not fully support the equality of the races (Downing wrote about the "indistinguishable rights of a superior organization in certain men and races of men which Nature every day reaffirms"), the gardens were intended only to "display...an image of democracy and national achievement" (71).
As Downing envisioned the Mall, the Washington Monument grounds would be planted with a variety of American trees; adjacent to the Monument Park was to be an Evergreen Garden, providing a virtual 'public museum of trees.' Proceeding further east, the Smithsonian grounds were to be carefully landscaped and extend the entire width of the Mall, to the edge of the Canal; next to the Smithsonian was the Fountain Park, with ponds and other water features; finally, directly in front of the Capitol was the Botanic Gardens, which already contained three greenhouses and which Downing hoped to further populate with "hardy plants." Downing claimed that his public gardens would do much to "influence public taste" throughout the country. Downing argued that the gardens "take up popular education where the common school and ballot box leave it, and raises up the working man to the same level of enjoyment with the man of leisure and accomplishment" (qtd. in O'Malley, 70). Not only would the gardens minimize the growing differences in class, but they would promote a more general type of environmental determinism, similar to that of Crevecoeur when he wrote, "Men are like plants, the goodness and flavor of the fruit proceeds from the peculiar soil and exposition in which they grow" (qtd, in O'Malley, 70).
Congress appropriated only enough money to begin the landscaping of the Smithsonian grounds. Downing's sudden death in 1852 more or less halted the implementation of the landscaping plan; for the remainder of the nineteenth century, pleas to finish his work would be taken up again and again by residents and by various government officials. An 1852 engraving by Benjamin Franklin Smith showed what the Mall would have looked like had Downing's plan been fully realized (and had the Monument been finished).
The industrialization and urbanization which troubled Downing would ultimately impose themselves on his design: in 1854, workers laid the B&O railroad tracks at the foot of the Capitol, and constructed a terminal at the site of the present-day East Wing of the National Gallery of Art. (In the photograph displayed here, the station was draped in mourning following the assassination of President Garfield there. ) Nevertheless, by the end of the century, seven gardens had been completed on the Mall, each the responsibility of a different government bureau or institution.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, the railroad was accompanied by other, practical developments of the Mall. At the present-day site of the Air and Space Museum on the south side of the Mall, workers built a national armory (1855), which remained on the site until 1964. During the Civil War, soldiers camped on the Mall and cattle (food for the troops) grazed the grounds of the incomplete Washington Monument, earning it the local nickname "Beef Depot Monument" (Bergheim 123). Noah Brooks, a Civil War correspondent for the Sacramento Daily Tribune, noted that the war had created rapid development in the District: "the incentive to build is certainly very great, for...the demand for room is truly unprecedented...the 'magnificent distances' of the national village will be pretty well filled up if the demand for houses continues much longer" (qtd. in Reps, 146). Growth continued after the surrender of the Confederacy; many of those coming to live in the capital city were newly freed slaves. In 1860, the black population in D.C. was 10,983 (9,209 of whom were free); by 1870 the number had more than tripled, swelling the black presence in the capital to 35,392 (Bergheim x). At the turn of the century Washington had the highest black population of any urban center in the country. By 1910, blacks numbered nearly 95,000, or 28.5% of the population. Although Washington was perceived as a more liberal climate than other southern cities following the war, many of its newly emancipated residents had to struggle to make ends meet. This became even more difficult after the Freedman's Savings Bank, set up for blacks during the Civil War and at one point headed by Frederick Douglass, went out of business in 1874, taking the savings of thousands of black residents with it.
