Beyond the Mall:

By Timothy Davis

THE Senate Park Commission's proposals for the development of the nation's capital had an enormous impact on the evolution of twentieth-century Washington and significantly influenced city planning efforts throughout the United States. The history of the commission and its plan has generated considerable interest among scholars, planners, architects, and others concerned with the development of the national capital and the evolution of urban form in America. Most of this attention has focused narrowly on the revitalization of Washington's monumental core, however, leaving an important aspect of the Senate Park Commission's story largely untold. The Mall and its architectural accouterments generate study after study, but the commission's equally ambitious proposal for a system of parks, parkways, and playgrounds stretching throughout the metropolitan region has been relegated to obscurity as little more than an historical footnote (frontispiece). [1] This omission is both surprising and unfortunate. Equating the Senate Park Commission plan with its proposals for the monumental core and then presenting this abbreviated construct as a microcosm of City Beautiful-era civic improvement has led to serious misunderstandings, both of the plan itself and of the history of American city planning in general. Not only did the commission devote the greater part of its report to the articulation of a wide-ranging and diversified park system, but these proposals profoundly affected the development of twentieth-century Washington and continue to play a prominent role in shaping the city's image for residents and visitors alike. [2] A more inclusive reading of the commission's report reveals that the park system schemes were at least as significant as the more celebrated Mall proposals and suggests that these humble recreational spaces — and not the grandiose but idiosyncratic monumental core — are what link the Senate Park Commission most firmly to the mainstream of American planning history.

Map showing the existing District of Columbia park system and the additions proposed by the Senate Park Commission. From E. H. Bennett, Plan of Chicago, Chicago, 1090. (For color version, see pl. IV) (click on image for a PDF version)

This essay has three goals. By retrieving the park system proposals from obscurity and describing them in the detail usually reserved for the monumental core it seeks to provide additional insights into the Senate Park Commission's plan that more accurately reflect the magnitude of its aspirations and the virtuosity of its execution. By tracing the origins of the park components in various local and national precedents it will underscore the plan's close relationship to contemporary planning efforts, demonstrating that it was not as radically innovative as subsequent commentators have claimed. The concluding section addresses the underlying factors that caused the Mall saga to overshadow the equally compelling park system story and dominate later analyses of the Senate Park Commission and its place in the history of American city planning. Reviewing the commissions efforts from this perspective will restore the park dimensions of the plan to their rightful prominence, while shedding light on the ways in which various intellectual, political, professional, and personal influences have colored interpretations of the Senate Park Commission's goals and achievements in the century since that august body presented its vision for the development of Washington as a visible expression of the power and taste of the people of the United States." [3]

The commission was composed of Daniel Burnham, Charles McKim, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., nationally recognized experts in the fields of architecture, sculpture, and landscape design. The commissioners prefaced their study with two general observations. The first was that the development of a suitable plan for the nation's capital was a "stupendous" undertaking that would take generations to realize and require constant vigilance to perfect and maintain. Second, the commission observed that its mission could be divided into two distinct but related tasks: the restoration of Pierre L'Enfant's vision for the monumental core and the development of a comprehensive park system for the broader metropolitan region. The commission itself acknowledged that L'Enfant's original plan made no provisions for such an expansive park system but insisted that the park proposals were essential because they answered "the need, not recognized a hundred years ago, for large parks to preserve artificially in our cities passages of rural or sylvan scenery and for spaces adapted to various forms of recreation." [4]

By the end of the nineteenth century, virtually every American city with cosmopolitan aspirations was intent on developing a broad-based park system comprised of urban parks and suburban reservations linked together by formal boulevards and informal parkways. Progressive cities such as Chicago and Boston were beginning to provide playgrounds and neighborhood recreation centers as well. These park systems answered a variety of practical, social, and symbolic needs and expressed the hopes and fears of a nation grappling with dramatic social changes. [5] Despite the purported allure of Jeffersonian agrarianism, the nation's cities were growing at a phenomenal rate. Since many Americans remained ambivalent about densely packed European-style urbanism, parks offered attractive means of ameliorating the oppressiveness of large-scale urban development. By affording urban residents opportunities to enjoy the physical and psychological benefits of nature close at hand, park systems extended the promise of a new form of metropolitan landscape that combined the best attributes of city and country. Park development produced more demonstrable public health benefits, as well, transforming noxious dumping grounds, disease-producing swamps, and polluted streams into wholesome recreational landscapes. Additionally—and this was a point that carried significant weight with elected officials and influential civic boosters—parks paid. Park promoters emphasized that park development converted underutilized "wastelands" into public amenities that enhanced surrounding real estate values, increased tax revenues, and elevated a city's prestige as a place of residence, commerce, tourism, and investment. An attractive and wide-ranging park system was seen as a mark of civic attainment that attested to a city's progress from frontier outpost or crass commercial center to mature metropolis. By the time the Senate Park Commission began its deliberations, the mania for park development had reached the point where professional designers were traveling around the country devising park systems for towns of all shapes and sizes while popular periodicals like Atlantic Monthly published effusive articles declaring park-making to be "A National Art." [6] If Boston, New York, Chicago and even more modest cities such as Minneapolis, Buffalo, and Kansas City could garner widespread acclaim for the beauty and vitality afforded by their parks and parkways, it was roundly agreed, the nation's capital surely deserved a park system that would answer the recreational demands of its citizens while serving as a shining example of American achievement in landscape design and civic improvement. [7]

