"A City Designed as a Work of Art":

By Pamela Scott

ON 6 January 1902, nine days before the Senate Park Commission exhibit opened at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Glenn Brown and Charles Moore spoke at a meeting of the Columbia Historical Society. Their goal was to prepare Washington's historically minded community to accept imminent changes planned for the city. In his illustrated lecture, "The Making of a Plan for Washington City," Brown drew on his professional education as an architect and his avocation as a local historian to recount Peter Charles L'Enfant's sources for his plan of Washington. He enumerated the maps of the eleven European cities Thomas Jefferson sent L'Enfant on 10 April 1791, but singled out Paris and London as the "capital cities of the two most powerful countries of the world in L'Enfant's time." Paris was L'Enfant's native city and Sir Christopher Wren's 1666 plan for rebuilding London exhibited key elements of L'Enfant's Washington: long, broad boulevards and public squares or circles from which streets radiated. [1]

After Brown set the historic stage, Moore, Michigan Senator James McMillan's secretary, gave a lecture describing the Senate Park Commission's proposed improvements to all parts of the outlying areas of the District of Columbia. Moore, defender and apologist of Congress's administration of Washington's municipal affairs, toured his audience around the city's outskirts, interweaving recent public services (sewers, water supply, purchase of park lands) with the proposed parkways, driveways, parks, and land reclamation projects. Throughout his lecture Moore emphasized Congress's preservation of the area's natural beauty for future generations. He concluded by emphasizing the honesty, efficiency, and non-partisan "enlightened spirit" with which Congress dealt with District of Columbia affairs. [2]

Brown wanted L'Enfant's Paris and nearby royal gardens to be major influences on the original design for Washington because the Paris, Versailles, and Vaux-le-Vicomte of 1901 were major influences on the Senate Park Commission's "revival" of L'Enfant's plan to be made public in just a few days. He wanted Wren's London and near-by country estates to be prototypes because he wanted English (and hence Anglo-American) traditions to have also been part of the city's original design process. Moore wanted to reassure his local audience that city residents were to benefit materially from the Senate Park Commission's plan, their substitute "city council" in the form of the House and Senate Committees on the District of Columbia, responding to their needs and wishes. Moore, writing nearly three decades after the event, likened Paris—"a city designed as a work of art"—to the Senate Park Commission's vision for the Mall. [3]

Brown and Moore were an accomplished public relations team who had been at the epicenter of Washington's modernization for the past several years. As its secretary, Brown had galvanized the American Institute of Architects to take an active role in Washington's future development, beginning with its 1900 annual meeting. Moore, trained as a journalist, had come to Washington from Detroit in 1889 with the newly-elected McMillan and worked closely with him on improving fundamental city services after the senator was appointed to the Committee on the District of Columbia in 1891. Brown's and Moore's joint goal on 6 January 1902 was to convince Washingtonians that the Senate Park Commission's plan was the perfect solution to the capital's future growth because it revived the city's original design and conserved large parts of the surrounding countryside where subdivisions were rapidly being laid out on former farmland or country estates. Their strategy was imbedded in the history of Washington's founding and the acknowledged beauty of the federal city's original design.

L'Enfant's plan (pl. I) was well-known locally in the 1890s because it had been periodically discussed in Washington newspapers and even national journals. In 1887 Army engineer Colonel John Wilson, head of the Office of Public Buildings and Grounds which had legal possession of L'Enfant's fading manuscript, persuaded the Coast and Geodetic Survey to make a facsimile. This effort led to extensive research about the plan's origins, much of which was duly noted in the Evening Star. The American Architect and Building News considered Washington reporter Frank Sewell's articles on Washington's public buildings (which mentioned L'Enfant's plan) important enough to reprint in its 13 February and 7 May 1892 issues. At a time when both the city and federal governments were discussing new buildings to serve a variety of functions—a municipal building, a public library, a judiciary building (that included rooms for the Supreme Court), a government printing office, an auditor's office, a geological survey, and even a national university—Sewall was urging that they be grouped coherently on the south side of Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and Capitol. In 1900, North Dakota Senator Henry Clay Hansborough, a member of the Committee on the District of Columbia, praised the idea of placing public buildings south of Pennsylvania Avenue, especially if they were surrounded by parks and brought the Mall up to the avenue. Moreover, "almost a unanimity of opinion prevails in the House for putting public buildings hereafter south of Pennsylvania Avenue." [4]

As part of his study of the U.S. Capitol during the early 1890s, Brown had carefully examined the characteristics of L'Enfant's plan, considering himself to be both its champion and resurrector. The opening chapter in the first volume of his History of the United States Capitol (1900) is a slightly shortened version of his "The Selection and Sites for Federal Buildings," published in the Architectural Review in 1894. Brown's thoughtful look at L'Enfant's plan and the many reports and correspondence relating to it led to him to conclude that the "the more the scheme laid out by Washington and L'Enfant is studied, the more forcibly it strikes one as the best." In both 1894 and 1900, Brown likened the Mall to the Champs Élysées, his only discussion of L'Enfant's sources prior to his championing of the Senate Park Commission plan before the Columbia Historical Society in January 1902. As early as 1894, Brown criticized the random placement of federal buildings in Washington during the nineteenth century, claiming they depended "on cost, influence, whim, or the advice of men in no way prepared to advise." L'Enfant's 1791 plan offered a model to counteract the continuing fragmentation that characterized post-Civil War placement of Washington's public buildings. [5]

On 13 December 1900 Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., who was to be the landscape architect on the Senate Park Commission, concluded his paper delivered at the AIA meeting, "Landscape in Connection with Public Buildings in Washington," with the point of view that was to become a fundamental tenet of the commission and its adherents:

Here is a plan not hastily sketched, not by a man of narrow view and little foresight. It is a plan with the authority of a century behind it, to which we can all demand undeviating adherence in the future; a plan prepared by the hand of L'Enfant, but under the constant, direct, personal guidance of one whose technical knowledge of surveying placed the problem completely within his grasp, and who brought to its solution the same clear insight, deep wisdom, and forethought that gave pre-eminence in the broader fields of war and statesmanship to the name of George Washington. [6]

During the next few years, Washington as L'Enfant's active design partner grew from a conviction to a propaganda tool, a patriotic shield to fend off potential critics of the Senate Park Commission's radical redesign of Washington's Victorian monumental core. Thomas Jefferson's role in the federal city's design, (arguably more important than Washington's from an examination of extensive surviving documentation) was rarely mentioned although his role in the city's founding was acknowledged. The Federalist Washington was the political ancestor of early nineteenth-century Republicans then in power; the Democratic-Republican Jefferson's role was undoubtedly invoked to garner support among contemporary Democrats in addition to maintaining some historical credibility.

With the collaboration and advice of the Senate Park Commission, Moore wrote a two-part article for the February and March 1902 issues of Century Magazine entitled "The Improvement of Washington City" to coincide with publication of the commission's report entitled "The Improvement of the Park System of the District of Columbia." Moore began with the history of the founding of the federal city:

Arriving in Georgetown in the March of 1791, L'Enfant was soon joined by Washington, and the two tramped over hills and through forests to discover the most advantageous sites for the Congress house and the President's palace. These two points having been located, L'Enfant began his congenial task of laying out a city, reporting by mail twice a week to Thomas Jefferson, then Secretary of State.

Moore concluded his overview by noting that "Washington and Jefferson not only adopted L'Enfant's plan, but so long as they were in power they protected it from perversions. . . and by the time these two worthies had passed from the scene the main features of the original scheme were fixed beyond possibility of loss, although not beyond neglect and temporary perversion." Yet when Moore spoke before Washington's historians in January 1902 he was unwilling to deviate from the evidence of government records. "Two plans were submitted by the young architect and rejected. The third was accepted, and although the original development and general scheme belong alone to L'Enfant, both Washington and Jefferson made known their views on the subject." [7]

Moore's articles and lectures delivered by Brown, Moore, and members of the commission were very effective, calculatingly so. On 28 August 1901, New Yorker Charles F. McKim reported to Chicagoan Daniel H. Burnham (the two architect members of the Senate Park Commission) the outcome of a meeting with Secretary of War Elihu Root:

He suggested the propriety of an introductory chapter in the report, which should deal with the conditions as we found them, with the history of the inception of the plan and the laying out of the City of Washington, as proof that the scheme proposed by the Commission was in consequence of what had been already done, and a natural development of his (Washington's) aims and views. Mr. Root said he felt that if the Commission could prove their case in this regard, that it would go far towards winning it; that, in this way public acceptance would be assured, and opposition removed. He further suggested that the editors of selected newspapers..., should be interviewed, and furnished with copies of the report, before its publication, . . . These numerous editorials, appearing on the same date, in various parts of the country, would be far-reaching in their result—the smaller journals, in remoter communities, being guided by them. . . . Members of Congress would be largely influenced by the editorials of the leading papers, and the approval of their constituents, in country districts, thus made easier, would prepare them to espouse a project, and vote for the very appropriations which they might, on account of the opposition of their constituents, otherwise oppose. [8]

Section four in the 13-page introduction to the commission's report presented the city's original design history in terms of what Burnham, Olmsted, and McKim wanted it to be in order to coincide with the major elements of their own plan:

When the city of Washington was planned under the direct and minute supervision of Washington and Jefferson, the relations that should subsist between the Capitol and the President's House were closely studied. Indeed the whole city was planned with a view to the reciprocal relations that should exist among public buildings. Vistas and axes; sites for monuments and museums; parks and pleasure gardens; fountains and canals; in a word, all that goes to make a city a magnificent and consistent work of art were regarded as essentials in the plans made by L'Enfant under the direction of the first President and his Secretary of State. [9]

McKim, very much an architect who championed the role of architects, may not have believed as fervently as the other commission members in Washington's prominent role in the actual design of the city. On 6 April 1901 Root had introduced the commission to President William McKinley, who "received us cordially and spoke, without hesitation, in favor of preserving the works of Washington's time," McKim wrote a few days later. "I trust you are not out of sympathy with your friends who are struggling in the cause of Peter Charles L'Enfant, he appended in a postscript to a letter sent to President Theodore Roosevelt on 20 March 1904. [10]

Burnham, however, was a true believer. After Roosevelt became embroiled in the debate about locating the Department of Agriculture Building, Burnham wrote Secretary of Treasury Leslie M. Shaw on 24 March 1903 that:

General Washington himself dictated the plan of the Mall in all its essential features.

1st. A grand avenue in the center of the Mall.

2nd. A line of white palaces, one on each side of the Avenue, extending along its entire length.

This arrangement cannot be surpassed and after advising with everyone whose judgment we found of value we incorporated Washington's arrangment into our plan, or rather, we considered his plan best and adopted it. [11]

On 9 August 1903 Burnham wrote Secretary of Agriculture James Wilson: "I have the honor to send you a copy of the general plan, made by the Senate Commission, on which I have marked the true axis referred to. This plan carries out General Washington's, which is L'Enfant's." Burnham continued to gather evidence to support his thesis. "By-the-by! I was told in Pennsylvania a few months ago," he wrote Olmsted the following November, "that there is a small town in the vicinity of Connellsville, which was laid out by General Washington when he was a young man, and that it has the same system of radiating streets as the City of Washington. This, if true, will prove that the plan of the Capital of the country is Washington's own and not Major L'Enfant's. I am going to investigate it more carefully." In testimony before Congress on 12 March 1904, Burnham declared: "We examined the documents, among others the well-known L'Enfant plan, which was prepared under the direction of and in participation with General Washington. Washington himself selected this location and then employed L'Enfant to carry out his ideas." [12]

How did the commissioners' understanding of L'Enfant's plan, and the political era that produced it, influence their own designs for Washington's monumental core during 1901? When he spoke before the Columbia Historical Society in January 1902, Brown knew L'Enfant's Paris was not the same city Burnham, Olmsted, and McKim had visited with Moore during the summer of 1901. [13] Brown's lecture, therefore, abounds in contradictory statements as he tries to resolve the conundrum of L'Enfant's multiple sources of inspiration. Paris's "numerous small squares and the parked way of the Champs Élysées may have suggested and probably did suggest the many small parks as well as the treatment of the Mall, which he adopted in his plan" (fig. 1). Brown's brief account of Versailles focused on the landscape setting André Le Nôrte created for it from 1661-1668:

In this garden we have a highly developed plan showing points of interest and beauty from which radiate avenues and walks. We can not question but that L'Enfant was familiar with this piece of landscape architecture, and it, together with the suggestion of Wren, we may reasonably assume, induced L'Enfant to try the same idea in the building of a city, instead of a garden, with radiating avenues; and also influenced him in the principal and most imposing feature of the Mall.

Fig. 1 Ange-Jaucques Gabriel. Place Louis XV, 1783; renamed Place de la Concorde, 1793. Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

Yet, a few sentences earlier: "The Mall, as the grand garden approach to the Capitol, would naturally have suggested itself from a study of the Champs Élysées and of the more beautiful garden approach to Versailles." [14]

To appeal to those who opposed Beaux-Arts classicism and favored "American" sources for civic design, Brown emphasized that the "most unique a distinctive feature of Washington, its numerous focal points of interest and beauty from which radiate the principal streets and avenues was not suggested by any city of Europe." He sought and found two American antecedents—Annapolis and Williamsburg—that he stated "influenced [George Washington] in approving and modifying the scheme submitted by L'Enfant." Annapolis's "two focal points from which several streets radiate," Brown believed, had been taken from Wren's plan of London, and Williamsburg "had a mall, a dignified tract of green around which imposing buildings were grouped and toward which the principal streets converged." L'Enfant himself had almost surely been to Annapolis because it was a major Chesapeake Bay port near Washington. It is unknown if he ever saw Williamsburg; he was a prisoner of war on Haddrel's Island, South Carolina, when the French troops engaged in the battle of Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781. In April 1902, Buffalo architect George Cary chastised those who were "narrow minded enough to criticize the [plan] and to say that it is Frenchy. . . should remember that in beautifying the city of Washington along the lines adopted by the special park commission, that body is simply carrying out the plans of Maj. L'Enfant [15]

A month after the Senate Park Commission was formally created on 19 March 1901, and while they were in the midst of preparations for a summer trip to Europe, Chicago reporter William E. Curtis arranged for them to visit Chesapeake Bay towns and plantations. From 20-24 April, Burnham, Olmsted, McKim, Moore, and Curtis, accompanied by several government officials and prominent businessmen, visited seven Virginia sites. "Williamsburg had its lesson," Burnham wrote his wife on 24 April, "for here in outline is the plan of the Mall in Washington with the Capitol at one end of the broad parkway; the College of William and Mary at the other end of the main axis, and the Governor's Palace at the head of the cross-axis, a location similar to that of the White House." Three weeks later the same party spent a day visiting Annapolis and two Maryland plantations. The immediate political purpose of these two trips was to reinforce the link between George Washington, Anglo-American planning traditions, L'Enfant's plan, and the Senate Park Commission's initiatives as well as to forestall criticism of a European bias in their thinking. [16]

The relative contributions of the European and American journeys made by the Senate Park Commission vary greatly: some specific experiences that impressed them all were recorded in correspondence and drawings, others can be inferred, and yet others were so synthesized into their general design tenets as to be totally absorbed. The following detailed examination of visual and textual documents produced during, or relating to, the ten months when the Senate Park Commission was actively designing, seeks to clarify these varied contributions.

