STATEMENT OF JOHN G. PARSONS, ASSOCIATE REGIONAL DIRECTOR FOR LANDS, RESOURCES AND PLANNING, NATIONAL CAPITAL REGION, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA OF THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON GOVERNMENT REFORM CONCERNING THE IMPACT OF THE CLOSING OF PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE
MARCH 21, 2001
Madam Chairwoman, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior’s views on the impact of the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue north of the White House to vehicular traffic.
Pennsylvania Avenue is certainly among the world’s most famous streets. Its 200-year history began with Pierre L’Enfant, who was appointed by President George Washington to plan the new Nation’s capital city. L’Enfant’s plan connected the two most important public buildings in the Nation, the U.S. Capitol and the White House, each in view of the other, with a broad, diagonal boulevard which was named Pennsylvania Avenue by Thomas Jefferson in 1791.
While Pennsylvania Avenue serves the city of Washington as a major east-west transit route, it is known the world over as the heart of the Nation’s Capital. On this "Avenue of Presidents," we celebrate the election of a president every four years with a parade down the Avenue, and honor other national heroes and foreign leaders there as well. Also known as "America’s Main Street," the Avenue has been the site of many of our Nation’s most famous public gatherings, the place where Americans from all over the country have come together throughout our nation’s history to commemorate our triumphs and tragedies, or to try to influence their president and representatives in Congress.
While it is truly more than just another city street, Pennsylvania Avenue also became Washington’s first downtown street in 1801 with establishment by the Commissioners of the District of Columbia of the city’s first market at the location still known as Market Square on Pennsylvania Avenue between 7th and 9th Streets. The Center Market was followed by the city’s first financial district, part of which survives as the Sears House and former Washington National Bank Building at 7th Street and Indiana Avenue. Attracting a myriad of businesses since the early 19th century, Pennsylvania Avenue has been a key element of ordinary life and commerce in the District of Columbia throughout the history of the Nation’s Capital.
The National Park Service administers park land along nearly the entire length of Pennsylvania Avenue between the U.S. Capitol and the White House. LaFayette Park north of the Avenue and the White House and its grounds south of it have been under the stewardship of the National Park Service since 1933. We have managed the tree-lined sidewalks, parks, plazas monuments and memorials of the Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site since their creation by the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation as a result of President John F. Kennedy’s inspiration as he traveled along the Pennsylvania Avenue route of his inaugural parade.
In May 1995, the Department of the Treasury restricted public vehicular traffic on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House in response to the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Former President Bill Clinton’s Chief of Staff, Leon Panetta, charged the National Park Service with developing a design for the closed portion of the Avenue between 15th and 17th Streets. Using a broad public involvement process and a design group composed of experts in architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning and historic preservation, the National Park Service released its proposed design for public review in the spring of 1996.
The National Park Service has taken the planning process for the surface treatment of Pennsylvania Avenue between 15th and 17th Streets as far as we can at this point. In addition to the NCPC deferral, Interior appropriations acts for the past several years have contained language prohibiting the National Park Service from doing any "planning, design or construction of improvements to Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House without the advance approval" of the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations. However, as the steward of the park land on either side of the Avenue in this location, we stand ready to assist in the planning and design for the area, with the approval of Congress.
The National Capital Planning Commission Interagency Task Force to Examine Security Designs in the Nation’s Capital, on which I represent the Secretary of the Interior, is engaged in the examination of security designs not only around the White House but also along the entire length of Pennsylvania Avenue and in the Monumental Core. The National Park Service clearly recognizes the security considerations of the Secret Service with respect to the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Madam Chairwoman, that concludes my statement. I would be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the Subcommittee may have.