In the years following the Civil War, nearly two-thirds of the black population of D.C., along with approximately 3,000 white citizens (most of them Eastern European immigrants), lived in the alley communities which constituted Washington's version of slum housing (Bergheim 55). Earlier in the century, landowners in the District had discovered a way to make a profit from their oddly shaped lots (courtesy of the axial grid in the L'Enfant plan): they rented the alley space behind their homes and businesses for tenement housing. Often lacking electricity, running water, and sewers, these tenement neighborhoods were one product of the rapid urbanization of the District. Pleas from more well-heeled citizens led to the practical city improvements of the 1870s under Alexander "Boss" Shepherd and his Board of Public Works. During the 1870s they made improvements in the streets, drainage systems, harbors, and public markets throughout the city. The Tiber Canal, which became obsolete after the arrival of the railroad in Washington, was filled in to become the site of present-day Constitution Avenue along the north side of the Mall. Although Shepherd was run out of town for fraud and for bankrupting the city government, similar reform measures continued: in the 1880s workers dredged the Potomac and created additional land for the city west of the Washington Monument (creating the site of the Lincoln Memorial and of the Tidal Basin). On the Mall itself, a small zoo became part of the Smithsonian grounds in the 1880s, and it was common to see herds of buffalo grazing in the area. The Department of Agriculture was built on a site just east of the Smithsonian Institution on the Mall; its grounds stretched across the Mall to Constitution Avenue and included oddities like the General Noble Tree House, a relic from the 1893 Columbian Exposition which was not removed from the Mall until 1932.
The story of the Mall in the nineteenth century was largely one of neglect, except for the labors and generous gifts of individuals like James Smithson and the contributors who organized to promote the Washington Monument. The government increased its role in the development of the space mid-century in an effort to promote an image of agrarian, civilized, and democratic ideals, but its commitment was halfhearted at best. Further development of the Mall was left to individual government agencies and to practical-minded reform like that of Shepherd in the 1870s. At the close of the nineteenth century, the Mall, though perhaps less beautiful or refined than it appears today, was fully integrated into the fabric of the community: for example, residents caught trains there and shopped at the large market on the north side of the Mall. An 1880 Currier and Ives lithograph showed, at the west end of the Mall, the incomplete Washington Monument; next to it , the Bureau of Engraving and Printing on the south edge of the Mall; the Agriculture building and grounds stretching across the Mall; the Smithsonian grounds, encompassing the original castle and the new Arts and Industries building; the railroad station east of the Smithsonian grounds, and the large central market which sits northwest of the terminal across Constitution Avenue; and the greenhouses of the Botanical Gardens directly west of the Capitol. After the turn of the century, and largely in response to the rapid urbanization which had occured during Reconstruction, the McMillan Commission proposed an alternative vision of the Mall which would radically alter the federal presence in the city.
At the turn of the century, Daniel Burnham was appointed by Senator Joseph McMillan to head a commission which would redesign the nation's capital. (See UVA American Studies graduate Julie Rose's web site titled "City Beautiful: The 1901 Plan for Washington D.C." for more comprehensive analysis of the McMillan Plan.) Basically, the plan eliminated the naturalistic gardens which had come to occupy the Mall in favor of something more similar to L'Enfant's vision of the site. The planners, who had been active in the construction of the White City at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, favored a more ceremonial, geometric, and classically imposing architecture than the "picturesque" landscape architecture of Downing and Olmsted. The plan called for a broad, grassy expanse lined with double roadways to the North and South; the main body of the Mall was to be a "tapis vert" reminiscent of the palace gardens of Europe, which Commission members had studied on a research trip abroad. Cultural and educational buildings would line the Mall. The Capitol would be flanked by the Library of Congress, Union Station, and the proposed government buildings to be erected in Federal Triangle (which had the added benefit of razing some of the most notorious slum housing in the District). At the west end of the Mall, the unbroken view westward across the Potomac, which had originally been hailed as symbolic of the unlimited potential of national westward expansion, was to be blocked off by the proposed Lincoln Memorial, perhaps symbolically appropriate following Frederick Jackson Turner's announcement at the Columbian Exposition that the frontier had closed. The Commission extended the Mall even further by proposing the construction of the Arlington Memorial Bridge, which would connect Arlington Cemetery with existing federal structures, thus symbolically uniting North and South, and soldier who had fallen with the government for which he died. The commissioners wanted, among other things, symmetry and uniformity in appearance; buildings not compatible with the Beaux Arts style they favored, the Commission recommended to be demolished. These included the B&O Railroad station at the foot of the Capitol on the Mall, the large market on the north side of the Mall (both removed after 1901), and the Smithsonian Institution and the Library of Congress (which survived the Commission's efforts).