Congressional committee report #1919, "Commission to Consider Certain Improvements in the District of Columbia," dated 18 January 1901, was the first formal step towards establishing the Senate Park Commission. It summarized Congress's accomplishments during the 1890s (which coincided with most of McMillan's tenure on the District committee), claiming they "provided the means for the artistic development of the District of Columbia in a manner befitting the capital city of the nation." From the purchase of Rock Creek Park (1890) to the adoption of a permanent system of highways for the entire District of Columbia (1898), these projects "bertoken[ed] the desire and intention of Congress to carry out the original idea of making Washington a beautiful capital city." [17]

The purpose of the Senate's proposed commission was to "get up a comprehensive scheme "a plan to work to," according to Olmsted's notes of the 19 March 1901 Senate subcommittee hearing attended by himself, Burnham, and an AIA committee. Olmsted noted that "Mr. McMillan made a brief, clear statement from which it appeared that the subject which most interested him was parks although placing of public buildings was part of the project." Olmsted (and other attendees) recognized that the chief difficulty was that the "diverse authorities over different parks and over public buildings, grounds and statuary" was not just confined to the jurisdictions of different executive departments, but extended to congressional committees as well. To get a consensus of what constituted an "artistic" plan for Washington's future development, a matter of taste and therefore peculiarly personal and strongly felt, would be very difficult. "The sub-committee [consisting of McMillan and New Hampshire Senator Joseph Gallinger]," Olmsted concluded, "does not know just what it wants to do not how to do it." [18]

Olmsted succinctly expressed his point of view about the outcome of the 19 March hearing: Any such committee or commission or board of experts should proceed first to an investigation leading to a preliminary report, with plans not very definite in character—necessarily not very definite in character, but embodying the results of a few months of investigation of the subject—and from those plans, after a conference with your committee and with other committees that are concerned with the whole problem, a basis might be laid for the detailed plans that would be necessary for the carrying out of any scheme. [19]

Burnham and Olmsted met with McMillan and Moore on 22 March and "agreed that report and plans must be as general in terms as possible so as not to tie things up too tight and so as not to offer many points for attack, but I thought that in dealing with Mall and public buildings we should be forced to be somewhat specific. Mr. B. did not see why we should." By 27 March when McKim had accepted Burnham's invitation to be the Park Commission's third member, Olmsted was already at work asking Moore two days earlier to obtain a set of ordinance survey maps of London and its suburbs "with the parks and other public spaces outlined and so marked as to indicate the authority in control of each." Olmsted had access in Boston to a map of the Paris parks. [20]

On 29 March Burnham wrote Olmsted that the first business of the commission's initial meeting scheduled to begin on 6 April would be to "organize" and "to comprehend the work, its scope and limitations." He stressed that the three members must "fix the rules governing our official actions" and that not even a draftsman should be hired until they had decided on the division of responsibilities. Although many contributions of individual members can be identified, much of their work was a team effort. Burnham wrote a second note to Olmsted the same day: "I am trying to arrange for a run across the water this summer. Will you go and will you be able to leave by the middle or end of June? I am writing to Mr. McKim by this post, asking the same questions. We can decide when we meet." Thus, almost immediately after the establishment of the commission, Burnham thought in terms of European inspiration. [21]

The commissioners met for three days beginning on 6 April when they visited Arlington National Cemetery and the following day spent the "morning on the Potomac," lunched at the Library of Congress, and in the afternoon and the following day advised the Grant Memorial Commission. In 1904, in testimony before Congress on the work of the Senate Park Commission, Burnham recalled its initial "optical survey." "We encircled the city on the hills, spending a great deal of time, keeping our minds open as far as possible, without going to the documents or attempting to examine what had already been done. In this way we expected to become familiar without prejudice from anything that had already been done with the situation." McKim, immediately after his return to New York, wrote: "If half of what is talked of can be carried through it will make the Capital City one of the most beautiful centers in the world. The work of education still requires many years, but the essential thing. . . is to bring about a general plan." On 10 April Olmsted hired James G. Langdon, a landscape architect in his office, as the commission's first draftsman and three days later dispatched him to Washington. Langdon's drawings produced during the next two months are the best record of what the Senate Park Commission accomplished during its initial meetings. [22]

Langdon's first map for the use of the commission members was of the entire District of Columbia, compiled from ones obtained from the Corps of Engineers, Coast and Geodetic Survey, and District Commissioners (pl. III). This lithograph showed graphically the results of all current legislation concerning the city, with color coding indicating the extent and jurisdiction of all large plots of land in public and quasi-public hands. The War Department controlled the Mall and East and West Potomac Parks and all the public reservations—the squares, circles, and parklets—within L'Enfant's original city boundaries. It was also responsible for the Soldiers Home, Washington Barracks (formerly the Arsenal), Reservoir, and Arlington National Cemetery. The District Commissioners, the Interior Department, the Navy Department, the Smithsonian Institution, Gallaudet College and others controlled scattered tracts throughout the city. Langdon overlaid on this map the 1898 version of the "permanent system of highways," developed over the previous decade to extend L'Enfant's grid streets, diagonal avenues, and public circles into all areas between Florida Avenue (Boundary Avenue before 1890) and the District of Columbia-Maryland line. The third important documentation that Langdon included on his map were the streets and city squares that Congress had determined during the 1890s might be used for railroads. Public schools were indicated by circles because recreational facilities for schools were one of the many local issues the Senate Park Commission was to address. The boundaries and street patterns of Washington's 101 subdivisions that had been laid out during the previous half century were also indicated on Langdon's map.

Thus, the Senate Park Commission designers had in one place valuable information about what public lands were available for outlying parks (and which federal agency was responsible for them) and where future circles, squares, and avenues would be. Moreover, they knew where Burnham's recently commissioned Baltimore & Potomac (hereafter B&P) Railroad station could legally be located. Langdon identified the possible railroad corridors along existing tracks in the city's southwest, southeast, and northeast quadrants and the entire width of the Mall between 6th and 7th streets. A railroad bridge parallel to Long Bridge carried existing tracks across the Potomac River that originated southeast of the city (crossing the Anacostia River at M Street SE) and ran along Virginia Avenue SE and Virginia Avenue SW until they made a 130 degree turn at the intersection of Maryland Avenue SW, a block south of the Mall. Tracts of land comprising several city squares were proposed at three points along this route for railroad expansion: at the landfall of Long Bridge at 14th Street SW; south of the intersection of Maryland and Virginia avenues between 6th and 10th streets SW (the Senate Park Commission initially located the B&P station partially within these boundaries); and between Virginia Avenue, South Capitol, M, and 2nd streets SE.

The land for possible railroad expansion in the relatively undeveloped northeast sector was concentrated along the corridor of tracks that served the Baltimore & Ohio (hereafter B&O) station at New Jersey Avenue and C Street NW and its freight depot in Eckington, a northeast subdivision just beyond Florida Avenue. A wide swath from North Capitol to 2nd Street NE gradually narrowed above Massachusetts Avenue diminishing to just a corridor above R Street. In June and July 1901, B&P railroad president Alexander Cassatt (who had just acquired control of the B&O railroad) chose to place his new Union Station within this precinct. Legally he could have built a new station on the Mall; the Park Commission wanted the station south of the Mall but was delighted that Cassatt found it advantageous to locate it on Massachusetts Avenue NE. For a brief time in October 1902, when Congress could not agree on a site, Cassert was willing to have the station south of the Mall: "he says he wants this thing settled now without any further delay," Burnham reported to Curtis. [23]

Several preparatory drawings for the Senate Park Commission plan have survived among McKim's papers in the New-York Historical Society. On 10 April 1901 Burnham wrote Olmsted suggesting that they "begin to lay out the work between the capital Obelisk and the dome of the Capitol on a large scale," that is, that they make drawings of a large size. Among McKim's papers are two Mall plans dated 27 April 1901 which he acknowledged receiving (along with photographs of the Mall) from Langdon on 2 May. The base plan isolated the Capitol grounds and the two blocks directly east of it; the Mall and the pertinent areas north and south of it roughly between Pennsylvania and Maryland avenues; the White House complex including greater Lafayette Park; and, several blocks between the White Lot (now called the Ellipse) and the Potomac River. In these areas, streets and buildings were shown in detail but East and West Potomac Parks, the Tidal Basin, and Hain's Point were shown in outline only, probably because the commission was not yet ready to concentrate on these areas. [24]

On the first 27 April plan (fig. 2) Langdon inserted the elevations of the Mall along nine north-south lines and at several other points including within the Mall-Pennsylvania Avenue triangle (later called the Mall Triangle by the Park Commission), east of the Capitol, and at the foots of 17th through 23rd streets, NW. The disparity in height between the north and south sides of the Mall was considerable, the south side varying from 22.8 feet at 7th and B streets, SW, to 37.3 feet at 14th and B streets, SW, while the corresponding intersections on the Mall's north side ranged from about 6.5 to 7 feet above sea level. The elevation along the Mall's center line gradually rose from about 20 feet at 7th Street to 24.5 feet at 14th Street; the Washington Monument sat exactly 40 feet above sea level on the summit of a conical mound, its grounds to the west falling rapidly to 8.5 feet.

Fig. 2 James G. Langdon, first Mall plan, 27 April 1901. The New-York Historical Society, McKim, Mead & White Collection, Neg. #75565.

On April 30, apparently in response to receiving his copy of this 27 April 1901 plan, Olmsted wrote Glenn Brown asking him to send Langdon a Coast and Geodetic Survey facsimile of a map that dated from about 1798 and showed buildings only on the Mall's south side. Writing to Langdon on 4 May about this map, Olmsted noted that it was "not the L'Enfant Plan of 1791 and is one which Mr. Brown had not discovered in his researches," but was one Olmsted had lent Brown. Soon after 16 May Olmsted investigated this map further and concluded that the "differences may be the fancies of the engraver," but the episode shows how carefully the team investigated L'Enfant's (and his contemporaries') intentions as they conceptualized the new plan. With the exception of the B&P station built at 6th Street, NW, in 1872, all of the Mall's nineteenth-century buildings were scattered irregularly along the high ridge on its south side. The earth works necessary to level the Mall would be a considerable undertaking, an issue that the Senate Park Commission seems to have addressed immediately. [25]

Langdon's second Mall plan (pl. V) dated 27 April 1901 depicts the effects of reinstituting L'Enfant's Mall and accommodating some proposed new buildings. The Park Commission maintained the existing cross streets but divided the Mall into seven east-west zones, the outer one colored green but presumably planned for buildings in landscaped settings. This building zone fronted walkways backed by a grove of five rows of trees planted in a formal quincunx pattern in a 225-foot-wide swath. These three zones framed an open, central space 350 feet in width colored yellow rather than green to indicate that a boulevard or carriageway was initially considered rather than a greensward or parkway. (In 1900, both Colonel Theodore Bingham of the Corps of Engineers and Olmsted had suggested running a broad carriageway down the Mall's center.) A major purpose of Langdon's drawing was to determine the effect on existing buildings and adjoining private property if the Mall were to be realigned on the Washington Monument with each of its sides equidistant from a central axis. It demonstrated that the government would have to purchase all the squares facing B Street South between 6th and 15th streets, if both sides of the realigned Mall were to be equal in width. [26]

Langdon's second 27 April plan also showed a proposed major cross axis, a graveled boulevard, between 7th and 9th streets in the same location where L'Enfant had proposed breaking up the Mall's great length by placing a water element on its north side. This blueline also placed Burnham's new B&P railroad station south of the intersection of Maryland and Virginia avenues, SW, a logical early decision because the tracks already were laid through the intersection and it could be legally located on part of it. Another result of the Senate Park Commission's April meeting recorded on the 27 April blueline was the proposal to incorporate the land within the wide triangle facing the Mall formed by Virginia and Maryland avenues (about half the Mall's length) to function as a plaza vestibule for the station. Three new buildings for the Department of Agriculture were penciled in on the Mall's north side between 12th and 14th streets, NW; the 2 March 1901 congressional appropriation stipulated that they be "erected on the grounds of the Department of Agriculture" which spanned the Mall's width between these two blocks. Dark pencil hatching of several blocks north and south of the Mall and east of the Capitol may mean that these areas were already being considered for an expanded public precinct.

McKim wrote Moore on 10 May noting that Langdon's "plans...have been most useful" and that when the commissioners next met they would be "in a better position to discuss [the treatment of the Mall more] intelligently than was the case on our last visit." Their next meeting began on 15 May with their second Chesapeake Bay trip to Maryland sites followed by four days of intense work on the Mall's redesign. The results of that charrette are recorded on a plan dated 3 June 1901 but seem to have been preceded by a set of unsigned and undated figure-ground (high contrast black areas placed on a light background) studies of Washington's monumental core made on small printed maps of the District of Columbia. These two altered maps were probably made by Olmsted in response to Langdon's 27 April Mall plans that recorded the commission's "what if's". When the tin case of plans that Olmsted planned to take to Europe did not arrive in time, he sent for several printed maps of Washington, apparently his favored method of quickly recording his thoughts vis-à-vis actual conditions. Moreover, Olmsted used the same graphic figure-ground convention for the plans of parks in urban settings that his firm contributed to in the Senate Park Commission's report published in January, 1902. Olmsted may have brought the two surviving figure-ground studies to the commission's May meeting; they are preserved among McKim's papers.

The first of Olmsted's figure-ground drawings (fig. 3) has inked in black the Mall and President's grounds, in grey the larger public reservations, in red the smaller ones, and outlined in green Rock Creek Park, the Soldier's Home, the Reform School and other outlying government properties that encompassed large land areas. This study graphically illustrated the concentrated mass, but irregular configuration, of Washington's L-shaped monumental core in 1901. The spatial homogeneity of the Mall's east end had first been compromised in 1808 when the canal was cut across it at 4-1/2 Street and again when the Botanic Garden was laid out at the foot of Capitol Hill in 1823, three years after Congress granted the site. The canal was slowly filled in during the 1870s and in 1872 the B&P railroad tracks were laid along Sixth Street. The east end of the Mall was further interrupted when Missouri and Maine avenues were inserted parallel to Pennsylvania and Maryland avenues for the two blocks between 4th and 6th streets.

Fig. 3 Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., first figure-ground study of the Monumental Core, cat. May 1901. The New-York Historical Society, McKim, Mead & White Collection, Neg. #75563

The black inked areas on Olmsted's second undated figure-ground study (frontispiece) outlined not just the accepted monumental core but expanded its boundaries to include the squares framing the Capitol grounds; the triangle between the Mall and Pennsylvania Avenue; the entire X-shaped crossing of Virginia and Maryland avenues south of the Mall; the residential blocks facing the east and west sides of Lafayette Square; and, several privately held blocks on both sides of the Mall's east end where it joined the Capitol grounds. If the blacked-out blocks do indeed represent proposed expropriation of private land for public use (as they seem to), the Senate Park Commission considered early on nearly doubling the monumental core not counting East and West Potomac Parks created when the Potomac River was dredged during the 1880s.

Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., second figure-ground study of area surrounding Monumental Core, ca. May 1901. The New-York Historical Society, McKim, Mead & White Collection, Neg. #75564. (click on image for a PDF version)

On 15 April Burnham wrote Olmsted: "my own belief is that instead of arranging for less, we should plan for rather more extensive treatment than we are likely to find in any other way. Washington is likely to grow very rapidly from this time on, and be the home of all the wealthy people of the United States." [27] At the 19 March 1901 Senate subcommittee hearing, New York architect George B. Post, who had just secured the commission to design the new Department of Justice building (which was to contain the Supreme Court) on Lafayette Square spoke about the rapidly increasing number of proposed government buildings:

[I]t seems to me that the buildings for the departments that have direct and daily and hourly business with each other and with the President must be concentrated around the White House, and the buildings where the offices and functions are necessarily connected with the general legislative branch of the Government must be concentrated more or less about, or be in direct connection with, Capitol Hill. [28]

In the final report, the Park Commission decided to place the Supreme Court on square 728 on the corner of First and East Capitol streets, NE which had been suggested by Senate bill 697 in 1889. [29]

Other prescient aspects of Olmsted's second figure-ground drawing include realigning the Mall to place the Washington Monument in its visual center but retaining it within its original boundaries formed by B streets North and South. Thus the south building zone became increasingly narrower and the north one increasingly wider as one moved west from the Capitol, a factor in locating large buildings such as the Agriculture Department which was considered for both sides of the Mall. The Mall's central and cross vistas were still colored tan or yellow to indicate graveled boulevards. Buildings located in park-like settings were shown lining the Mall's edges and were separated from the central vista by groves of trees. The location of the B&P railroad station south of the Mall at the convergence of Virginia and Maryland avenues remained as shown on the 27 April plan. The major change on Olmsted's second figure-ground drawing was the introduction of important water features south and west of the Washington Monument. Two proposed large rectangular pools terminating in semicircular ends were each one-third the length of the public grounds on its respective eastern or northern sides of the Washington Monument. They would have replaced the Fisheries Commission's spawning ponds located between the White Lot and the Washington Monument as well as the irregularly shaped Tidal Basin, designed by Army engineers to flush our the Washington Channel, its inlet on the Potomac River and its outlet at the head of the new channel.

The Senate Park Commission's productive May meeting is recorded in the third preliminary drawing dated 3 June 1901 (pl. VI). Having earlier focused on the Mall, they turned their attention to central Washington's greater landscape, not only the new parkland resulting from the Potomac's dredging during the 1880s, but to a vast kite-shaped polygon encompassing triangles of land south of Pennsylvania and New York avenues, NW, and north of Maryland Avenue, SW. Thus, within two months of their formation, the Senate Park Commission had conceptualized the visionary extent of their project and all of its salient features. In 1929, Moore noted in his Washington Past and Present that "by June a tentative plan had been sketched. As a magnet placed under a sheet of paper covered with a mass of unrelated iron filings brings the particles into symmetry and beauty, so under these organizing minds in close consultation the disordered elements in the District of Columbia fell into their proper relations one with another." [30]

Because the final report discussed each section within this kite as a "division," it is convenient to trace the plan's evolution from June 1901 through January 1902 section by section. Treatment of the Capitol and White House divisions, each framed by appropriate legislative and executive department buildings, was not settled until very late in the commissioners' design process. Therefore, base brownline drawings used beginning in June include only the Capitol and White House grounds and not the squares that surround them. The Park Commission's report divided the east-west Capitol axis into three divisions, the "Mall," "Monument Section," and "Lincoln Division" crossed on the north-south axis by the "White House Division," "Monument Section," and "Washington Common." The Mall Triangle was the only one of the four triangles that abutted this central Latin cross to be dedicated to buildings, the other areas being laid out as parks. [31]


Post's March 1901 suggestion to group future executive buildings near the White House responded to Supervising Architect James Knox Taylor's January 1900 scheme to locate them on the residential blocks that flanked Lafayette Square. In 1901, the future of James Hoban's President's House, whether it would remain as the President's home, official residence, and office, or be enlarged, or become solely the President's office, had been debated for the previous decade. Large public events and general public access to the White House had subjected the building's structure to strains that were not foreseen when it was erected in the 1790s. In 1902, McKim's firm was hired to restore the White House (its interiors dating from several Victorian redecorations) to its original appearance and to design a temporary office building on its west side. On Monday, 27 January 1902 Burnham met with Roosevelt about the new executive offices and Moore recorded in his diary that "he [Burnham or Roosevelt, it is not clear who] favored [the] site of St. Johns Church and John Hay's house," thus conforming to the commission's just completed plan. By 14 April Burnham was advocating locating the "permanent quarters for the President" in the center of Lafayette Park. The second edition of the Senate Park Commission plan did place a building in the square's center. [32]

The legislative and executive groups were not added to the Senate Park Commission's drawings until mid-December 1901. In the interim, the commissioners considered many alternate solutions. On 30 July 1901 soon after returning from Europe, Burnham suggested "that we place the President's House on the site of the old (Naval) Observatory" on a high bluff overlooking the Potomac River between 23rd and 25th streets, NW. After a day at Oxford, Burnham recorded in his diary that the travelers "reached hotel at 11:30 and talked an hour or more about the President's House and grounds;" erecting a new building at 23rd Street was still under consideration at the end of October when Olmsted noted that if it were to happen, the Heurich brewery would have to be removed. This is the third instance where the commission took advantage of elevated positions within the city to create terraced overlooks, apparently an effect that deeply impressed them all during their European trip. The Washington Monument terrace was their most developed and imposing design, but in December 1901, the commission began planning more prominent terraces for the Capitol's west front to extend those erected in the 1880s, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., adding a lower terrace enclosing a pool connected to Olmsted's terrace by a second pool (fig. 4). [33]

Fig. 4 Proposed treatment of basin, terraces, and Capitol approaches. Senate Park Commission Report, No. 39.


In the late nineteenth century the area between the Mall and Pennsylvania Avenue was partly industrial, partly commercial, and partly working-class residential. Its character was a serious impediment to both the development of the Mall as a gracious public space and Pennsylvania Avenue as a world-class boulevard. "A well-known architect of the city," possibly Paul Pelz (architect of the Library of Congress), noted in the 17 April 1886 Washington Evening Star that Pennsylvania "avenue should be made a grand driveway, and the government ought to buy the squares at the south of the avenue, and bring the reservation, or park, up to the south side. Then that would allow plenty of space for the public buildings, which will be erected, and, at the same time, beautify one of the grandest driveways in the world." [34]

The sad state of America's main street—and its possible greatness—was Frank Sewell's recurrent theme in 1892 Evening Star articles. "Undoubtedly Pennsylvania Avenue, of which the American loves to boast, is, as a roadway, one of the finest in the world, while, as the great central promenade and public thoroughfare of a capital city, it is probably, in its architectural display, the meanest and most insignificant." Sewell advocated the "proper utilization of the avenue for the government and district buildings under a consistent and imposing architectural plan." He noted further that "it is probably not far from the truth to say that had the War, State and Navy, the Interior, the Pension office and Post office and Treasury been built with a single front, instead of in quadrangles, and located on the south side of the avenue, they would have formed a continuous line of palaces extending from the White House to the Capitol." If a national art commission were formed to regulate a coherent and unified design for buildings recently proposed by federal agencies or private groups, Sewell contended, "we might look hopefully forward to seeing not many years hence the avenue graced on either side with beautiful colonnades and arcades lining the front of our new District buildings—public library, museums, auditor's offices, Indian Department, geological survey and musical and art conservatories, and possibly the government's own national university." [35]

An undated article from the New York Evening Post, filed with papers dating from March 1901, noted:

The Press has had occasion heretofore to comment favorably on the project for the purchase by the Government of all the remaining private property lying between Pennsylvania and Maryland avenues, from the Capitol to the White House, and the transformation of this entire tract into a magnificent national park, in which should be located the departmental buildings. This project is now presented for consideration in the form of a joint resolution of the House and Senate, authorizing the President to appoint a commission, consisting "of two architects and one landscape architect eminent in their professions," and appropriating $10,000 for the use of this commission in the task of devising plans for the improvement of the park system of the District of Columbia. [36]

Thus the Park Commission did not originate the idea of developing the Mall-Pennsylvania Avenue triangle as a campus of public buildings, but it did determine where each individual building should be located within the triangle and their spatial and formal interrelationships. On 21 December 1901 when they were putting the finishing touches on the drawings, McKim wrote that an unspecified building facing Pennsylvania Avenue "adjoining the proposed Armory, was not made parallel to Pennsylvania Avenue, because it faces a Public Square. But for the invasion of the Square, it would have been made parallel with Pennsylvania Avenue. The site of the proposed new Municipal Building is a similar one. There is no doubt that the architecture of the South side of Pennsylvania Avenue should, as far as practicable, be made parallel with the Avenue." [37]

By the spring of 1904, in preparation for legislative action to acquire the land in the Mall triangle, Nevada Senator Francis Newlands (one of the Park Commission's staunchest supporters), proposed changes. "His idea," Washington architect J.R. Marshall reported to McKim, "is to obliterate all minor streets in it, and keep only the necessary thoroughfares. He proposes, for instance, to reserve the section north of the New Museum [Hornblower and Marshall's design] from B street to Pennsylvania Avenue for the growth of the Museum." Newlands advocated similar room for expansion of the Agriculture Department (should it be located on the Mall's north side) and other changes to the Senate Park Commission's plan, including "moving back the building line on the south side of [Pennsylvania] Avenue and planting trees, and making a bridle path under them." [38]

McKim was particularly cognizant that the proposed new buildings in the triangle and on the Mall must have the same kind of definition on the model of the Senate Park Commission's plan as was shown on its drawings prepared for exhibition in order to be convincing. On 15 January 1902 this model went on display at the Corcoran Gallery in an unfinished state; McKim wrote Moore that day:

Especially the public buildings (for which designs were many weeks ago placed in [model maker George Curtis's] hands) need the detail and color which are required to make them count measurably in finish and effect with the Capitol, Treasury, White House & other existing buildings carefully modelled by him. At present they look like huge unbaked blocks—wholly out of scale & character with their environment. Unless these bldgs are immediately finished Congress will form at the start an erroneous & adverse opinion, which once established will be impossible to overcome. [39]


Once the commission had organized the Mall's length into nine east-west zones (two walkways framing the central space were added to the former seven zones) and determined its axial orientation, the basic issues they addressed were the width of each zone, the relationship of the buildings in the outer zone to their sites, the length of each segment as defined by cross streets, the Mall's grade, and its special features. The 1792 engraved plans of Washington described the Mall's center open space as being 400 feet wide out of a total width of 1,600 feet, with 1,000 feet between façade lines. In March 1904, when building lines for the Department of Agriculture and the National Museum were being debated in the Mall Parkway hearings, Olmsted recalled the problems the commission faced in determining the widths of the Mall's various zones:

The Commission in its effort to bring the original plan to a more definite and detailed project spent more time and attention on this question of interpreting the meaning of "an avenue 400 feet wide," and of determining the best width for the several parts of the Mall than upon any other item of the whole problem. The plan finally recommended is indicated diagrammatically on the enclosed cross section [not identified]. The central space between the trees was established at 300 feet, which the Commission unanimously regarded as the least which would carry out in a dignified way the original conception. This central open space it was proposed to flank by four rows of trees on either side, the rows being 59 feet apart. The distance of "400 feet" includes the central greensward and the two rows of trees immediately flanking it. On so great a length as the Mall a vista flanked by only two rows of trees on either side would be meagrely furnished, and the Commission felt that the additional rows of trees on either side would be quite essential. Outside of these four rows of trees, after allowing ten feet for a margin of planting space, it was proposed to space the road for access to the buildings and the sidewalk adjacent to this road, and in order to give the buildings a setting commensurate with their monumental character and the scale of the whole project, and in order to provide for adequate porticos, steps and other means of approach, a considerable distance is requisite between this sidewalk and the main walls of the buildings. The Commission therefore recommend a space of 145 between the trunks of the outermost row of trees and the buildings, leaving a total distance between building lines of 890 feet. [40]

Burnham testified during the Mall Parkway Hearing that having designed the central parkway, its width became the burning question:

What width should a parkway be which was a mile and a half long in the midst of one the great capitals of the world? We made a very thorough examination of every notable plantation where trees were used and an open space left between them, and we found that the nearest approach to the one in the Mall in its dimensions was Bushy Park, near London, and the parkway in front of the residence of the Marquis of Salisbury. [41]

In his 1929 biography of McKim, Moore related that "McKim determined that the width of the grass carpet between the trees at Hatfield House should serve for the space at the Mall. The grouping of four trees on the Mall was suggested by the six rows on either side of a central grass plot at Bushy Park." The experience of visiting English parks in July 1901, may well have confirmed visually the monumental spatial effects created by long plantations of trees, but the commissioners had depended on their visits to American colonial sites, maps of European parks, and their careful study of L'Enfant's plan to determine this aspect of the Mall's character before they embarked for Europe. In his 1904 congressional testimony, Burnham related the Senate Park Commission's experiment of erecting flag poles on the Mall 250 feet, 300 feet, and 400 feet from its center line to determine proportionally the best width; in late May Langdon and Moore worked through the Supervising Architect's office to arrange this demonstration to coincide with the commissioners' next meeting in mid-June. Two dated preliminary plans made by the Senate Park Commission in late April and early June help clarify the sequence of influences. [42]

Langdon's second 27 April 1901 drawing, made subsequent to the Senate Park Commission's first formal meeting, showed the Mall's central space lined with five rows of trees with an inscription in the margin indicating that the groves were 225 feet wide, the rows 45 feet apart (see pl. V). The Senate Park Commission's report noted that plantations of rows of elms were common in many European gardens, "in those towns, North and South, which were laid out during the colonial era," and even the Mall in Central Park. [43] Burnham's 1904 congressional testimony gives both valuable insights about the Park Commission's aesthetic intentions and clarifies the historical record:

Having determined that a 300-foot opening is necessary between the greatest monument in the world and one of the greatest domes in the world, the discussion went to the supporting of it by trees on each side. There again we examined every notable avenue in Europe. We found that not less than four trees constituted an avenue; three trees produce a bad effect, because no space is left in the center and it becomes lopsided—people walk either on one side or the other—whereas with four trees there is a valley under the trees, with a great promenade on either side. Then the distance apart for planting elms was considered, and many hundreds of elm trees were measured in order that we might not make a mistake in the distance which the trees should be placed apart, lengthwise or crosswise, and this result represents our conclusion after a careful study. The effect of four trees is rich. There are some notable avenues in England which have six, and even more, and there is a certain richness and beauty that convinced us of the propriety of recommending not less than four trees on either side of the central parkway vista. [44]