Washington was not devoid of parks, by any means (fig. 1). L'Enfant included provisions for both formal and informal park development in his celebrated plan of 1791, distributing green spaces throughout the original city with an ingenious arrangement of boulevards, squares, circles, and triangles. The great American landscape designers Andrew Jackson Downing and Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. lent their talents to the embellishment of the monumental core, devising romantic treatments for the Mall and Capitol grounds, respectively. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had been expanding and improving Washington's parklands since 1867. Among the engineers' most significant accomplishments was the transformation of the Potomac shoreline from a foul-smelling morass of swamps and mud flats into an impressive expanse of well-drained parklands, a process that resulted in the creation of West and East Potomac Parks, which easily doubled the area of centrally located land devoted to park purposes while eliminating a serious public health nuisance. Much of this newly created land lay undeveloped when the Senate Park Commission undertook its assignment and its imminent improvement was much anticipated. The other major building block of the contemplated park system was Rock Creek Park, a 1,600 acre expanse of woodland scenery in northwest Washington, set aside by Congress in 1890 to provide Washington with the grand suburban pleasuring ground that had come to be considered an essential component of any well-developed metropolitan landscape. [8]

Fig. 1 Diagram of Washington park system, 1901. Senate Park Commission Report, Appendix F.

Late-nineteenth-century Washingtonians also enjoyed the benefits of a number of smaller parks and park-like areas maintained by various government agencies, private organizations, and generous individuals. The romantic cemetery movement had left its mark on the city in the form of Georgetown's picturesque Oak Hill Cemetery and the slightly more removed Rock Creek Cemetery, both of which lured visitors with their scenic beauty and manicured paths. The Soldiers Home, a 500-acre tract located in northwest Washington, also served as a de facto public park, its smooth drives and attractive gardens maintained by the retired veterans in residence. The Smithsonian's Zoological Park, located just south of Rock Creek Park, was one of Washington's most exquisitely configured picturesque landscapes, though, like Rock Creek Park, it was scarcely a decade old. Another relatively recent development was the free public bathing beach on the newly created Tidal Basin, which, though crudely equipped and poorly maintained, received heavy use from local residents desperate for relief from the summer heat. [9] Added to these organized parks and preserves was a diverse array of private and public lands that were used informally by excursionists in search of outdoor amusements. These included the valley of Rock Creek below the Zoo, a mixture of undisturbed forest and heavily polluted industrial zones and dumping grounds; the banks of the Potomac, especially in the area north of the city leading towards Great Falls; the falls themselves, long considered among the most impressive natural spectacles on the Eastern seaboard; Arlington Cemetery, which attracted visitors not just for its memorial associations but because the landscaped grounds afforded cooling shade and outstanding views of the nation's capital; and the string of old Civil War forts that surrounded the city, which combined romantic historical associations with pleasing prospects of Washington and its environs. Several old estates and private gardens also served as places of popular resort and were admirably suited for incorporation in a more formally protected and comprehensively developed park system.

While Washington possessed an assortment of individual parks and park-like areas, there was widespread agreement that the nation's capital lacked any semblance of a coordinated park system, or, for that matter, even the most basic provisions for getting from one park to another without encountering the dangers and disruptions of disorderly urban streets. These shortcomings were underscored in a series of diagrams the commission included in its report, which compared Washington's modest collection of isolated parks with the wide-ranging and well-coordinated park systems to be found in Boston (fig. 2), New York, Paris, and London. [10] A number of proposals were already afoot to remedy this situation, both by developing new parks in key areas and by constructing parkways and boulevards to link major parks and attractions. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and local citizens' groups had come up with various schemes—some of them quite detailed and sophisticated—for a wide array of projects ranging from the draining and improvement of the Anacostia marshes to the reclamation of lower Rock Creek Valley, the construction of a grand boulevard between Washington and Mount Vernon, the creation of a circular carriage drive linking the city's abandoned Civil War defenses, and the provision of parks and neighborhood playgrounds in the rapidly growing subdivisions that lay beyond the boundaries of L'Enfant's original plan. [11]

Fig. 2 Diagram of Boston park system, 1901. Senate Park Commission Report, Appendix F.