The McMillan Plan became a blueprint for other Progressive reformers and urban planners who joined the nationwide City Beautiful movement at the turn of the century. Hearkening back to the environemental determinism of Downing, Crevecoeur and others, Commission members felt that the problems of moral decay which accompanied rapid urbanization could be best addressed by creating a beautiful city, which would morally elevate and control an increasingly stratified urban populace.
Curiously, the Plan had the effect of removing the populace from the area meant to elevate them. Structures like the market and the railroad terminal which had previously brought citizens to the Mall were demolished, and the ring of new federal buildings around the Capitol wiped out tenement, working class, and middle class residential areas. The placement of monuments and federal buildings around the Mall and at the western end of the Mall effectively insulated the federal corridor from the rest of Washington and made it inward-looking. Instead of "lived space," the Mall became themed, ceremonial space, a space for spectators but not residents. This is hardly surprising, given the Commissioners' previous involvement in planning the grounds for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. Jane Jacobs commented, "somehow, when the fair became part of the city, it did not work like the fair" (qtd. in Evenson, 26). In her discussion of the San Francisco Civic Center, Jacobs concluded that there was no reason why various functionally unrelated public buildings needed to be assembled around an open square; she argued that the buildings would be better placed throughout the city where they could coexist with residential and commercial properties, providing economic and civic enhancement rather than completing a sterile monumental complex. L'Enfant's plan was closer to the type of development Jacobs described. Thus, although the McMillan plan claimed to bring the city more closely into alignment with L'Enfant's intentions, and did so 1) in removing the naturalistic gardens from the Mall and 2) in encouraging broad federal support for the development of the nation's capital, they failed to see the federal and monumental component of the District coexisting and complementing the private and commercial areas, which was key to L'Enfant's design. The McMillan Plan was not an expression of the balance of state and federal power, or the cooperation of federal and local institutions and figures; rather, its vistas more closely symbolized the "centralized authority and far-reaching bureaucratic control" which came to be the dominant force in Washington planning in the twentieth century (Evenson 21). Other critics have argued that the development of a "Monumental Core"was appropriate because "it does not belong to the city alone. Monumental Washington belongs to the nation, and its self-containment tends to underline this relationship...the Mall provides a separate city of shrines...[and] an appropriate site for symbolic confrontation between the people and their representatives" (Evenson 33). The questions "To whom does the Mall belong? To whom does Washington belong?" were settled in favor of the federal government in the McMillan Plan, and continued to favor the government at the expense of (and isolation from) D.C. residents in the decades since.
Although various individuals have attempted to reverse the work of the McMillan Plan and to disrupt the self-containment of the Mall, their efforts have been largely unfruitful. In a 1991 critique of the Mall, J. Carter Brown quoted Joseph Albers: "Washington is a city of space and no spaces" (255). Brown advocated dividing up the Mall and providing more intimate, naturalistic landscaping to relieve the authority and linearity of the classical federal buildings surrounding it. Brown wrote that "the Mall's scale is so grand that one of our greatest efforts should be to try to break down the scale" and make it "a place for people" (255, 258). His ideas were reminiscent of the Mills and Downing conceptions of the Mall, but have thus far fallen on deaf ears. Another study by Daniel Urban Kiley and his graduate students in architecture criticized the McMillan Plan for the creation of the Tidal Basin and the Lincoln Memorial, which "severed the city from the river, and from its connection with the region" (Kiley 297). Kiley argued that the Potomac should be restored to its original banks, just short of the Washington Monument, and that the Lincoln Memorial should be made an island. In this manner, he argued, the city could again be connected to the river and the region through boat docks at the foot of the Mall.
