Folger Park

Folger Park is a designed cultural landscape located in a residential neighborhood of Capitol Hill in SE Washington, D.C. The two-acre urban park is significant as a component of Andrew Ellicott’s 1792 revision of the 1791 L’Enfant Plan for Washington, and for the 1936 National Park Service redesign that is still reflected today.

George Burnap, landscape architect for the Office of Public Buildings and Public Grounds, described a "passing-through park" as one where "design and composition should be such that the quick impression given may be a forceful and expressive one.” In Folger Park Cultural Landscapes Inventory, pg. 34

A low-growing flower bed in a central stone plaza with trees, hedges, and lawn beyond.
The central plaza and planter (former wading pool) in Folger Park in 1964.

NPS Photo (MRCE Folger 8771-E 1964)

Folger Park has two periods of historic significance: 1791-1792, when this area first appeared on Andrew Ellicott’s modification of the L’Enfant Plan; and 1936, when the park was redesigned by the National Park Service.

Folger Park was first developed in the 1880s under the jurisdiction of the Office of Public Buildings and Grounds. The gravel walkways curved in symmetry around a central fountain plaza, creating a pattern of grass panels that were densely planted with a rich palette of flowering trees and shrubs. In 1936, the original picturesque design was replace by a new circulation pattern and more formal, symmetrical arrangement of vegetation.

The condition of this and other Washington, D.C. parks led to their major overhaul in the 1930s, with funding from President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs. The plan included the development of new circulation systems that established axial alignments of walkways, oriented to the cardinal directions. Simpler vegetative palettes, comprising lines of street trees circling the park and informally arranged trees on the grass panels, replaced the earlier profusion of trees and shrubs.

A site plan drawing of a park shows curving symmetrical walkways, a central fountain, and trees.
A 1905 plan shows the curving path system and dense planting of the first Folger Park design.

1905 Survey, in 2005 Folger Park Cultural Landscapes Inventory

Today, the appearance of Folger Park is mostly the result of that 1936 redesign, carried out by the National Park Service with funds from the Public Works Administration. In the redesign, a flagstone plaza and a shallow, octagonal wading pool in the center of the park were surrounded by Art Deco features.

A site plan drawing of a city park shows an oval walkway, central wading pool, and planting plan
The redesigned circulation and planting plan for Folger Park replaced the winding paths with a strong geometry.

NPS

From its development in the mid-1880s through the end of the 19th century, Folger Park appears to have been well-maintained. In 1905, it still retained an abundance of native and non-native plantings. By the 1920s, however, many of its trees and shrubs had been lost. Aside from vegetation, the park has not changed greatly since 1936. It is not known how much of the 1936 planting plan was carried out, as the vegetation conforms only in the most general way to the 1936 plan. A photograph of 1964 showing one quadrant of the park suggests the planting was mostly implemented, but most of the trees have since died.
Buildings stand beyond the park perimeter, viewed across an area with benches, grass, and walkways.
View north from the southeast corner of the park.

NPS

The redesigned Folger Park featured a cross-shaped walk set within an oval walk that ran near the park’s boundary. Entrances at the mid-points of each of the four sides led to a central plaza, paved with flagstones and featuring an octagonal wading pool. This layout remains largely intact today. Identical drinking fountain flanked by twin benches were placed at the east and west ends of the long axis. A plaque depicting the park’s new plan was placed in the wall behind each fountain.

Sometime before 1964, the wading pool was converted into a planter for annuals and roses. A 1984 planting plan called for the addition of several new trees to augment existing vegetation. Today, the lines of street trees remain, though most of them have numerous gaps.

Most of the park’s small-scale features date from the 1936 redesign. T
he iron frame and wood-slat benches are a design developed for National Capital Parks in the mid-1930s, and the quarter-round concrete curbs are a type of boundary element that was first used in the city parks in 1904-1905. The most important vistas from the park are along its east-west and north-south axes. The view to the south opens out to a large green space, former site of Providence Hospital.

Quick Facts

  • Cultural Landscape Type: Designed
  • National Register Significance Level: National
  • National Register Significance Criteria: A,B,C
  • Periods of Significance: 1791-1792; 1936

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Last updated: February 2, 2018