The challenge facing the Senate Park Commission was to survey Washington's potential park resources, scrutinize these pre-existing plans, and then employ its wide-ranging expertise in civic improvement to produce a unified and comprehensive park system that would consider both the practical needs of city residents and the additional demands afforded by Washington's unique role as the nation's capitol. The ultimate goal, the commission maintained, was to create "a modern park system" that would complement the neoclassical grandeur of the monumental core so that the two elements of the plan would together form "one great composition designed to comprehend the entire District of Columbia." [12] (fig. 3)

Fig. 3 Diagram of proposed Washington park system, 1901. Senate Park Commission Report, Appendix F.

While all the commissioners participated in this effort, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. served as the primary author for the parts of the report that dealt primarily with park-related concerns. As the son of the country's most famous landscape architect, Olmsted was steeped in the tradition of American park planning. He had worked with his father on the landscape design for the Chicago World's Fair and gone on to serve as a consultant to park departments throughout the country. His close association with the Boston park system was considered particularly valuable, since the city's collection of parks, playgrounds, and parkways was widely hailed as the nation's finest. Olmsted delegated one of his firm's senior designers, James Langdon, to serve as onsite coordinator for the project. Langdon's experience with the Olmsted office dated back to Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr.'s work on Boston's renowned park system, where he was responsible for transforming the visionary landscape architect's visionary schemes into detailed plans. Langdon played a vital, if undersung, role in developing the Senate Park Commission's plan for Washington. When Olmsted was not personally in Washington, he stayed in close contact with Langdon, constantly requesting additional information and sending maps, drawings, and photographs down from Boston to aid in the plan's development. [13] Commission secretary Charles Moore also compiled a collection of existing and proposed plans, which Olmsted and his colleagues evaluated and appropriated where they saw fit. The Washington Board of Trade and the Army Corps of Engineers provided studies and proposals for the commission's benefit, as did the American Institute of Architects and a variety of local citizens' associations and prominent individuals. [14]

The Senate Park Commission's plan was not a combination of abstract schemes and pre-existing proposals, however. While none of the members actually lived in Washington, the commission made a concerted effort to explore the city and its environs, gaining an intimate familiarity with its topography, natural history, and social geography. This strong preparation and first-hand knowledge of local conditions enabled the commission to produce a plan that embodied the best principles of contemporary American park development. Following in the footsteps of such noted nineteenth century park system planners as Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. and Horace W. S. Cleveland, they called for a unified and comprehensive array of attractive landscapes and recreational amenities spreading throughout the city in a manner that reflected the diverse recreational needs and geographic features of the metropolitan region. What is particularly striking about the broader park plan, especially in light of the common criticism that City Beautiful-era planners tended to impose rigidly formal neoclassical compositions with little concern for local conditions, was the meticulous attention the commission paid to fitting its plan to the particularities of the site, displaying remarkable sensitivity to the natural attributes and recreational requirements of the Washington region.

One of the commission's most basic—and largely overlooked—conclusions was that environmental considerations, most notably Washington's oppressive summer heat, should play a dominant role in shaping the nature and distribution of parks and related features. Since Congress was in session well into the hottest portion of the summer and most of the city's residents had no means to escape to cooler climes at all, the commission declared that the "first and greatest step in the matter of beautifying the District of Columbia" was to ameliorate the mental and physical strain engendered by Washington's notoriously unpleasant combination of heat and humidity. Outlying parks and parkways would contribute to this goal by offering shady groves and breezy hilltops, but much could be done to improve the quality of life in the central city. The commission called for a significant increase in the quality and quantity of fountains in the urban core, observing that Rome and other great cities had long recognized the value of such water features in mitigating the debilitating influence of harsh summer climates. Tying these concerns to the parallel mission of restoring L'Enfant's lost intentions, the commission pointed out that a similar appreciation for practical and aesthetic value of water features had informed the original plan for Washington, which included a diverse array of canals, fountains, pools, and water terraces. The commission illustrated this section of its report with over a dozen photographs of pools, fountains, and other water features in Rome, Versailles, Vaux-le-Vicomte and other notable settings (fig. 4 and pl. XII). Later interpreters of the Senate Park Commission Report tend to skip over these images, or focus on the broader settings as precedents for baroque grandeur envisioned for the Mall, but their frequency and prominent placement reveal the high priority the commission placed on this aspect of its plan. By casting these water features as environmental improvements and public health amenities rather than as gratuitous neoclassical allusions, the commission underscored both its under-appreciated environmental awareness and its commitment to improving the urban landscape through practical as well as aesthetic measures. Another aspect of these illustrations that has been habitually overlooked is that they are the most heavily populated images in the entire volume. In sharp contrast to the monumental emptiness of the monumental core renderings, they depict lively public places being enjoyed by a multitude of citizens. [15]