The Senate Park Commission's preliminary plan dated 3 June (drawn on the same base map as their 27 April design) had wider plantations of trees than the 27 April design, but the number of rows and their planting widths were not specified. Narrow promenades, however, ran down the centers of these groves as described by Burnham in 1904. Although Burnham's 1904 testimony subtly suggests that this lesson was learned while the designers were in Europe, the decision about the general width of the Mall's zones was made before the event. Certainly avenues of trees are fundamental to European landscape architecture and were the source of the commission's thinking, but the trip to Europe only verified this aspect of their design, apparently determined during their second meeting in mid-May 1901. The issue was so important that it was an ongoing discussion; McKim noted at the Mall Parkway Hearing that the distance between building facçades on L'Enfant's Mall had been 1,000 feet:

We need width more than length. In the language of Lord Elerson—I am quoting Mr. Root—'rather,' he said, in the Canadian controversy, 'rather would I lie down on the floor of this court and die first.' That was not in passion, but in conviction. We have studied this enterprise very carefully, and have give our time and thought to it, and we are firmly of the opinion that a greater rather than a less width is absolutely essential, and that not by a single inch should it be narrowed. [45]

Moore later quoted Burnham speaking on 6 June: "I have talked the matter over with Senator McMillan. The four of us are going to Europe in June to see and to discuss together parks in their relations to public buildings—that is our problem in Washington and we must have weeks when we are thinking of nothing else." Plans of square, rectangular, and quadrangular buildings sketched in the outer zones on the 3 June plan nearly filled each block. Footprints of buildings on plans among McKim's papers made after the European trip—unfortunately too light to reproduce—modified the size, shape, and number of the Mall's projected buildings. Their number gradually increased as they were reconfigured in response to projections about the country's growth and the government's future space needs. These numbers took into account the future executive buildings planned to encircle Lafayette Square, legislative ones framing the Capitol Grounds, and a miscellany of buildings projected for the Mall Triangle. Although the sum total of the Senate Park Commission plan was visionary, each of its parts responded to specific mandates rooted in actual needs. [46]

On 23 August 1901 McKim sent Supervising Architect of the Treasury James Knox Taylor, the government's advisor on the Department of Agriculture building, specific widths of streets, curbs, sidewalks, and setbacks:

The space to the South of the Northerly line of the proposed building, at the centre, is, approximately, 230 feet to the curb. Deducting say 15 feet, for sidewalk on S[outh]. B. Street, would leave (approx.) 215 feet, ample space for the building, and approaches for the B. Street side. As the future buildings of the government, to be placed upon the Mall, will, however, vary from each other, in purpose as well as dimensions, we have thought it wise to confine ourselves to determining the building line on the Mall side only. In the case of the Agriculture Building, we would suggest that 20 to 25 feet, between the lot line and the building, be set aside for approaches on the South. [47]

Olmsted probably solved the problem of realigning the Mall without having the building zones become progressively narrower or wider. He off-set B Street South in the 500 block where it converged with Maryland Avenue and B Street North at 7th Street on the edge of the marker-station cross axis, effectively masking the shift from the Mall's east and west ends (see pl. V). On both the 3 June and 30 August drawings the building zone blocks are the same width their entire lengths; the disparity between their respective widths would hardly be noticeable because they were separated by the two groves of trees and the central space, a total of 890 feet. By 3 June the central boulevard had been changed to a parkway flanked by graveled avenues; the 30 August drawing (fig. 5) is not color coded but we know that the central lawn treatment was retained in the final design. In his biography of McKim, Moore suggested that the greensward was a result of the European trip: "Windsor Great Park, with its central driveway, emphasized Olmsted's objection to running a road through the center of the Mall," but the decision had been recorded on a drawing dated two weeks before they embarked. [48]

Fig 5. Charles Follen McKim and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. designs for Mall, Washington Monument Grounds, Tidal Basin, and West Potomac Park, 30 August 1901. The New York Historical Society, McKim Mead & White tool Collection, Neg. #75562

In proposing its visionary plan, the Senate Park Commission supposed that the historical jurisdictions over the Mall's reservations would to be negated by some future law. In 1901 the Smithsonian Grounds ran from 7th to 12th streets and the Department of Agriculture had jurisdiction between 12th and 14th streets with the 1400 block considered part of the Washington Monument grounds. By 3 June the commission had regularized the Mall's blocks in relation to the city's cross streets, with three blocks east of the marker-station cross axis and three blocks west of it. The two easternmost blocks were to be the same length, while the one between 6th and 7th streets was slightly shorter; the circular pool at the head of the mall was surrounded by a circular plaza, the whole enclosed by trees.

West of the market-station cross axis, the Park Commission initially created two long blocks of equal length followed by a short one by running streets across the Mall at 9th, 11th, 14th and 15th streets. By 30 August, however, the designers had divided the two long blocks by inserting three circular elements, possibly fountains or possibly sculpture, in the center of the parkway and amidst the trees. The plan of the Mall included in the Senate Park Commission report (pl. VII) published in the spring of 1902, divides the area west of the cross axis as in late August. The accent elements within the tree line have been deleted but those on the Mall's center line were retained. Both cross streets or vistas between buildings caused breaks in the groves of trees; Park Commission members repeatedly invoked L'Enfant's plan as their source for complementary vistas between buildings. In the end the Park Commission determined that "museums and other buildings containing collections in which the public generally is interested" should be located on the Mall's north side, while those on the south should be dedicated to "buildings in which the scientific and technical work of the Government is done." [49]

The question of how to orient the new Mall buildings in relation to the existing streets was posed by Washington architects Hornblower and Marshall in April and May 1904. Initially the commission suggested that buildings be erected out of square so that their north and south facçades would be parallel to either B Street North or South as well as to the Mall's adjusted axis. Hornblower and Marshall argued that the square figure 8 configuration of their National Museum—5 19 feet long and 375 feet deep—could not be skewed so the decision was made to conform to the Mall's axis and place the museum at an angle within its square. [50]

Regularizing the Mall's grades was one of the commission's earliest concerns but the first textual evidence of the "continuous platform," or terrace, along the Mall's north side is in a letter Olmsted sent McKim on 31 October 1902. Olmsted suggested that a terrace along B Street North, beginning at 6th Street gradually rise to 34 feet in height at 14th Street (and possibly higher in the next block) to form a platform into which the new buildings would be set "forming an extension of the basements of the buildings." Hornblower and Marshall set the basement of the National Museum in a partially sunken well on the Mall side but fully exposed it on the street side to accommodate the circa 17-foot height difference (fig. 6). In early February 1905, civil engineer Bernard R. Green, employed by the Corps of Engineers to oversee construction of the museum, noted that "where the present cross slope is greatest it is only about 25' in the whole width. Even between the 890 ft. lines, that much cross slope would seem hardly to be noticeable on the ground and amongst the trees." McKim's telegraphed reply was to ask Green to raise the museum's first floor from 24 feet to 25 feet above the street, this small change in McKim's judgment "would essentially appreciate value of base line Capitol to monument." Green worked with Hornblower & Marshall to raise the museum an additional three feet, partly to get a better north entrance, better drainage, better light, and "to get a greater height of cornice and sky line," which satisfied McKim. McKim had been instrumental in persuading the Agriculture Department to lower its grade "so that the whole composition may have reference to the dome and the needle," making both buildings properly subordinate to the Mall's two defining elements. The base line of the Capitol's west façade at 90 feet was McKim's major reference point in determining the Mall's grading. [51]

Fig. 6 John J. Earley, Plaster model of Hornblower & Marhall's National Museum Design, Mall (left) and B Street (right) facçades. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Olmsted does not mention in his October 1902 letter to McKim how the terrace was to be contained where it abutted North B Street. During the Mall Parkway hearings in 1904 Burnham was questioned about this issue. He calculated that 160,000 cubic yards of fill would be necessary "to build up to the grading line," adding $48,000 to the cost of reclaiming the Mall. "I will add to that a wall, which would perhaps be $30,000." A retaining wall along the Mall's north edge would not require placing the streets crossing the Mall in a viaduct, in Burnham's opinion. Rather, "streets would cross the Mall by a depressed grade, which would be a thing of great beauty, as everyone sees who rides along the Capitol grounds where such a grade exists. You look down, the hill falling away from you. It is a thing of great beauty, and so it would be with the streets coming from the Mall." Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., had designed these carriageways in the Capitol grounds during the 1880s. [52]

Olmsted's and McKim's manipulation of the Mall's landscape achieved simultaneous pragmatic and aesthetic goals. Olmsted's 29 October 1902 drawing (fig. 7) acknowledged that razing the Smithsonian and other Victorian buildings on the Mall's south side was not likely in the near future. Groves of trees between 9th and 12th streets are shown abutting the Smithsonian Institution, planted on a terrace three feet higher than the Mall's center line (a graduated terrace now makes the transition). Moreover, the green walls created by these groves would effectively mask the building's then-despised architecture. Although it was not the subject of correspondence (which focused on the cross Mall grades), McKim planned forced perspectives for the Mall (and later for West Potomac Park.) The Mall's actual length of nearly a mile and a half would be visually lessened by creating an extended bowl, the Capitol grounds terracing down from its 90 foot elevation and the Mall gradually rising to the Washington Monument's 40 foot elevation. Both would appear closer than they actually were to visitors within the central greensward, the "tunnel" of trees giving them even greater prominence.

Fig. 7 Olmsted Brothers. Mall plan showing location of Hornblower & Marshall's National Museum, 1902. The New-York Historical Society, McKim, Mead & White Collection, Neg. #7556

About 18 November 1901 McKim sent Moore a pencil sketch plan (fig. 8) of the terrace with alternate designs of how to extend the Mall's plane up to the monument's base. He was considering whether to break the Mall's rows of elms at 15th Street or to tunnel the street under the Mall rather than interrupt the grand approach to the Washington Monument. The commission's final report recorded McKim's decision: "The bordering columns of elms march to the Monument grounds, climb the slope, and spreading themselves left and right on extended terraces, form a great body of green strengthening the broad platform from which the obelisk rises in majestic serenity" (p. 47). In 1899, classical scholar William H. Goodyear remarked that McKim, Mead & White were the first modern architects to use "the Greek horizontal curves on an extended scale" in their work at Columbia University. McKim applied the same principle to the Mall and West Potomac Park to create these forced perspectives. [53]

Fig. 8 Charles Follen McKim, sketch of proposed treatment of the terrace at the Washington Monument, 1901. Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Charles Moore Papers.


By 3 June 1901 the Senate Park Commission had developed the market-station axis into a major Mall element specifically to heighten the experience of those arriving at or leaving from the B&P station. Its center contained five pieces of sculpture out of eleven works planned for the Mall at this time. Two days earlier, McKim wrote Burnham about the value of adding sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to the design team, citing the contributions he had already made:

His visits to the office and keen interest in the Washington work have been invaluable; and this lead[s] me, knowing well your sentiments towards him, to make the proposition that we join him with us in the work of the Commission, in order that he may assist us, not only for the value of his counsel in many directions, but because the question of 'sites,' demanded in our report, is one which offers as much to sculpture as to architecture, and should be determined by the highest authority in the land. . . . [his] addition would materially strengthen, and add weight, in the final judgment of Congress, as well as that of the public, to the forthcoming report of the Commission. Saint-Gaudens has already so deeply manifested his interest in the outcome of this enterprise. [54]

Saint-Gaudens was added to the Senate Park Commission, but because of illness he did not join the other members on their European trip when they made substantial changes in the location and nature of the plan's sculpture. In mid-November, McKim reiterated Saint-Gaudens role: "upon his judgment will largely depend the selection of sites, for such monuments as the Lincoln, Grant, Garfield, McKinley, Sherman, Sheridan and McClellan, and the solution of other problems not less essential to the work of the Commission." By 30 August, the sculpture garden initially planned for the Mall cross-axis had been replaced by groves of trees. The designers initially envisaged hansoms entering or leaving the station's forecourt on 7th or 9th streets, a grand vehicular entrance into the city. Visitors would have passed by the monumental sculpture garden in the Mall's center with fleeting glimpses of the Washington Monument and Capitol in the distance. When the railroad station was no longer part of the Mall's equation, the sculpture garden lost its function as a place to be experienced from a moving vehicle and was replaced by parterres to be enjoyed by pedestrians. The commissioners then suggested that a new District government building replace the Center Market at the north end of this intermediary cross axis and the new National Museum occupy its south end; both buildings would be visited by large numbers of pedestrians. [55]

After Union Station was officially relocated to Massachusetts Avenue north of the Capitol at a meeting between McMillan, Cassatt, and Burnham on 3 December 1901, Burnham continued to conceive of the station as a vital element in the commission's plan. He wrote McKim ten days later:

The Government is to fill and finish the Grand Court in front of the depot. Of course, this will cost some money, but it is for the adornment of the city, to produce a vestibule in keeping with the Capitol, and is as important as the work around the Monument in the Mall.

The railways can get along without this Grand Court, but we cannot. It is essential to the broad scheme of improvements, and is for the dignity and beauty of the city, and should be provided for in the railroad bill, so that work on it can proceed early this year. [56]

Burnham's sketch of the Union Station design (fig. 9) published in the Park Commission's report was for the site of the B&O station on New Jersey Avenue, NW, adjacent to the Capitol grounds which he preferred to Massachusetts Avenue NE. He wrote Olmsted: "You probably will change your mind about the beauty of the location when certain considerations are placed before you which McKim and I considered last Sunday....I have a scheme for making a deep fore-court of the terrace wall between the court and the Capitol grounds, which will subordinate the depot and give it its proper artistic relation to the Capitol." Burnham planned a sunken court with two sets of staircases flanking a monumental fountain leading to a terrace at the station's entrance level, one of several echoes of Vaux-le-Vicomte in the commission's work. Once the Massachusetts Avenue NE site was chosen, Burnham designed a semicircular plaza with "three fountains whose locations at the three focal points would place a glistening dome of water in the vista of all the principal streets approaching the plaza, constituting an effect of exceeding beauty." In 1907, Burnham suggested that a monument to Christopher Columbus be erected in the plaza and he later collaborated with Lorado Taft in the design of the Columbus Fountain, erected in 1912. [57]

Fig. 9 Daniel Burnham, proposed new Union Station. Senate Park Commission Report, ff. p. 28.