The plan, which attempted to reverse the McMillan Plan, gained no support from legislators or the National Capital Planning Commission, which was established under a slightly different name in 1924 to supervise the development of the city. The twentieth century story of the Mall has been one of increasing federal presence and authority, a furthering of McMillan ideology. A 1928 plan submitted to the National Capital Planning Commission proposed an extension of the Mall along East Capitol Street to the Anacostia River, where it would terminate across the river in a large amphitheater. At first glance, this may seem more philosophically in tune with L'Enfant (citywide development and public buildings) than with the McMillan Commission, but the 1928 plan did not advocate a mixed-use zone of development, as did L'Enfant when he set up the public squares, nor did it advocate the development of public/monumental space by agencies other than the federal government, as had L'Enfant when he directed that each of the fifteen states be allowed to establish its own memorials. In 1930 federal authority extended even further. The Commission of Fine Arts, a federally appointed board which had the final say on the architectural design of all federal buildings, gained the right to approve all buildings which faced or bordered government property in the District.
The latest city plan, a 1996 document titled "Extending the Legacy" and produced by the National Capital Planning Commission, reinforced McMillan's ideology in its conception of the capital city and its promotion of federal, monumental space. The plan dealt with many issues common to urban planners and economic development commissions nationwide. The Commission mentioned the need to improve D.C.'s tax base, the goal of creating mixed- use development zones to stimulate economic development, and the need to develop a transportation system capable of handling traffic flow which will increase by a significant percentage in the near future. The NCPC noted that the infrastructure improvements of the '50s and '60s which attempted to correct such problems instead "fractured neighborhoods" and "severed the city from its rivers." The Commission declared, "Undesirable in any city, such disruptions are intolerable in the Nation's Capital" (NCPC 5).
By the Commission's lights, Washington wasn't just any city facing urban decay. In its opening salvo, the Commission described D.C. as "the symbolic heart of a nation" whose "broad avenues are reminders of America's democratic values," symbols of "government that is accessible to its people and a nation with room to grow" (NCPC 4). As we have seen, the government's accessibility and the symbolic westward gaze were both significantly compromised by the McMillan Plan. Nevertheless, the NCPC claimed the McMillan Commission as its ideological ancestor. The 1996 plan is ostensibly a development plan for all of D.C., but was singleminded in its devotion to the federal/memorial presence in Washington, which it described as the "Monumental Core" of the city. The plan declared, "this is the Washington of postcards and movies and the evening news, the Washington everyone comes to see" (NCPC 4). The Commissioners correctly identified tourist dollars as a major source of income for the District, but failed to seek ways to expand tourism into heretofore unexplored venues; instead, it attempted to extend the present Mall/monument model elsewhere in the city, and expand federal presence to surrounding neighborhoods. The Commission's flatly stated goal was to find suitable sites for a dozen new museums and as many as 60 planned monuments, since the Mall is now full. In this way, the 1996 plan is better understood as a plan for extension of the Mall, rather than as a development plan for the whole city, although the NCPC was able to play on the abysmal economic situation in D.C. to argue that Mall extension would stimulate economic growth in depressed areas of the city.
The plan proposed several things. First, South Capitol Street would become a Mall extension, lined with memorials and museums, and culminating in a new Supreme Court building on the Anacostia waterfront. The placement of the Supreme Court here, argued the NCPC and the Architect of the Capitol, would better symbolically represent the separation of the three branches of government than does the Court's present location in the shadow of the Capitol. Second, the Commission recommended replacing RFK stadium and its extensive parking lots at the end of East Capitol Street with a complex of civic centers, museums, memorials, and recreation facilities. The Commission declared that it would respect the residential nature of East Capitol Street between the Capitol and RFK, but would attempt to have some smaller memorials and museums "woven into" the fabric of existing neighborhoods. The third potential site for new museums and memorials was the D.C. waterfront. The Commission envisioned a continuous band of public-use riverfront space from the Arboretum (the northern bank of the Anacostia River in NE D.C.) to Georgetown, 11 miles away along the Potomac.