Fig. 4 Basin of Latona, Versailles. Senate Park Commission Report, No. 177

The commission's plans for transforming the Tidal Basin and its environs into a grand recreational center similarly reflected the desire to cater to the practical needs of local residents, even in the city's central symbolic spaces. Tentatively titled "The Washington Common" this area was intended to accommodate a wide variety of recreational practices (fig. 5). A "great stadium" designed in the reigning neoclassical idiom would provide an impressive venue for athletic events, patriotic celebrations, and fireworks displays. There would be ball fields, tennis courts, an open-air gymnasium, playgrounds for children, and spacious and well-equipped facilities for boating, wading, swimming, and skating. Given Washington's insalubrious climate, these bathing facilities were described as "secondary in importance" only to the previously mentioned fountains. A detailed appendix addressed the ways in which other cities had provided public bathing facilities, paying particular attention to the Boston Metropolitan Park Commission's widely praised efforts at Revere Beach (fig. 6). The provision of public bathing opportunities was heralded as particularly desirable in the nation's capital, where few attractive natural opportunities existed due to the sluggishness of the local streams and the generally disagreeable character of the largely industrialized Potomac and Anacostia waterfronts. For better or worse, this ambitious recreational development was never constructed. The massive assemblage of buildings and ball fields, no matter how artistically arranged (the report's tentative scheme called for a massive neoclassical composition reminiscent of the Chicago World's Fair's Court of Honor), was incompatible with the increasingly ascendent vision of the monumental core as a symbolic space. Utilitarian structures catering to local recreational concerns had little or no place in the new order, either literally or figuratively. Modest bathing facilities remained at the Tidal Basin for a number of years, but the stadium, gymnasiums, tennis courts and other athletic facilities were relegated to less sacrosanct precincts. A flotilla of plastic paddle-boats and a series of informal softball fields provide a faint echo of this ambitiously conceived recreational amenity. [16]

Fig. 5 View of the Washington Common and Public Play grounds, showing proposed memorial buildings, baths, theater, gymnasium, and athlectic buildings. Senate Park Commission Report, No. 54

Fig. 6 Revere Beach Public Bath House, near Boston. Senate Park Commission Report, No. 188

The commission was much more successful with its proposals for outlying parks and parkways. These schemes represented the heart, or perhaps more appropriately, the arms and legs, of the Senate Park Commission's plan, without which it would never have been able to pass legislative muster or fulfill its creators' ambitions as the sine qua non of American achievement in city planning and civic art. The commission acknowledged that the proposed park system might seem excessive given Washington's relatively small permanent population, but insisted that the city's status as the national capital merited a world-class park system that could be considered the pride of the nation as a whole. While many of Washington's outlying areas remained relatively untouched, the commission warned that the city's rapid growth threatened to defile these lands with unsightly development. "Whatever of natural beauty is to be preserved and whatever park spaces are still to be acquired must be provided for during the next few years," the commission's report admonished, "or it will be forever too late." [17]

The commission began its discussion of the broader park proposals with a number of general observations about Washington's geography. The District of Columbia was comprised of three basic sections, each of which afforded distinctive opportunities for park development. The northwest section, from Rock Creek to the Potomac, was characterized by abrupt hills and narrow valleys, the former providing impressive prospects and the latter offering intimate views of picturesque scenery. The center portion, from the highlands east of Rock Creek to the Anacostia River, could be further divided into a relatively flat inner section, where L'Enfant had located the original city, and an outer section, which, though somewhat hilly, was not as dramatically differentiated as the region west of Rock Creek. The third district, east of the Anacostia, consisted of a series of long, relatively flat ridges affording views of Washington and the surrounding area. The stream valleys that defined these basic regions offered considerable potential for park and parkway development, but both were seriously degraded from decades of abuse and needed major aesthetic and environmental rehabilitation. The Potomac shoreline also posed considerable challenges. Though it clearly possessed tremendous potential as a scenic and recreational resource, most of the waterfront outside the newly created Potomac Parks was in private hands and subject to a variety of industrial and commercial indignities. Following this broad summary of the district's reigning characteristics, the commission focused on each section in turn, describing existing features in considerable detail and then outlining proposed treatments designed to maximize each area' scenic and recreational potential. [18]

The commission determined that the Potomac waterfront between West Potomac Park and Georgetown was in such compromised condition that there was no realistic prospect of transforming it into the sort of naturalistic landscape favored by contemporary park designers. The most reasonable approach for this area would be to accept its industrial status and devise a dignified means of securing passage from West Potomac Park to the mouth of Rock Creek. A broad granite quay would define and stabilize the shoreline while bringing order to the existing chaos of wharves and warehouses (fig. 7). Commercial and industrial enterprises could use the quay for their shipping operations while park patrons passed overhead on an elevated promenade wide enough to accommodate carriages and pedestrians in the shade of dignified rows of trees. Making virtue out of necessity, the commission maintained that waterfront shipping activity would "add to the interest of the parkway" and give it a uniquely European character reminiscent of similarly urbanized waterfronts Paris, Vienna, and Budapest (fig. 8), In typical American fashion, the commission insisted Washington would put its Old World predecessors to shame. If the situation warranted and additional funding became available, the quay and promenade scheme could be extended along the Georgetown waterfront, which was similarly blighted with industrial development. [19]