In 1903 and 1904 Olmsted critiqued Burnham's site plans for Union Station, suggesting proper angles of streets radiating from this plaza in order to get the best vistas. At the time the Park Commissions report was published, Burnham had conceived of the station's façade based on the Arch of Constantine (fig. 10) as "equally as dignified as that of the public buildings themselves." He felt strongly that although it was located just outside the boundaries of the new plan, "this station is intended to be monumental in every respect and to be in keeping with the dignity of the chief city of America and with its present and future beauty." Only the station's outline plan and that of a large semicircular plaza appeared on the main Senate Park Commission plan (see pl. VII), probably because Burnham's firm had not completed its design in time to be included. [58]

Fig. 10 Arch of Constantine, Rome. The Commission of Fine Arts


During its May 1901 meeting the Senate Park Commission determined that the best solution to the Washington Monument's placement 371.6 feet east of the White House axis was to create a positive feature from a negative circumstance. Their 3 June preliminary design replaced the utilitarian Fish Commission's hatcheries north of the monument and greenhouses to its south with a vast public garden comparable in size to the White Lot south of the White House (see pl. VI). Spanning the Mall and the White Lot widths, this square was subdivided into fourteen square units to create a Greek cross at the center of the great Latin cross that regulated the monumental core's overall design. The corner squares were colored deep green on the 3 June plan indicating that they were to be planted with groves of trees. Eight wide boulevards traversing the Monument Gardens connected the Mall's carriageways with those in West Potomac Park and those in the White Lot with drives in the new park south of the monument. After McKim showed Saint-Gaudens this design, the sculptor wrote Burnham that he "thought it so splendid and was so impressed that I want at once to tell you how it struck me. Great Caesar's chariot ought to go through and if my shoulder would be any good at the wheel let me know and I'll push till I'm blind." Until their European trip, the commissioners conceived of the Mall as the center of a vast nexus of carriageways from which one enjoyed the city and explored the surrounding countryside. In 1904 it was estimated that the Park Commission plan gave Washington 8,000 acres of parkland connected by 65 miles of carriage or parkways. [59]

The crossing of the central axes was a series of three concentric squares, possibly a stepped pyramid formed by extending westward and geometrizing and leveling the roughly conical mound on which the Washington Monument stood. A monumental piece of sculpture stood in the center of the inner square, its plaza approached by diagonal pathways leading through the turfed middle square. Four additional sculptural works were located at the corners of the forested outer squares. For the Monument Gardens, McKim applied the same design principles used by his firm for the plan of Low Library and its plaza (1892-1898) at Columbia University. The three-dimensional richness of this campus setting, achieved through terracing and diagonal circulation, resulted in Columbia's premier gathering place and provided multiple connections to adjacent buildings. At Monument Gardens, McKim also introduced the third dimension of graduated height to change the simple geometric forms into a powerful planning device. André Le Nôre's parterres flanking the central vista at Versailles, each laid out as a Greek cross within a square traversed by diagonals, provided the basic geometry for the plans of both Low Library and Monument Gardens. But the idea of overlooks was McKim's valuable design contribution, in the case of Washington, the monument's already elevated position suggesting such a treatment. [60]

After the Mall's character changed during the European trip from a vast system of lengthy carriage drives to a series of specific park experiences, the Monument Gardens was transformed into a pedestrian enclave laid out on a plane "as extensive as the piazza in front of St. Peter's in Rome." Its geometries laid down on the 30 August drawing had become more complex, two superimposed Greek crosses, each subdivided by pools, parterres, groves of trees, or sites for sculpture. The inner Greek cross was framed by four W-shaped corners densely planted with trees, each containing two circular open spaces for small monuments, their zigzag shapes leaving the four corners as open lawns, a figure-ground reversal from the 3 June design. All four of these W-shaped groves of elm trees were planted on 40-foot high terraces, their inner walls framing an elaborate sunken garden. [61]

On 30 August 1901 Burnham wrote McKim a long critique of four alternate schemes for Monument Gardens McKim had sent him:

We have been happy with the drawings of the Mall. The interest in this work does not slacken. General schemes B. C. and D. seem, on a hasty inspection, to be inferior to A., because in each of them the Grand Court is walled in, and, therefore, scheme A. appeals to us as more open.

Should you wall in the court at the three hundred foot spaces north and south of it, you would, when approaching it from the White House or the Lincoln Monument [then located at the southern termination of the White House axis], be obliged to climb up and then down to get into it. Would not this disconnect the Grand Court from the compositions north and south of it, and thus destroy the smooth flow of things?

This disconnection would conceal the court from those approaching from the north and south, and especially conceal the fountain and the people about it from the White House itself.

Do you not think that ease of access from the north and south is important; and do you not think that sight of the gay movement of people around the fountain and on the Grand Stairway, should be preserved, as one of the fine elements to be seen from a distance? Then, also, do you not think that we should see through the court from the White House to the Lincoln Monument, or vice versa, thus enriching this vista, and adding the mystery of the larger distance, and of the elements of the design that could thus be taken in? [62]

McKim anticipated Burnham's advice as scheme "A" was recorded on the drawing dated 30 August 1901.

The function of the terraces in the Monument Gardens was the emphasis in the Senate Park Commission Report, which considered that the "groves on the terraces become places of rest, from which one gets wide views of the busy city." Paths within the elm groves led to squares containing fountains to the west and classical temples to the east of the obelisk. The report's photograph 175 (fig. 11), a panorama of Rome from the terrace of the Villa Medici, illustrated the "public value of hilltops wisely treated": the dome of St. Peter's in the center is seen framed by trees clipped to enhance the view. The experience of this and other urban terraces during their European trip were particularly noted by the Senate Park Commission because the White House, Capitol, Washington Monument, and buildings on the Mall's south side were already located on elevated grounds. McKim's goal was to take greater advantage of Washington's vast natural panorama and picturesque setting by either creating or reinforcing a series of overlooks from the Capitol to the Potomac River. [63]

Fig. 11 Panorama of Rome from the Villa Medici. Senate Park Commission Report, No. 175.

The Senate Park Commission also planned vistas towards the city, described by Burnham in his draft of the final report:

[T]he high slopes on which [Arlington] house stands should be treated with terraces by which the visitor would ascend easy grades from the Virginia end of [Memorial] bridge to his destination at Arlington. In this way that great reservation would be brought into close relationship with the Potomac Park, so as to be but an extension of it. Moreover, the terraces are not only capable of a treatment intrinsically beautiful, but they will afford the most beautiful view imaginable of Washington and the Potomac. In this way a harmonious, thoughtful, systematic and continuous treatment can be given to a vast area. [64]

McKim suggested that Moore revise the text of his comparison of Washington with European capitals for his Century Magazine articles to emphasize its topographical advantages and delete references to all "Royal country seats." He said, "When one recalls the setting of many foreign Capitals and their flat topography, one realizes that with so superb a beginning, and with the majestic Monument in a vista closed by the Potomac and the Virginia Hills, the possibilities for beautiful treatment of Washington are unequalled." He went on to caution about using too many superlatives. "I suggest, as more conservative and in line with the excellent tone and restraint of your article, that the preeminence of the Capital, above other cities in the world, as the most beautiful, be avoided, and that the sentence be made to read so that the Capital should stand as one of the most beautiful cities of the world? If this could be made true would it not be fine enough?" [65]

"The Washington Monument Division" in the 1902 report includes eleven drawings and a photograph of the model showing views to, from, and within the monument gardens (pl. IX). The designers acknowledged that "no portion of the task set before the Commission has required more study and extended consideration than has the solution of the problem of devising an appropriate setting for the Monument." Further, they believed that their design was the "best adapted to enhance the value of the Monument itself." When Olmsted reported on the history, design, and status of the Senate Park Commission's plan to the AIA convention on 11 December 1902 he explained the intended effect of the sunken court. "The actual intersection of the axes cannot be marked by any object which could be brought into comparison with the supreme shaft of the Monument, so it is proposed to mark it by a void—a great circular water basin set in a sunken garden, flanked and enclosed by terraces. At the head of the great bank of steps, 300 feet in width, which rise on the east from this garden like a great plinth would stand the Monument, related in position to the crossing of the axes like the altar at the crossing of a church." Burnham's critique of McKim's design of the Washington Monument Gardens reinforced these sacred associations. "The Court is a shrine, to which one should climb, constantly going up....Are not these open spaces that enclose the Grand Court the Court's real vestibule; and is not the Court itself the real inner vestibule to the stairway that leads up to the monument itself, which is the principle of the whole composition." Saint-Gaudens apparently suggested that Robert Mills's original intention of using the shaft's base for inscriptions be revived by "becoming a monumental 'affiche,' and that the Farewell Address, for example, should be incised upon the shaft." [66]

McKim turned to Vaux-le-Vicomte's terrace wall articulated by fountains (pl. XII) set in niches as the model for Monument Gardens east side (fig. 12). On its center axis at the top of a hill overlooking the French formal garden stood a statue of Hercules, from the 1780s suggested as an appropriate symbol for America, a suggestion first made in France. Washington was seen as the American Hercules whose great strength defeated monsters and tyrants that menaced the state. Although the only textual reference to Vaux-le-Vicomte in the Senate Park Commission report was that its "cascades, canals, and fountains us[e] one-twelfth of the daily water-supply of the District of Columbia," many photographs of its water features were taken by Olmsted during the commission's visit. Moore's biography of McKim, however, emphasized Vaux's iconography and its impact on the visitors, albeit nearly three decades later:

From the terraces to the far horizon stretched the tapis-vert, crossed by a basin presided over by the carved image of Father Nile, and terminated by the golden figure of Hercules silhouetted against the sky....A wicker cart...carried them along the broad driveways, and they pictured what the Washington Mall would be when L'Enfant's design had been restored and American taste had worked its adornment. [67]

Fig. 12 View of Monument Garden, looking towards the White House, rendering by O.H. Bacher. Senate Park Commission Report, No. 48.

Although Moore may have telescoped travel reminiscences and remembered conversations, there were three visual references to Vaux's fountain wall in the final plan, at both ends of the West Potomac Park canal and in the forecourt of Union Station.

Moore's diary entry for 15 January 1902, the day when the exhibit of models and drawings opened, was unusually lengthy: "Went to Corcoran Gallery with Senator McM and Gallinger to meet President. When he saw me he came through the knot of people and thrust out his hand in the old way. He fell foul of the small model of Monument, saying it looked like fussy work. I expostulated but he insisted until Mr. McMillan took him to see the pictures of the Monument. Then he frankly acknowledged his error and took back all he said." Moore felt that artistry reached its highest point in McKim's Monument Gardens design. [68]


After the Senate Park Commission expanded the Mall to form a great kite during their May 1901, meeting, vehicular drives throughout the expanded area were fundamental to their thinking. Five miles of carriageways had wound through A.J. Downing's picturesque Mall and the literature concerning Washington's post-Civil War society frequently cited both horseback and carriage rides in and around Washington as major forms of recreation. Although selecting sites for future public buildings was part of the Senate Park Commission's mandate, the development of a comprehensive park system was McMillan's major goal and the commission's primary charge. When the commissioners changed the east Mall's central axis from a boulevard into a turfed parkway in May-June 1901, they concurrently developed West Potomac Park as a series of parallel boulevards. These connected to drives around the kite's perimeter, roads flanking the east Mall's greensward, and the central boulevard west of the monument, in total at least tripling central Washington's carriage and pathways, most adjacent to or through newly proposed parklands. [69]

The 3 June 1901 drawing (see pl. VI) shows building zones on the edges of West Potomac Park facing these wide boulevards, while parterres and pools flanked the central vista. While in Europe the commissioners decided on a long, wide canal framed by walkways and double rows of trees for the center of West Potomac Park. Irregular in shape—its eastern and western ends were widened slightly—the canal's great length was broken on the 19th Street axis by a circular pool. By 30 August the boulevards were narrower because they no longer passed through the redesigned Monument Gardens to connect to the Mall's drives (see fig. 6). Also by 30 August the western edge of the memorial circle had developed into a wide plaza with two roadways leading from it, one to a Potomac River bridge and the second leading to Rock Creek. Between these roadways directly behind the monument a stair, or watergate, descended into the Potomac River. By January 1902, West Potomac Park's building zones had disappeared and all internal references to Washington's street pattern eliminated and replaced by a vast parkland criss-crossed by multiple carriageways. The canal was widened slightly, its form changed to a Latin cross. In this final design, the canal's east end was terminated by an apsidal ended cross canal separated from the main canal by a narrow plaza, the germ of the future Rainbow Pool.

Many of the illustrations in the Senate Park Commission Report show variations in details for many sections of their plan. These drawings were done throughout the fall of 1901 while major and minor elements of the design were still in flux. Moreover, there are many indications that the commission's overall design philosophy was to establish basic principles and a broad framework, not dictate individual elements. Commonalities among the commission's design sources reinforce a recurring theme throughout the previous century: America was the inheritor of varied European cultural traditions imported with its pan-European population. The caption of photograph 100 (fig. 13) in the 1902 report reads: "Basin and Great Canal, Fontainebleau, Suggestive of the Treatment of the Canals West of the Monument," yet the text notes that these canals were "similar in character and general treatment to the canals at Versailles and Fontainebleau, in France, and at Hampton Court, in England." [70]

Fig. 13 Basin and Great Canal, Fontainebleau. Senate Park Commission Report, No. 100

In mid February 1901, Congress had appropriated an unprecedented $250,000 to erect a Grant Memorial in Washington, specifying that it be sculptural in nature. At the initial meeting of the Grant Memorial Commission on 6 March a site south of the State War & Navy Building was selected but twelve days later Secretary of War Root suggested that the north side of the White Lot was a better location; both sites were included in the 10 April circular soliciting designs. On 7 June Root convinced the Grant Memorial Commission to delay deciding on a site until all designs had been received, not due until 1 April 1902. Root had just asked the Senate Park Commission to serve as official advisors to the Grant Memorial Commission and he wished to leave its members some latitude concerning important monument sites. [71]

In May-June 1901, the commissioners decided to terminate the Mall's west axis with a vast triumphal arch on a scale comparable to Paris's Arc de Triomphe (almost 50 meters high and 45 meters wide) (fig. 14). On 7 June McKim invited Saint-Gaudens to attend the commission meeting on the 11th, "as the skeleton of the general scheme for the Mall will be discussed, and if possible accepted as the basis for future development. It is of the utmost importance the question of the establishment of permanent sites for the Lincoln and Grant especially should be reached at this meeting, and to do this effectively your presence and authority are most needful." For its siting, McKim looked back to 1894 when his firm in partnership with Olmsted, Sr.'s, redesigned Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza at the entrance to Prospect Park to reinforce the meaning of John H. Duncan's Soldiers' and Sailors' Memorial Arch as a "national Valhalla for the Civil War." Duncan's arch, based on Rome's Arch of Titus, was located at one end of its plaza's elongated oval to collect and disperse traffic from twelve boulevards. Nine roadways converged on the arch McKim planned for West Potomac Park; it sat in the center of a double circle, a national Civil War memorial he surely intended would vie with Duncan's acknowledged masterpiece. [72]

Fig. 14 Arc de Triomphe, Paris. Commission of Fine Arts

The Park Commission did not originate the idea of a triumphal arch as part of Washington's monumental core. In 1890, Franklin Webster Smith had proposed a replica of the Brandenburg Gate for a "Lincoln Gate" to be erected on Pennsylvania Avenue at 4-1/2 Street NW, and in 1900 he published a design for a bridge with triumphal arches derived from Rome's Arch of Constantine facing extensive plazas at both its landfalls. Commissioner of Public Buildings and Grounds Colonel Bingham's March 1900 plan for the Mall's development included two triumphal arches as entrances to Memorial Bridge. His memorial arch on the Virginia shore was located on the east-west axis of the Capitol (fig. 15). More significantly, Edward Pearce Casey won the 1900 competition for Memorial Bridge to span the Potomac River between the foot of 23rd Street, NW and Arlington Cemetery. The centerpieces of Casey's design were two Roman triumphal arches that masked the working of its central draw. Three months after McKinley's death in 1901 an association was formed to erect a memorial arch to him in Washington. [73]

Fig. 15 Colonel Bingham's March 1900 Plan for the Mall (detail). Collection: Pamela Scott

In his draft of the Senate Park Commission Report, Burnham wrote about the symbolic relationship between the Mall's major axis and its connection to Arlington Memorial Cemetery via Memorial Bridge:

In honor of the great General [Grant] who led the armies of the Union to victory that meant the preservation of the Republic, and in memory of the brave soldiers who fought under him, what more appropriate site than one which holds vital relations on the one hand with the commander of the Revolutionary armies, and on the other hand with the last resting place of so many thousands of the brave men who gave their lives in battle for their country.