The title of the document, "Extending the Legacy," made plain its claim to legitimacy. The Commission stated that its vision built on the work of two previous plans, the McMillan and the L'Enfant plans. The Commission went into some detail praising the brilliance and originality of L'Enfant's plan and praised the McMillan plan for correcting deviations from L'Enfant's plan; as we have seen, the McMillan plan did restore several features of L'Enfant's plan, but was radically different in its conception of the concentration/diffusion of federal presence in the District. The NCPC's 1996 plan is best understood as a perfect hybrid of L'Enfant and McMillan ideologies (somewhat dispersed development, but of one model which is federally and monumentally driven), coupled with a canny understanding of the peculiar economic and legislative dependency of the local government on federal authority.
The legacy extended in "Extending the Legacy" might be more accurately defined as the legacy of federal and local collisions of interest. The NCPC report advised, "As in a symphony, unless everyone plays together the piece will fall apart" (24). The Commission, which was dominated by federal appointees, promised that D.C. zoning regulations would be respected, although later in the report the Commission decided that "major zoning changes" would be required by the year 2000. They also claimed that under the new plan, D.C. could expect that its real estate tax base would be maintained and enhanced. If commercial growth is stimulated and vacant ubildings can be converted into retail/business space, this might be so. But one might question how much profit will be gained if available space is instead swallowed up by 12 museums and 60 memorials--all federal properties and nontaxable. Who will foot the bill? Not the conductor of this symphony. The NCPC pledged technical and financial "help" from the federal government for "extraordinary public expenditures"like "transportation, major parks, and river improvements" (25). One feature of the plan called for the Whitehurst Freeway to be removed from in front of the Kennedy Center and replaced with a civic pedestrian plaza. The removal of the Whitehurst Freeway might sound like a transportation expense, but the NCPC suggested that the city and the National Park Authority (administrators of the Kennedy Center) foot the bill.
The McMillan Plan aimed to cure urban decay by the creation of beautiful civic spaces, but its creation of the insular federal complex, while 'beautiful,' included the displacement of local residents and failed to address the real concerns of tenement dwellers and working class residents, who probably had very different solutions to the problem of moral decay and urban blight. Similarly, the 1996 plan attempted to extend the Mall complex of beautiful, governmentaly-oriented spaces, but did so ignorant of, and often in spite of, the problems it created or failed to address for D.C. residents. Although the Commission held out the promise of economic revitalization to depressed neighborhoods, "many of which are eager for investment and some sign from the government that they are part of the Nation's Capital," through the construction of public/governmental buildings, the economic benefits seemed dubious as one read the plan more closely (16). NCPC described the transformation of the waterfront: "Industries that keep the public away from Washington's waterfronts would eventually be replaced with a continuous band of riverfront parks," which the Commission labelled "civic playgrounds" (19). Further, plans to demolish freeways would mean traffic problems, which the NCPC solved by asking employers to subsidize Metro, provide incentives for ride sharing, and institute flex-time and telecommuting practices.
Economically at least, the situtation appeared very similar to that of the first half of the nineteenth century, when the federal government was loathe to appropriate funds for the development of the city (beyond the Capitol) and such work was left to the public. Certainly in its emphasis on the "civic playgrounds" and "the Washington that everyone comes to see," the 1996 plan catered more to the tourists coming to visit the "separate city of shrines" created in the McMillan Plan than it did the residents and workers of the District. Although the plan named L'Enfant as its cultural antecedent, it instead represented a logical extension of the McMillan Plan, and a further step in federal hegemony over public memory, monument making, and the nation's capital.