Fig. 7 Typical treatment of Potomac Quay. Senate Park Commission Report, No. 110

Fig. 8 Quays and Corso, Budapest. Senate Park Commission Report, No. 102

The valley of Rock Creek posed similar challenges, though it promised a more pleasing resolution from a traditional park development point of view. Early proposals for the creation of Rock Creek Park had envisioned preserving the creek valley from the Maryland border all the way down to Georgetown. By the time the park was created in 1890, however, political and economic concerns limited its southern extent to the boundary of the National Zoo, just north of Connecticut Avenue. Attractively wooded hillsides bordered the creek as far south as P Street, but from that point to the Potomac waterfront, the stream valley served as a combination dumping ground and industrial zone (figs. 9, 10). The Washington Board of Trade and Georgetown Citizens' Association had developed competing proposals to remedy the situation, and the Army Corps of Engineers made a study in 1893, but Rock Creek's fate was still very much up in the air when the Senate Park Commission undertook its investigation. [20]

Fig. 9 Rock Creek, looking north from M Street Bridge. Senate Park Commission Report, No. 180

Fig. 10 Rock Creek, looking south from P Street. Senate Park Commission Report, No. 190

Characterizing the lower valley as "unsightly to the verge of ugliness" the commission placed high priority on improving its condition. In addition to being an urban eyesore and public health menace, the degraded landscape of Rock Creek was a significant obstacle to the commission's goal of creating a unified park system. Since Rock Creek Valley afforded the best means of linking the two primary units of Washington's park system—Rock Creek Park and the monumental core—the commission insisted that the creation of an attractive parkway along the creek was essential to its broader program of linking the city's parks together in a comprehensive and unified system. The commission prepared a lengthy analysis of the available options, devoting more space in its official report to this topic than to more celebrated subjects such as the Mall, the Washington Monument grounds, or the Lincoln Memorial. Another indication of the importance the commission placed on this project was that the report's first two illustrations highlighted the "disagreeable" conditions that the proposed parkway would supplant with an attractive, sanitary, and economically beneficial civic space. As a vivid demonstration of the practical and aesthetic benefits of comprehensive city planning, no other aspect of the 1901 scheme better exemplified the Senate Park Commission's affinity with the mainstream tradition of American park development and civic improvement. [21]

The commission gave due consideration to both proposals, but its affinities clearly lay with Washington Board of Trade's "Open Valley" scheme (fig. 11). Under this alternative, unwanted industries and undesirable residents would be banished from the lower valley, which would be restored to a semblance of its original condition. This would require significant expenditures for excavation and landscaping, but the commission insisted that the end results would justify the initial costs. Not only would a picturesquely winding streamside parkway accord with contemporary preferences for naturalistic scenery, but the combination of a low-level parkway and judicious plantings would be most effective in screening out the sights and sounds of the surrounding city, so that excursionists could travel from one portion of the park system to the other in soothing sylvan surroundings. Locating the main parkway drive at the bottom of the valley would also minimize interference from cross-town traffic, which could be carried overhead on monumental bridges. The practical and aesthetic appeal of this approach was illustrated with a photograph of Boston's Riverway and the similarities between the two projects were detailed in the accompanying text. [22]

Fig. 11 "Open-valley" Plan for Rock Creek Parkway. Senate Park Commission Report, No. 11

The commission acknowledged that the rival "Closed Valley" treatment might also produce a useful and dignified urban improvement, but raised a number of practical and aesthetic objections to this course of action (fig. 12). There were ample precedents for enclosing urban streams in this manner, and districts like Boston's Back Bay had demonstrated that grand formal boulevards could stimulate the development of handsome residential neighborhoods in areas that had earlier been dismissed as noxious wastelands, but the Senate Park Commission was not convinced that this section of Washington would develop in similar fashion. While the commission's report was conspicuously silent on race matters, the lower portion of Rock Creek valley was surrounded by poverty-stricken neighborhoods inhabited primarily by African-Americans. If this area failed to gentrify and the new parkway was surrounded by tenements and factories, the relatively shallow plantings of a formal boulevard would not provide anywhere near the protection afforded by a low-lying parkway lined by thick woodlands. The commissioners also questioned whether the federal government should be entering the real estate business in competition with private investors—an important consideration given that the implementation of the commission's plan depended on the support of civic boosters and members of Congress, many of whom were heavily involved in local real estate speculation. Another drawback was that a boulevard-style development at street level would provide a less appealing park connection than a low-level parkway, since the inevitable intersections would pose dangers and disruptions for recreational carriage drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians. After examining the situation in the field and weighing the arguments and financial estimates provided for both alternatives, the Senate Park Commission ruled in favor of the "Open Valley" plan, proclaiming it more desirable "on the grounds of economy, convenience, and beauty." [23]