. . . Moreover the sentiment in favor of a memorial bridge to connect the Potomac Park with Arlington is so strong that the project must soon be carried out. The memorial bridge plans sent to Congress, with the approval of the War Department, call for a more elaborate and costly structure than will be necessary or advisable in case a Grant Memorial arch is located as suggested. [74]

Burnham's admiration for Grant was shared by the majority of Americans who considered him the country's greatest nineteenth-century figure. Moreover, Burnham would have linked Grant to Washington because they were the only two American generals to have commanded all the Armies and both were elected President subsequent to their military victories. In 1895, a decade after his death and five years after Grant's Tomb was erected in New York's Riverside Park, the Society of the Army of the Tennessee, Grant's old command, began lobbying Congress for a national monument to Grant. Locating the Grant Memorial was one of the Park Commission's major charges in spite of its stipulated location south of the White House in the 1901 competition guidelines. [75]

In late August 1901, Burnham and McKim brought Root up to date concerning their progress in the Mall's design during their trip to Europe, of great concern to him because the War Department's Corps of Engineers would have to implement the commission's decisions. The architects hoped to convince Root to accept the arch, shown on an even larger scale on the 30 August drawing than on the 3 June one. "We entertain the hope that you will feel as we do regarding the site which was selected for the Grant Monument," Burnham wrote Root on 22 August. "Mr. McKim will explain to you that the site is one of the five great points of the design....We place the Grant Memorial Arch in the center of this concourse, from which point the Memorial Bridge should lead over the river to Arlington, where are the dead of Grant's old army, and the country in which he won those victories which made his name most famous." Root was the first executive officer to be shown the drawings, Senators McMillan and Allison being the only legislators to have seen them. [76]

Memorializing Grant at the west end of the Mall began with the suggestion in May 1886 that a "Grant Memorial Bridge" be erected "over the river which separates the National Capital from Virginia, the great battlefield of the war which he brought to a successful conclusion." The anonymous author "H" of this scheme envisaged the bridge as "a superb arch (or succession of arches) bridging the chasm—no longer bloody, thank God—between the North and the South." A week later Ohio Senator John Sherman introduced a resolution that directed the Secretary of War to report on building such a Potomac River bridge. The following year, Captain T.W. Symons of the Corps of Engineers and the architects John Smithmeyer and Paul Pelz presented to Congress their design for the Grant Memorial Bridge. Their design was based on London Bridge with two high double towers supporting a bascule, or moveable, draw. The high towers—"granite, quarry-faced and rugged, intended to express the character of Gen. Grant"—excited a lot of favorable comment and were revived several times during the next decade with both Union and Confederate veterans, the Grand Army of the Republic, and most Congressmen supporting the concept. [77]

Although a bridge connecting Washington to Arlington Memorial Cemetery (a popular tourist destination) and Fort Myer was a business and military necessity, its final approval by Congress was repeatedly blocked, apparently because its major feature was a memorial to Grant. To break the impasse the National Memorial Bridge Association was formed early in 1899 and a competition organized by the Secretary of War limited to four invited New York engineers was held. In the draft letter sent to the competitors, "a memorial to General Grant" was replaced with "a Memorial to American patriotism," probably at Root's suggestion. The winning design by engineer William H. Burr and architect Edward P. Casey was based on the 1887 bascule model, but its classicizing towers "crowned by bronze statues of Victory" and bronze "statues of men of renown" punctuated its stone balustrade. [78]

In March 1901 Massachusetts Senator George E. Hoar prevented the bridge's passage because he "did not want the design for the structure to be limited to the plan which has been approved by the Secretary of War." The previous November an alternate, post-competition Memorial Bridge design proposed by Hartford architect George Keller went on display at the Hall of the Ancients in Washington. Keller argued that the high bascule draw was neither necessary nor desirable; his single-span Roman triumphal arch standing in the center of a circular esplanade functioned as the Washington approach to the bridge while a "column memorial of consolidation of the Union" marked the Virginia approach (fig. 16). In December 1900 Keller's design was published in the American Architect and Building News and he gave an illustrated lecture at the AIA's critical annual meeting in Washington which focused on the city's future development. In late December 1900 and early January 1901 two members of Congress from Connecticut introduced into the House and Senate resolutions to appoint a memorial bridge commission. When the Park Commission began its work, Keller's Memorial Bridge approached by a triumphal arch was the favored design. Immediately after McKinley's assassination in September 1901 either Memorial Bridge or a McKinley Memorial Arch associated with it changed the focus of the site's meaning from one commemorating the preservation of the Union to one dedicated to McKinley's progress in reconciling the North with the South. [79]

Fig. 16 George Keller, proposed design for Memorial Bridge, 1900; perspective view from Washington side of the bridge. Library of Congress, General Collections.

Burnham and McKim were apparently unaware of how politically inflammatory a huge Grant Memorial Arch—an architectural type that historically recorded the conquest of enemies—had become when they proposed it less than three weeks before McKinley's assassination. McKinley had included sectional reconciliation as a policy in his inaugural address and had subsequently been criticized by some Northern newspapers for his overtures to southern political and business interests. On 28 August, McKim reported to Burnham on his positive meeting with Root the evening before in Washington. Root, he said, supported an arch to commemorate Grant on the Potomac site but had explained to McKim that "it was best not to disturb the present arrangement," the Grant Memorial's competition for a sculptural work being so far advanced. McKim went on to quote Root concerning General Grenville Dodge's chairmanship of the Grant Memorial Commission. "It seemed wisest not to press [Root] on this point, after his expressions of unwillingness, as he said 'to over-ride a man so near the end of his career, whose public service entitled him to such consideration.'" Root's decision meant de facto that the Grant Memorial could not be at the west end of the Mall's axis because the Potomac site required a large architectural structure. [80]

Root probably did not act alone when he adroitly avoided antagonizing the South—especially Southern congressmen—by refusing to nullify the War Department's competition for the Grant Memorial. John Hay, Lincoln's secretary during the Civil War and Secretary of State from 1898 until his death in 1905, consulted with Root and McKim about Lincoln's appropriate recognition in the Park Commission plan. When this initial conversation occurred can only be surmised by the nature of a key quotation attributed to Hay and the timing of the substitution of the Lincoln Memorial peristyle for the Grant Memorial arch in West Potomac Park. In 1912, while Burnham served as its chairman, the annual report of the Commission of Fine Arts quoted Hay concerning the Lincoln Memorial's location:

As I understand it, the place of honor is on the main axis of the plan. Lincoln of all Americans next to Washington deserves this place of honor. He was of the immortals. You must not approach too close to the immortals. His monument should stand alone, remote from the common habitations of man, apart from the business and turmoil of the city; isolated, distinguished, and serene. Of all the sites, this one, near the Potomac, is most suited to the purpose. [81]

The first sentence in the attributed Hay quote suggests that he has just learned of the plans schematic outline, information Burnham first gave Root in a 22 August letter. Five days later McKim traveled to Washington and met Root at his home during the evening when they discussed the Grant Memorial competition and other matters relating to the plan's acceptance by Congress and the public. Hay may have been present that evening and influenced McKim to think of Lincoln's life and achievements as more significant than those of Grant. The Lincoln Memorial design published in the Park Commission's report verifies that McKim approached its design as a unique architectural expression to represent "the one man in our history as a nation who is worthy to be named with George Washington." It is certain that Hay hosted a meeting at the State Department on 22 March 1902 to discuss pending legislation about a Lincoln Memorial; the attendees included Senator McMillan, Root, McKim, and Saint-Gaudens. It "was agreed that the site for the memorial should be that fixed in the plans of the park commission, namely, on the north bank of the Potomac, near the old Observatory. Messrs. St. Gaudens and McKim were charged to prepare rough outlines of the proposed structure as a basis for the ascertainment of the amount of the appropriations which Congress will be requested to make." In preparation for his biography of McKim, Charles Moore in 1927 tried unsuccessfully to locate McKim's 1902 Lincoln Memorial design. Had McKim not died in 1909 he probably would have been the architect of the Lincoln Memorial. In 1911 Glenn Brown illustrated a lecture with "a picture of the proposed Lincoln memorial, as suggested by Charles Follen McKim, just prior to the architect's death. [Brown] favored the McKim plans." After a lengthy political process deciding its site, Henry Bacon was chosen to design the Lincoln Memorial in 1912 because, Moore reported in his 1929 biography of McKim, "Mr. Burnham regarded him as the man who worked most in the McKim spirit." [82]

Moore, who became chairman of the Commission of Fine Arts in 1915, repeated Hay's quote in his 1921 biography of Burnham noting that shortly before his death in 1909, McKim recalled his conversation with Hay for architect Cass Gilbert. Gilbert wrote it down and gave it to Richard Watson Gilder, poet and editor of the Century Magazine, whose admiration for Lincoln was expressed in his sonnet "On the Life-Mask of Abraham Lincoln," published in the November 1886 issue of the Century. In the final three pages of their ten-volume Abraham Lincoln, A History (1890), Hay and John G. Nicolay summarized Lincoln's achievements and fame as an expression of "the marvelous symmetry and balance of his intellect and character," a character that was "among the precious heirlooms of the Republic." Their concluding sentence expressed the hope that Lincoln's "name and his renown may be forever a bond of union to the country which he loved with an affection so impartial, and served, in life and in death, with such entire devotion." Roosevelt certainly would have supported Hay's point of view about the character of the Lincoln Memorial although he did not read Nicolay's and Hay's History until the summer of 1902. He wrote Hay at that time: "[Lincoln] and Washington stand alone not only in our history, but in the history of mankind during the period covered by their respective lives." [83]

In late November 1901, McKim moved the Grant Memorial to the east end of the Mall, hoping still to influence the Grant Memorial's aesthetic and symbolic character when he created Union Square to be the setting for three equestrian statues of Generals Grant, Sheridan, and Sherman. McKim changed his original sedate circular pool into what he conceived as Washington's version of Paris's Place de la Concorde, an open nexus of many cross roads (see fig. 1). Saint-Gaudens was able to influence the Grant Memorial's aesthetic character when in the spring of 1902 he urged other jury members to choose Shrady and Casey's composition of a huge equestrian statue of Grant flanked by monumental groups representing the artillery and the cavalry, which had been led by Sheridan and Sherman (fig. 17). In 1907 McKim recommended stairs on both sides of Casey's pedestal, a change the younger architect resisted but finally agreed would make the Grant Memorial as accessible from the Capitol grounds as from the Mall. [84]

Fig. 17 Henry M. Shradey and Edward P. Casey, revised design for the Grant Memorial, 1907. Commission of Fine Arts

The Park Commission probably moved the Lincoln Memorial to the Mall's west end in the early winter of 1901. Possibly McKim rejected the Roman arch prototype for the Lincoln Memorial after meeting with Root and Hay because the form was already becoming a common American Beaux Arts memorial type; these Republican statesmen apparently convinced him that he needed to invent a new memorial typology to commemorate Lincoln's unique character just as Robert Mills had created a new typology for the Washington Monument. The final report described McKim's second Lincoln Memorial project hastily designed that winter:

"Crowning the rond point, as the Arc de Triomphe crowns the Place de l'Etoile at Paris, should stand a memorial erected to the memory of that one man in our history as a nation who is worthy to be named with George Washington—Abraham Lincoln.

Whatever may be the exact form selected for the memorial to Lincoln, in type it should possess the quality of universality, and also it should have a character essentially distinct from that of any monument now existing in the District or hereafter to be erected. The type which the Commission has in mind is a great portico of Doric columns rising from an unbroken stylobate." [85]

The temple-shaped "portico," 250 feet by 220 feet, was to stand on a terrace 40 feet tall (level with the Washington Monument), its columns rising yet another 40 feet (pl. XI). Topped by a quadriga, its form was now more reminiscent of Berlin's Brandenburg Gate (1789-1793) (fig. 18), rectangular in outline, its post-and-beam structure derived from Greek rather than the Roman tradition of arches from which Paris's Arc de Triomphe had descended. McKim may have consulted more immediate and local sources: Franklin Webster Smith's 1890 proposed "Lincoln Gate" (fig. 19) or even L'Enfant's 1791 open peristylar monument shown adjacent to the canal on South Capitol Street (see pl. II). Stairs on the west side of McKim's Lincoln Memorial led to the Potomac River watergate while those on the east descended to a terrace overlooking the canal, a standing figure of Lincoln facing the Washington Monument. Saint-Gaudens may have suggested this conjunction of architecture and sculpture but McKim would have known it; at Chicago's 1893 World's Columbian Exposition Saint-Gaudens "said the east end of the composition should be bound together architecturally.... He suggested a statue backed by thirteen columns, typifying the thirteen original states." In his Lincoln Memorial composition McKim again referred to the statue of Hercules and terrace at Vaux le Vicomte. On the east side of Monument Gardens, he equated the military hero Washington with Hercules; at the west end of the Mall he equated the statesman Lincoln with the ancient hero whose defeat of tyrants and monsters was for the civic good. [86]

Fig. 18 Brandenburg Gates, Berlin, 1903. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Fig. 19 "The Brandenburg Gate as a Lincoln Gate before the Capitol." Franklin Webster Smith, Designs Plans and Suggestions for the Aggrandizement Washington, 1900, p. 22.