Fig. 12 "Closed-valley" Plan for Rock Creek Parkway. Senate Park Commission Report, No. 12

The commission called for a number of other parkways to link the various elements of the District park system into a unified whole that could be enjoyed without recourse to ordinary city streets. Most of the proposed connections were informal parkways along the lines proposed for Rock Creek, but in situations where the surrounding character was predominantly urban, or where the terrain did not lend itself to naturalistic development, the commission advised that formal boulevards were preferable. In many cases, secondary formal boulevards would flank informally landscaped parkways, serving to delineate the edges and accommodate utilitarian traffic (fig. 13). Generally speaking, the commission observed, the narrow stream valleys in the rugged highlands west of Rock Creek were ideally suited to informal parkway development, while the gentler, more developed terrain in the center of the district was more compatible with formal avenues and boulevards.

Fig. 13 Typical section of one of the Valley Parkways, such as Piney Branch, Soapstone Creek and Georgetown parkways. Senate Park Commission Report, No. 13

In the commission's grand plan, a "Georgetown Parkway" would leave Rock Creek Parkway just north of Oak Hill Cemetery and wend its way past the Naval Observatory and Georgetown College to the valley of Foundry Branch, following this stream to its mouth on the Potomac (see pl. IV). Georgetown Parkway would play an important role in the broader park system by connecting proposed parks along the upper Potomac with Rock Creek Park and the central and eastern districts. Along with providing connections between key parks, the Georgetown Parkway would preserve two attractive tracts of undeveloped land: the old estate grounds and adjacent broad ravine leading into Rock Creek Parkway that later became Montrose and Dumbarton Oaks parks, and the wooded valley of Foundry Branch, which was later preserved as part of Glover-Archbold Park. The intervening segments were never realized, though a narrow and abbreviated corridor known as Whitehaven Parkway preserved a rugged ridge and tributary stream valley. [24]

Further north, in the vicinity of Tenleytown, the commission identified the "narrow, well-timbered, and beautiful" valley formed by Soapstone Branch as an ideal location for an informal parkway providing access to Rock Creek Park from Connecticut Avenue. This parkway would also help preserve two small hills just west of Connecticut Avenue that afforded extended views of the central city and the Washington Monument. At Yuma Street the parkway crested a distinct ridge, taking advantage of this change in topography to shift from informal to formal development. This transition would be highlighted by a terrace or concourse providing views east over Rock Creek Park and onward toward the Soldiers' Home. The main boulevard would lead directly to Tenley Circle while a short spur extended north to Fort Reno. The Yuma Street boulevard continued in a straight line for another 1000 feet, coming to a dramatic halt where the ground fell off sharply from the top of a narrow plateau. The outstanding scenic potential of this site would be maximized through the construction of a projecting concourse affording expansive vistas to the north and west. This more developed and formal landscape feature would provide a dignified destination and offer an appealing contrast to the informal scenery that dominated the northwestern portion of the park system. Because of its western orientation, the outlook would be an ideal location for enjoying sunsets. Combining this under-appreciated sensitivity for local topographical nuances with its more widely acknowledged reverence for European precedents, the commission illustrated the effect it hoped to achieve with photographs of the high terrace at the Villa d'Este in Tivoli and views from the terraces at Sr. Germain, Paris (fig. 14). [25]

Fig. 14 View from the Terraces, St. Germain, Paris. Senate Park Commission Report, No. 72..

A third lateral parkway would extend west from Rock Creek Park along the valley formed by Broad Branch. Like the Rock Creek and Soapstone Parkways, this elongated park would be informally developed, with a low-level carriage drive winding alongside the stream and formal border roads located higher up at the valley edges. The main drive would pass under Connecticut Avenue. A short spur would connect with this important arterial, providing access to the park system from the rapidly building suburb of Chevy Chase. Beyond Connecticut Avenue, the parkway would wind south and then west to the highlands occupied by Fort Reno. As the highest point in the District and a site with important historic associations, this summit would be protected with a substantial reservation to preserve the hallowed terrain and protect a panorama of scenic views (fig. 15). A short length of parkway would lead to Tenley Circle, serving as another strand in the web of interconnecting reservations that the Senate Park Commission was casting throughout the city's suburbs. [26]

Fig. 15 Fort Reno, view to the west. Senate Park Commission Report, opposite page 92