The landscaping of the triangle between Memorial Bridge, the Rock Creek Park drive, and the Lincoln Memorial's circle also evolved between 30 August 1901 and January 1902. On 27 August George Vanderbilt had invited the commissioners to visit his estate, Biltmore, near Ashville, North Carolina. Olmsted, whose firm began designing Biltmore's vast landscaped park in 1890, thought the trip would be valuable because the climate, soil conditions, and flora of the two places were similar and the trip also offered the chance to study the "possibilities and limitations in certain directions of park work....The work there is for the greater part entirely informal but the approach to the house and its immediate setting is a formal design of some size which would be not without suggestiveness." Burnham met Olmsted at Biltmore on 22 September but McKim was unable to join them. [87]

Solutions to the collision of wild and tamed nature at Biltmore might have been applied to the juncture of Rock Creek Parkway and West Potomac Park; between 30 August and 15 January the commission replaced the graveled or paved plaza on the outer ring of the Potomac site's circle with grass to create a more natural transition between the two parks. Langdon (who undoubtedly knew Biltmore's landscape well from his work in the Olmsted office) contributed this soft transition to the Senate Park Commission's design. On 14 December Olmsted wrote Langdon, "I have received your letter of the 11th instant, enclosing sketch of entrance from the Mall to Potomac Park. I think your suggestion a good one and I will forward it to Mr. McKim." McKim replied directly to Langdon on the 18th that he "heartily" agreed to his proposed entrance to Potomac Park. Burnham himself designed the final details of Memorial Bridge's landfall and its Roman character. In great haste, McKim telegraphed him on 25 November: "Large Bird's-eye drawing, Arlington to Capitol, completed, except Memorial Bridge (pl. VIII). Please send immediately rough sketch of Lincoln abutment and several arches as guide." Four days later McKim had Burnham's drawing in hand: "Hearty concurrence in Bridge scheme received this morning. Will incorporate immediately." [88]


The Senate Park Commission had not yet determined the building type for the circular plaza at the southern end of the White House axis at the Tidal Basin when the 3 June 1901 drawing was made. The commissioners apparently decided, at least tentatively, at their 11 June meeting to place the Grant Memorial at the west end of the Capitol axis and the Lincoln Memorial in the Tidal Basin plaza. On 22 August Burnham wrote Root outlining the plan's "five great points," the Capitol, Washington Monument, White House, Grant Memorial, "and, we hope, the Lincoln Memorial." McKim's letter to Root two days later is also indefinite, but suggests that the memorial planned for the Tidal Basin was dedicated to Lincoln. ("The sites proposed, for the Monuments to LINCOLN and GRANT, are second only in importance to that of WASHINGTON.") Burnham noted in his draft of the report that the site "may well be reserved for the memorial that surely will be built to Lincoln." [89] (see Appendices)

The 30 August drawing shows a relatively small triumphal arch in the Tidal Basin circle confirmed by a drawing of a single-span arch included in the 1902 report (fig. 20) although it no longer reflected the Park Commission's final designs. Burnham, in an undated note among his papers quoted President McKinley whom the commission members had met in April 1901: "McKinley said, speaking of the Vista from the White House 'the failure of the engineers to place the monument on the axis may not be without compensation.' He meant that the South View from the White House was too grand to be in[terrupted] by even the Monument." Thus, the smaller scale of the Lincoln Memorial arch was in deference to the view from the White House but also because the slain President was initially perceived, at least by Burnham, to be of lesser relative historical importance than Grant. [90]

Fig. 20 View of the Monument and Terraces from the White House, rendered by Jules Guerin. Senate Park Commission Report, No. 400

Because triumphal arches historically commemorated either great military heroes or civic leaders, the commissioners considered it appropriate to honor both Lincoln and Grant with the architectural type prominent in ancient Rome, made grandiose in Paris, and built in America in increasing numbers after the Civil War. Seemingly, they considered Paris's Arc de Triomphe as the fitting model for the Grant Memorial because it had been erected to commemorate Napoleon's great armies. Rome's Arch of Titus, 81 A.D., (fig. 21) was probably the model for the Lincoln Memorial arch as it had been for Duncan's Soldiers' and Sailors' Memorial Arch (1889-1901) in New York (which included an equestrian statue of Lincoln). Like Lincoln, Titus had suppressed a rebellion. This specific iconography that linked the Civil War's military and civic achievements to European historical events and leaders gave way in the final design to architectural models associated with Washington's founding history.

Fig. 21 Arch of Titus, Rome. Commission of Fine Arts

On the 30 August 1901 drawing, the Lincoln Memorial arch at the Tidal Basin was flanked by two buildings with rotundas facing south, their plans copies of the 1803 outline of William Thornton's Capitol later illustrated in the Park Commission's report. On 14 September McKinley died from an assassin's bullet and Theodore Roosevelt became President. The much expanded enclave of buildings proposed for the Tidal Basin, hastily designed in December after the Lincoln Memorial was moved to the Potomac River site, may reflect the influence of Roosevelt's intense interest in George Washington's presidency as well as his own robust, athletic lifestyle. These buildings in the "Washington Common," as the Tidal Basin group was called in the final report, continued to refer to the city's early federal buildings, almost to the point of caricature. [91] (see Davis, fig. 5)

The Roman Pantheon, which inspired the central memorial building, was dedicated to the "Framers of the Constitution," the same model Jefferson had suggested for the Capitol, the impetus for William Thornton's 1793 winning design. The undigested final design for the buildings in the Washington Common was reflected in the terse commentary in the 1902 report. "Whether this memorial shall take the form of a Pantheon, in which shall be grouped the statues of the illustrious men of the nation, or whether the memory of some individual shall be honored by a monument of the first rank may be left to the future; at least the site will be ready." More than two decades later, Olmsted acknowledged that "this portion of the plan of 1901 was less carefully studied than any other major part of the 'Mall area'" and that "almost at the last moment [the commissioners] agreed on the tentative plan for the southern area." [92]

Six identical buildings flanking the Framers Memorial, based on James Hoban's design for the White House, were hastily inserted during the Park Commission's final weeks. Their placement in relation to the pantheon, moreover, recalled L'Enfant's executive department buildings that framed his presidential palace (see pl. II). These White House clones were surely place-holders, buildings of a scale, form, and historical lineage that McKim found appropriate for the site but that McKinley would have found so large as to spoil the view from the White House. McKim evidently trusted Roosevelt would understand the visual necessity for monumental scale to match the rest of the plan. For both Potomac River memorials—the Grant Arch and subsequently the Lincoln Memorial—McKim envisaged rectilinear buildings that would complete a geometric progression from dome to obelisk to rectangle from east to west. With the introduction of the Framers Memorial in the early winter of 1901 he reversed the progression for the north-south axis: the obelisk stood between the rectangle of the White House and the domical Framers Memorial.

The architectural character of the six White House clones was belied by their anticipated functions; the 1902 report called for expanded recreational uses throughout the Washington Common, proposing a stadium, ball fields, tennis courts, a gymnasium, expanded bathing beaches, and a bath house. In August 1901 local citizens' groups were again lobbying for more public parks including bathing houses and beaches. In at least one of his many lectures promoting the plan soon after it was made public, Moore noted that on 24 March 1902, 12,000 people had visited the Zoo. "More parks must be prepared, and on the shores of the Potomac, south of the Washington Monument, is an ideal place for a park of great proportions. There is room for ball grounds and tennis courts. Then the location along the river is ideal for a great swimming pool, such as Boston has." The ascension to the Presidency by the outdoorsman Roosevelt in September 1901 undoubtedly spurred the Park Commissioners to propose a variety of athletic uses for the Tidal Basin area. [93]


On 21 November 1901, McKim wrote Moore about his epiphany concerning the east end of the Mall, noting that Saint-Gaudens "strongly urges it" and that McKim will seek Burnham's "criticism and approval":

As a site for the Grant Memorial, likely to be approved by both the Commission and the Grant Committee, it would seem that, thus far despite our many deliberations on the subject, we had overlooked the spot, which seems to have been waiting for us all the time. Does it not exist in the great Square, at the foot of Capitol Hill, heading the Mall—Washington's Place de la Concorde, to which all avenues and streets converge? Within this area of 1,000 by 400 feet, there is a glorious space for three horsemen abreast, three separate memorials, yet three forming a single composition, in which the central figure, standing upon a raised platform, say 100 feet square, surrounded by a balustrade enriched with sculpture, and approached by steps on four sides, at a cost easily covered by $250,000 would represent Grant. Indeed, some such Memorial would be needed, to give this site its proper monumental character, while yet preserving intact the vistas to Capitol and Monument. It would seem as though no more appropriate sentinel could be found to defend the Capitol and the head of the Avenue, than three great equestrian figures, with their accessories standing for Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan. [94]

"Brilliantly illuminated, embellished with fountains, and commanded by terraces, [Union Square] would compare favorably, in both extent and treatment, with the Place de la Concorde in Paris," summed up the Grant Memorial's site in the Senate Park Commission Report (see pl. X). Moreover, Union Square revived the commission's May-June idea of a Mall cross axis by moving its sculpture, fountains, and parterres bounded by carriageways to the head of the Mall. Equestrian figures of the three Union Army generals were spread across the Mall's central parkway, the focus of a formal landscape that provided an "organic connection between the Capitol and the Mall." Probably designed by McKim, whose knowledge of Paris was matched by his appreciation of the lessons taught by its urbanism, Union Square's genesis in the Place de la Concorde transcended its function as the convergence of several routes. McKim named the new Grant Memorial site "Union Square;" eight statues erected in the 1750s in the Place de la Concorde represented in Paris the unity (and contributions) of France's major provinces. Grant, Sheridan, and Sherman were the three Union Army generals whose Civil War victories preserved the union of American states. [95]

Moore later suggested that the Grant Memorial's figures served as directional markers in the Mall's greater framework:

The first and most important consideration is the height of the long pedestal to the monument. Obviously this height should not be so great as to obstruct the vision from any point in the square. An instructive illustration of the principles which should govern the treatment of this square is to be found in the Place de la Concorde in Paris. There the obelisk occupies a position corresponding to the location of the Grant Statue; and the two fountains may be taken as corresponding to the two subordinate groups in the Shrady [the sculptor of the Grant Memorial] design. There is no point in the entire square at which the vision is arrested by an object within the square itself. The Obelisk [in the Place de la Concorde] itself acts as the sight on a gun-barrel, focusing the attention on the great arch [the Arc de Triomphe] at the end of the vista. [96]


What did "reviving" L'Enfant's plan actually mean to the Park Commission? Aesthetically and politically it meant the triumph of Beaux-Arts classicism over Victorian historicism brought by nineteenth-century emigre populations to America. L'Enfant and the Park Commissioners shared aesthetic principles rooted in European classicism. In 1904 Burnham argued the aesthetic grounds for replacing the Victorian Mall:

In regard to the Secretary's feeling that the treatment of the Mall should be natural instead of formal, that is a question of taste; it is a question for educated men to settle for the country; it is a question for this committee. It is a question for the committee to settle whether they would have the most beautiful thing that man can conceive or whether the park shall remain in its natural state. We do not feel that it can with propriety be left in its natural state. We do not think that in the midst of a great city, which has formality all about it, that informality should become the rule. We think with the Capitol at one end and the Monument at the other, which are the most formal things in the world, the treatment between these structures should be equally formal. [97]

In August 1905, Burnham, Olmsted, and McKim all objected to Hornblower & Marshall's "French-exposition entrance" for the National Museum, an homage to Charles-Louis Girault's Petit Palais erected in Paris in 1900. Burnham passionately argued the commission's position again in 1905:

The Senate Commission declared that all of the architecture of the Mall should be similar in style and treatment and that it should harmonize with the architecture of the Capitol. I still very strongly think so.

Every part of the Mall should be considered a part of the whole design and it is not permissible to introduce a style foreign to the dominating one. [98]

The Mall's six Victorian buildings were unacceptable to the Park Commission because they were not fitting complements to L'Enfant's plan. Five were based on Medieval architectural traditions, were built of brick and terra cotta, and varied in their size and interrelations; three had been designed by the German-trained architect Adolf Cluss. The Park Commission plan signaled the end of the era that had fostered the ad hoc placement and strong individualism of the Victorian Mall and the beginning of centralized planning. An overt attack on the culture that had produced the Mall's Victorian architecture was unacceptable; restoring the Mall as President Washington had intended it to be was laudable.

By early June 1901 (and possibly earlier) the Park Commission began devising an appropriate overarching theme for the monumental core that united the country's two great defining events, the Revolution and the Civil War. The three key buildings associated with the country's founding—the Capitol, White House, and Washington Monument—were untouchable. The Park Commission strengthened and extended the existing axes with new structures commemorative of saving the Union west and south of the Washington Monument. Immediately the commissioners conceived the Capitol axis as the warrior-President line but half-heartedly developed the White House axis as the statesman-President line. Influenced by the political reality of sectional reconciliation and a mature recognition of the relative historical importance of Lincoln over Grant, McKim created Union Square for the Grant Memorial at the Mall's east end and moved the Lincoln Memorial to the Mall's west end. The Park Commission simply ran out of time before it could mature its designs for the Washington Common. In their final design the commissioners merged these two lines into one powerful, seemingly inevitable statement about national union rooted in the Constitution with Lincoln and Grant as its joint defenders.

The Senate Park Commission plan presented to the public on 15 January 1902 was the fruition of ideas and projects that had been suggested or partially implemented during the previous two decades. Mutual respect among the commissioners was based in part on their shared conviction that great cities are works of art and that urban beauty is rationally conceived and a positive force in human life. All the pieces of the puzzle were on the table; the Park Commission arranged them to have an appropriate political armature in an aesthetically appropriate composition guided by a visionary ideal of urban grandeur that still answered foreseeable functional needs. In the pithy extract from his paper "On the Commercial Value of Beauty," printed by the Senate Committee on the District of Columbia in January 1902, Burnham offered Pericles in ancient Athens and Louis Napoleon in modern Paris as exemplars for American officials to study and emulate. Although all four of the commission members contributed to the logic, clarity, and beauty of their plan's monumental core, McKim's critical eyes and mind dominated the final design. Moore, knowledgeable about the commissioners' ideas and influences from the beginning, opined that "Burnham's affection for McKim was evident, as was also his respect for the carefully reasoned opinions that came from McKim's reflective mind. Soon I was to find that while Burnham sat at the head of the table, it was McKim who arranged the feast." [99]


1Glenn Brown, "The Making of a Plan for Washington City," Records of the Columbia Historical Society 6 (1903), 1-10. Hereafter, Brown, "Plan for Washington". "Building the Capital," Washington Post 7 January 1902. I wish to thank Sue Kohler who alerted me about the Senate Park Commission's preliminary plans and has advised me on several aspects of this paper. John Reps shared his transcriptions of Charles Moore's diary, Tony Wrenn shared his documents on the AIA's involvement with the Senate Park Commission, John Fondersmith gave me a copy of the Senate Park Commission Report, and Kirsten Schaffer kindly transcribed some Burnham letters for me; thank you all.

2Charles Moore, "The Making of a Plan for the City of Washington," Records of the Columbia Historical Society 6 (1903), 11-23. Republished in Century Magazine 58 (Mar. 1902), 747-757.

3Charles Moore, The Life and Times of Charles Follen McKim (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1929), 198; hereafter Moore, McKim.

4Washington Evening Star, 10 December 1887, and 5 September 1888. American Architect and Building News 35 (13 February 1892), 107-8 and 36 (7 May 1892), 87. Washington Post, 7 February 1900.

5Glenn Brown, History of the United States Capitol (GPO, Washington, D.C., 1900); "The Selection and Sites for Federal Buildings," Architectural Review VIII:4 (1894), 89-94.

6Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., "Landscape in Connection with Public Buildings in Washington," in Charles Moore, ed., Papers Relating to the Improvement of the City of Washington (GPO: Washington, D.C., 1901), 34.

7Charles Moore, "The Improvement of Washington City," Century Magazine 63 (Feb. 1902), 628; "Building the Capital," Washington Post 17 January 1902.

8Charles Follen McKim to Daniel H. Burnham, 28 August 1901, Charles Moore Papers, Library of Congress Manuscript Division; hereafter Moore Papers, LC.

9Charles Moore, ed. The Improvement of the Park System of the District of Columbia, 57th Cong. 1st Sess, (1902) Sen. Rpt. No. 166, 12. Hereafter Senate Park Commission Report.

10McKim to Wendell P. Garrison, 10 April 1901, Moore Papers, LC; McKim to Theodore Roosevelt, 20 March 1904, Charles Follen McKim Papers, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division: hereafter McKim Papers, LC.