The most ambitious proposal for park development west of Rock Creek called for a multi-tiered parkway extending along the Potomac waterfront from Georgetown to Great Falls. Based in part on New York's celebrated Riverside Drive, this "Potomac Drive" would afford a variety of means of accessing Great Falls and prevent developers from occupying the attractively wooded hillsides that loomed above the Potomac. The commission's report contained an elaborate description of the proposed parkway along with two small renderings portraying "typical sections" for the regions above and below Chain Bridge (figs. 16, 17). At the top of the bluffs, a relatively formal border road would accommodate general traffic and provide a clear demarcation for housing frontage, ensuring that development on adjacent private land would face the parkway in an attractive and dignified manner. A trolley line would run at a slightly lower level, offering a convenient means of reaching the cataracts and cooling groves of the upper Potomac. The primary carriage drive would occupy the most advantageous location, carefully fitted into the hillside to present an appealing mixture of expansive views and intimate woodland scenery. At the base of the escarpment, the historic Chesapeake and Ohio Canal formed a picturesque complement to the natural scenery while affording opportunities for boating, both in private canoes and aboard the traditional canal boats that plied the economically moribund waterway. Recognizing that the canal's commercial prospects were bleak, the commission urged its preservation as a scenic, historic, and recreational resource. The commission's concern for maintaining the canal's "primitive character" and ensuring that future generations would be able to enjoy "the slow, old-fashioned movement of the boats and of the people on this ancient waterway" revealed the nascent historic preservation ethic that found more explicit expression in the drive to protect the ring of Civil War forts surrounding the city. [27]

Fig. 16 Typical Section of Potomac Drive, a short distance above Aqueduct Bridge. Senate Park Commission Report, No. 14

Fig. 17 Typical Section of Potomac Drive, below the Chain Bridge. Senate Park Commission Report, No. 16

The commission made a strong plea for the creation of an official national park to protect Great Falls and the surrounding woodlands, insisting that the natural beauties of this area compared favorably with anything to be found in the American West (fig. 18). While Great Falls and the more spectacular portions of the Potomac escarpment lay beyond the District's borders—and were thus technically outside the commission's mandate—the commission insisted that the stakes were so high and the potential benefits so great that artificial political boundaries should no be allowed to prevent their incorporation in the park system. Since Great Falls and the upper Potomac had long served as de facto public parks for visitors to Washington and residents alike, it was time to devote the government's resources to ensuring that these treasured landscapes would be protected in perpetuity and developed to their full recreational potential. [28]

Fig. 18 The Great Falls of the Potomac. Senate Park Commission Report, No 197

Similar logic propelled the commission to comment on the desirability of connecting Washington and Mount Vernon with "an agreeable and dignified approach." In addition to accommodating the ever-increasing stream of tourists flocking to the historic site, a grand boulevard or parkway extending from Washington to Mount Vernon would offer impressive views of the lower Potomac region. The commission embraced the general outlines of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' 1890 report on potential routes and design treatment's. Olmsted personally inspected the various alignments suggested by the engineers and endorsed a route that carried the roadway along the chain of ridges from Arlington Cemetery to Mount Vernon. With a few modifications, he declared, this arrangement could be developed into "the most refreshing and delightful drive to be had in any direction from the Washington and not to be equaled at any great capital in the world." The commission urged the acquisition of this alignment as soon as possible to secure it at a reasonable price before the Virginia suburbs developed further. [29]

Rounding out its recommendations for the region west of Rock Creek, the commission called for the creation of a series of smaller reservations to protect the sites of Civil War era fortifications such as Battery Parrot, Fort Kemble, and Battery Vermont. These historically significant sites were ideally suited for park development, since they occupied commanding heights that afforded impressive views and had generally escaped the development pressures that were rapidly transforming the city's environs. The report also recommended taking advantage of park-like features that had been preserved for unrelated purposes, such as the grounds of the receiving reservoir for Washington's water system, which straddled the Maryland line at the western edge of the District. This heavily wooded 281-acre site could easily be adapted to park purposes. While Arlington Cemetery also lay beyond the commission's geographic mandate, the report praised its value as a soothing and reflective landscape and decried the impact of recent trends in funerary art, which had compromised the burial ground's "harmonious and sober" appearance through the introduction of eclectic and pretentious monuments. The fate of the marshy island nearby, then known as Analostan Island, was also discussed. Since the island was still in private hands, the commission urged its acquisition to ensure the protection of this "important and beautiful part of all the views over the Potomac." The commission believed the swampy tract could be acquired at minimal cost, making it "a very desirable and inexpensive addition to the park system." [30]