11Daniel H. Burnham to Leslie M. Shaw, 24 July 1903, Olmsted Associates Papers, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division; hereafter Olmsted Papers, LC.

12Burnham to James Wilson, 9 August 1903, Olmsted Papers, LC; Burnham to Olmsted, 12 November 1904, Olmsted Papers, LC; The Mall Parkway Hearing Before the Committee on the District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1904) 13-4; hereafter Mall Parkway Hearing.

13Ironically, from the 1850s to the 1870s Baron Haussmann had transformed central Paris so that it more resembled L'Enfant's Washington than it did the Paris of 1784 when L'Enfant last saw it.

14Brown, "Plan for Washington", 7.

15Ibid., 6-8. "A Matter of Patriotism," Washington Post, 27 April 1902.

16Daniel Burnham to Margaret Burnham, 24 April 1901, Daniel H. Burnham Collection, Ryerson & Burnham Archives, Art Institute of Chicago; hereafter Burnham Collection, AIC.

17James McMillan, "Commission to Consider Certain Improvements in the District of Columbia," 56th Cong., 2d Sess. (1901) Sen. Rpt. 1919, Calendar No. 1897, 1-2.

18Olmsted, 19 March 1901, meeting notes, Olmsted Papers, LC.

19Senate Committee on the District of Columbia, Park Improvement Papers, No. 5, "Informal Hearing Before the Subcommittee of the Committee on the District of Columbia, United States Senate," April 1, 1901, (GPO: Washington, D.C., 1901), 76.

20Olmsted, "Washington Park System," meeting notes, 22 March 1901. Olmsted Papers, L.C.

21Burnham to Olmsted, 29 March 1901. Burnham Collection, AIC.

22Mall Parkway Hearing, 13. McKim to Prescott Butler, 10 April 1901 in Moore, McKim, 185. Burnham to Olmsted, 12 April 1901, Burnham Collection, AIC.

23Burnham to William E. Curtis, 17 October 1902, Burnham Collection, AIC.

24The McKim, Mead & White Papers in the New-York Historical Society has many more unsigned drawings for the Senate Park Commission plan than discussed here. Burnham to Olmsted, 10 April 1901, Burnham Collection, AIC. McKim to James G. Langdon, 2 May 1901, Moore Papers, L.C.

25Olmsted to Burnham, 30 April 1901, Moore Papers, L.C; Olmsted to Langdon, 4 May 1901, Moore Papers, L.C; Olmsted to Glenn Brown, 16 May 1901, AIA Archives, 801/1/20/1901 N-O. Olmsted's autograph postscript added to typed letter dated 16 May 1901.

26B Street South is today Independence Avenue; B Street North is Constitution Avenue.

27Burnham to Olmsted, 15 April 1901. Quoted in Cynthia R. Field, "The City Planning of Daniel Hudson Burnham, Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1974, 217.

28Park Improvement Hearing, 74.

29S. 697, 51st Cong. (1889).

30Charles Moore, Washington Past and Present (New York: The Century Co. 1929), 262.

31Senate Park Commission Report, 35-54.

32Washington Post, 14 January 1900; Charles Moore Diary, 27 January 1902, University of Michigan Library; Burnham to Moore, 14 April 1902, Moore Papers, LC.

33Olmsted to Langdon, 29 October 1901, Moore Papers, LC.

34Washington Evening Star, 17 April 1886.

35Washington Evening Star, 13 February 1892.

36New York Evening Post, undated clipping; National Archives and Records Administration, R.G. 46, Records of the U.S. Senate, Committee on the District of Columbia, 56A-F7; hereafter NARA.

37The long Armory was to be located on 15th Street overlooking the White Lot where the Commerce Department was built. In a talk that Moore gave before the Brookland Citizens Association in May 1902, he suggested that the District Building should be "placed on the site of the market house, and not on the one selected, that of the old power house." Newspaper clipping inserted in Charles Moore's diary for 7 May 1902, University of Michigan Library. The District Building was built on the site of the old power house which had burned in 1897. "New Armory Project," Washington Post, 8 December 1901.

38James Rush Marshall to McKim, 31 March 1904, McKim, Mead & White Papers, New-York Historical Society; hereafter MM&W Papers, NYHS.

39McKim to Moore, 15 January 1902, Moore Papers, LC.

40Olmsted to Charles Mulford Robinson, 1 March 1904, Olmsted Papers, LC.

41Mall Parkway Hearing, 14.

42Moore, McKim, 199; Mall Parkway Hearing, 14-15.

43Park Commission Report, 99.

44Mall Parkway Hearing, 15.

45Ibid., 31.

46Charles Moore, Daniel H. Burnham, Architect, Planner of Cities (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Company, 1921), 1:142: hereafter Moore, Burnham.

47McKim to James Knox Taylor, 23 August 1901. McKim Papers, LC.

48Moore, McKim, 199.

49Montgomery Schuyler, "The Nation's New Capital," New York Times, 19 January 1902.

50Hornblower & Marshall to McKim, 30 April 1904, MM&W Papers, NYHS.; Olmsted to Hornblower & Marshall, 5 May 1904, Olmsted Papers, LC; Hornblower & Marshall to Olmsted, 9 May 1904, Olmsted Papers, LC.

51Olmsted to McKim, 31 October 1902, Olmsted Papers, LC; Bernard R. Green to McKim, 5 February 1905 and McKim to Green, 15 and 16 February 1901; McKim to George H. Harries, 3 April 1905, MM&W Papers, NYHS.

52Mall Parkway Hearing, 16.

53In 1929, Moore quoted an unnamed source that suggests this effect, a quote that varies slightly from the text of the Senate Park Commission report. "Feeling strongly the lack of adequate support given to the towering obelisk perched on a formless mound, the commission so planned that the four rows of elms marching through the Mall should 'climb the slope, and spreading themselves to right and left on extended terraces, form a great body of green strengthening the broad platform on which the Monument should rest and from which this obelisk, like its historic prototypes, shall rise from a plane.'" Moore, Washington Past and Present, 266-7. This quote may have been taken from McKim's original (now lost) description before it was edited for the Park Commission report. William H. Goodyear, "Horizontal Curves in Columbia University," Architectural Record 9 (July-Sept. 1899): pp. 82-93.

54McKim to Burnham, 1 June 1901, Moore, McKim, 185-6.

55McKim to Rev. F. Winchester Donald, 12 November 1901, McKim Papers, LC; "The Commission's Report," Washington Post, 16 January 1902.

56Burnham to McKim, 13 December 1901, cited in Moore, Burnham, I:163-64.

57Burnham to Olmsted, 10 October 1901, Burnham Collection, AIC; Jay J. Morrow to Burnham, 3 June 1907, Olmsted Papers, LC; Burnham to Col. John Biddle, 8 January 1906, Burnham Collection, AIC.

58Olmsted to Burnham, 5 November 1903 and 15 March 1904, Olmsted Papers, LC; Senate Park Commission Report, 30-1.

59McKim to Langdon, 21 December 1901, Moore Papers, LC. The squares on the north side of the monument section were elongated into short rectangles because the Mall's shifted central axis created a wider outer zone on the north side. Augustus Saint-Gaudens to Burnham, 29 May 1901, reproduced in Moore, Burnham, 146; "Parks in Washington," Washington Post, 22 July 1904.

60Mari Nakahara and Katsuhiro Kobayashi, "Analyses on Geometrical Composition of McKim, Mead & Whites's Architectural Works," Memoirs of Faculty of Engineering, Tokyo Metropolitan University, No. 45 (1995), 199-209.

61Moore, Burnham, I:170.

62Burnham to McKim, 30 August 1901, Burnham Collection, AIC, quoted in William A. Bogan, "The McMillan Plan for Washington, D.C.: European Influences in the Origins and Development," undated research paper (ca. 1974) in the files of the Commission of Fine Arts. Bogan discovered the preliminary drawings in the McKim, Mead & White Papers, New York Historical Society, that form the basis of many arguments presented in this paper.

63Senate Park Commission Report, 47.

64Daniel H. Burnham, first draft, "Improvement of the Park System of the District of Columbia", Burnham Collection, AIC; hereafter Burnham draft. See Appendices.

63McKim to Moore, 18 November 1901, Moore Papers, LC.

66Ibid., 48; Proceedings of the Thirty-Sixth Annual Convention of the American Institute of Architects (1903), 58; Senate Park Commission Report, 27,; Burnham to McKim, 30 August 1901, Burnham Collection, AIC, quoted in Bogan, McMillan Plan, 21; Schuyler, "Nation's New Capital," New York Times, 29 January 1902.

67Moore, McKim, 197.

68Charles Moore Diary, 15 January 1902, University of Michigan Library.

69"Equestrian Path in the City," Washington Post, 4 January 1900.

70Senate Park Commission Report, 51.

71Dennis R. Montagna, "Henry Merwin Shrady's Ulysses S. Grant Memorial in Washington, D.C.: A Study in Iconography, Content and Patronage," Ph.D. diss. University of Delaware, 1987, 60-79. Root to McKim, 1 April 1902, NARA, RG 42, Records of the Grant Memorial Commission.

72McKim to Saint-Gaudens, 7, June 1901, quoted in Moore, McKim, 186. About 5 June 1901, Burnham sent Olmsted a telegram suggesting that Saint-Gaudens join them at their meeting because "we are going to need him much." Burnham letter books, Burnham Collection, AIC.; Richard Guy Wilson, McKim, Mead & White, Architects (New York: Rizzoli, 1983), 151.

73Burnham draft, Burnham Collection, AIC; See Appendices. Donald Beekman Myer, Bridges and the City of Washington (Washington: Commission of Fine Arts, 1974): 21. All of Bingham's 1900 plans for the Mall's future development are among the Senate Park Commission project files in the McKim, Mead & White Papers, New-York Historical Society. They are part of the Report of the Chief of Engineers, U.S . Army, Public Buildings and Grounds, 57th Cong., 1st sess., H. Exdoc. 1 (30 June 1901). "Legislation for Arch," Washington Post, 19 December 1901.

74Burnham draft, Burnham Collection, AIC; See Appendices.

75Kathryn Fanning, "American Temples: Presidential Memorials of the American Renaissance," Ph.D. diss., University of Virginia, 1996, 53-62.

76Burnham to Root, 22 August 1901 and McKim to Root, 24 August 1901, Elihu Root Papers, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division; hereafter Root Papers, LC.

77Washington Post, 16 May 1886 (first quote); 13 & 19 February 1887; 18 October 1889; 13 July 1892; 13 December 1894; and 12 February 1896 (second quote). Joanna S. Zangrando, "Monumental Bridge Design in Washington, D.C., as a Reflection of American Culture, 1886 to 1932," Ph. D. diss., George Washington University, 1974, 20; hereafter Zangrando, "Monumental Bridge".

78Washington Post, 2 & 23 February, 4 March and 5 July, 1899; 11 April 1900. Zangrando, "Monumental Bridge," 124.

79Washington Post, 2 March 1901 (first quote), 18 November & 17 December 1900 (second quote), 24, 25 & 29 September and 10 October 1901; Zangrando, "Monumental Bridge," 268-7,0; George Keller, The Proposed Memorial Bridge across the Potomac River at Washington, D.C. Designed by George Keller, Architect, privately printed, 1900.

80Lewis L. Gould, The Presidency of William McKinley (Lawrence, Kansas: Regents Press of Kansas, 1980) 29,153-7,; McKim to Burnham, 28 August 1901, Moore Papers, LC. On 6 April 1901, the members of both the Grant Memorial and Senate Park Commissions "visited the White Lot and adjacent points available for a site for the statue [to Ulysses S. Grant]. Upon reassembling, considerable discussion was had as to the advisability of erecting a statue on any of these sites. Various other points in the city were mentioned and discussed. No decision was made." Minutes of the Grant Memorial Commission, 8 April 1901, NARA, RG. 42, entry 344.

81Annual Report of the Commission of Fine Arts (Washington: GPO, 1912), 20. Moore, Burnham, II:133-4.

82"Site for the Grant [sic] Memorial," Washington Post, 23 March 1902; Zangrando, "Monumental Bridge," 508; Senate Park Commission Report, 52; "Urge a City Beautiful," Washington Post, 30 March 1911; Moore, McKim, 61.

83John O. Nicholay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln, A History (New York: The Century Company, 1917) X: 355-6; Theodore Roosevelt to John Hay, 22 July 1902, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, John Hay Papers. See also Albert Bushnell Hart and Herbert Ronald Ferleger, eds. Theodore Roosevelt Cyclopedia (New York: Theodore Roosevelt Monument Association, 1941), 217, 313-3, 556, 637-9.

84McKim to Root, 11 January 1907, Col. Charles S. Bromwell to McKim, 8 March 1907, McKim to Casey, 11 March 1907, and McKim minority report to Grant Memorial Commission, 1 April 1907, Root Papers, LC.

85Senate Park Commission Report, 51-52.

86Quoted in Moore, Burnham, 1:36. Christopher Alexander Thomas, "The Lincoln Memorial and Its Architect, Henry Bacon (1866-1924)," Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 1990, 358. Thomas was the first scholar to connect McKim's Lincoln Memorial design with Saint Gaudens's suggestion.

87Olmsted to Moore, 27 August 1901, Moore Papers, L.C.; Burnham to Olmsted, 9 September 1901, Burnham Collection, AIC.

88Olmsted to Langdon, 14 December 1901; Moore Papers, LC; McKim to Langdon, 18 December 1901, Moore Papers, LC; McKim to Burnham, 25 and 29 November 1901, MM&W Papers, NYHS.

89Burnham to Root, 22 August 1901, and McKim to Root, 24 August 1901, Root Papers, LC; Burnham draft, Burnham Collection, AIC, 16.

90Daniel Burnham, undated autograph note. Burnham Collection, AIC, Box 57, folder 25. William Seale, "Theodore Roosevelt's White House," White House History 11 (Summer 2002): 29-37; Tony P. Wrenn, "The 'Eye of Guardianship': President Theodore Roosevelt and the American Institute of Architects," White House History 11 (Summer 2002): 50-61.

91Burnham's printed diagram of the Mall, dated December 1901, did not include a plan of the pantheon. Olmsted Papers, L.C.

92Senate Park Commission Report, 50. McKim was probably the designer of this complex; his 1892-94 design for New York University's Bronx campus had a similar arrangement with a central rotunda on a terraced overlook flanked by rectangular Colonial Revival buildings. Leland M. Roth, McKim, Mead & White Architects (New York: Harper & Row, 1983), 187; Sue A. Kohler, The Commission of Fine Arts. A Brief History, 1910-1995 (Washington: Commission of Fine Arts, 1995), 69.

93"Plea for Dark Spots," Washington Post, 22 August 1901. "More Playgrounds Needed," Washington Post, 25 March 1902.

94McKim to Moore, 21 November 1901, Moore Papers, LC.

95Senate Park Commission Report, 41-2.

96Undated draft fragment in Moore's hand among the MM&W Papers, NYHS.

97Mall Parkway Hearing, 17.

98Burnham to Green, 10 August 1905, Olmsted Papers, LC.

99"Memoir of Charles Moore," Moore Papers, LC., typescript, 80.

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Last Modified: March 20, 2009