The major existing reservations such as Rock Creek Park and the National Zoo were briefly discussed with an eye toward defining their roles within the framework of the broad park system. Minor additions were recommended to round out the borders of both properties and appropriate development strategies were suggested. The commission advised that any new structures or landscape features in the Zoo should follow the picturesque design strategy established by Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., despite the growing preference for neoclassical public buildings. Construction in Rock Creek Park should be kept to an absolute minimum, pending the development of "a systematic plan prepared by landscape architects." [31] This stipulation reflected misgivings about the capabilities of the park's current custodians, the Army Corps of Engineers. Under the leadership of Captain Lansing Beach, the corps was in the process of building a road alongside Rock Creek (fig. 19). While the commission acknowledged that it was imperative to make the park more accessible to the general public, and allowed that portions of the new roadway were "very skillfully laid out," it complained that several sections of the drive had "appreciably injured the scenery." Future road construction should be very carefully considered, the commission warned, with serious thought given separating the main park drive from the creek itself. Locating the roadway along the hillsides above the creek would require additional grading and tree-cutting and be significantly more expensive, but it would prevent further damage to the park's most precious scenic resources. [32]

Fig. 19 Beach Drive, Rock Creek Park. Vintage postcard, author's collection

Shifting its attention to the region east of Rock Creek Park, the commission sung the praises of the Soldiers' Home grounds as a place of popular resort. The commission declared the construction of a substantial parkway between Rock Creek Park and the Soldiers' Home to be "of the utmost importance" as a means of "bringing into organic relation two of the largest and most beautiful places of recreation" in the city. This transition would be accomplished in two stages reflecting the varied characteristics of the intervening scenery. A picturesque parkway would follow the course of Piney Branch, which the report described as "one of the most charming passages of natural valley scenery in the District." This informal parkway would terminate at the grounds of the municipal hospital, where a formal plaza would effect the transition to a more traditional boulevard following the existing alignment of Savannah Street to the Soldiers' Home. The commission provided a plan and hypothetical section for the "Savannah Parkway," which would be 200-feet wide and comprised of a central pleasure drive and flanking border roads shaded by six rows of regularly spaced trees (fig. 20). [33]

Fig. 20 Section of proposed Savannah Parkway. Senate Park Commission Report, No. 17

On the east side of the Soldiers' Home a series of short parkway segments would connect smaller reservations and provide a continuous link to the substantial recreational developments the commission intended to establish on the Anacostia River. Eckington Parkway would traverse the region between the Soldiers' Home and Gallaudet University, answering local resident's demands for additional recreational facilities. Leading south and east from the Soldiers' Home, it would preserve a "charmingly wooded" valley that was threatened with encroaching development. The first half-mile or so would be informally landscaped, taking advantage of terrain the commission praised for its "natural park-like effect." Where the natural topography became less characterful, the parkway would adopt a more formal mien. [34]

Just west of the grounds of Gallaudet University, the proposed parkway entered an attractive property known as the Patterson estate, which was centered on a prominent rise affording views east toward the Anacostia and south toward the Capitol dome. The estate's rolling hills, shady groves, and picturesque plantings prompted the commission to declare that there was "no better example in the whole District of the 'park-like' type of landscape." The lower part of the property consisted of more level terrain ideally suited to the development of recreational facilities, which the commission declared to be "of the utmost value to the future population of the surrounding region." The existing mansion could be converted into a facility for selling refreshments and staging various activities and amusements. A potential drawback to this plan lay in the fact that Congress had authorized the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad to relocate its lines across the property. The commission expressed confidence that this incompatible development could be accommodated with a tunnel located well below the surface of the park. The proposed extension of New York Avenue also posed problems, since this thoroughfare would run directly through the top third of the park. Again, the commission maintained the threat could be ameliorated, in this case with a sunken roadway reminiscent of the transverse roads that carried cross-town traffic unobtrusively through Central Park. Unfortunately, the construction of these transportation facilities seriously compromised the site. The lower portion was eventually put to use as athletic fields for a local school, but the picturesque hilltop was carved into an unsightly array of transportation facilities and maintenance yards. The only trace of the commission's vision for this prime location is a small amount of greensward and double row of paltry plantings flanking a fragment of curvilinear roadway generously titled Brentwood Parkway. [35]

Proceeding east through undistinguished terrain, a formal parkway would curve around the north edge of Mount Olivet Cemetery to Mount Hamilton, the next major reservation in the commission's sprawling park system. Mount Hamilton was a steep, heavily wooded promontory that stood out as one of the highest summits between Rock Creek and the Anacostia. In addition to offering sweeping views in every direction, it formed a highly visible landmark from many locations in the eastern half of the city. The commission believed it was imperative to protect the peak's wild, undeveloped character as an example of the typical mountain scenery that had largely disappeared from the region. To this end, improvements would be limited to paths and minimal conveniences, with a single driveway providing access to the summit. A white marble pavilion would be erected at the apex, to provide shelter and "accentuate the peak as seen from a distance." [36]

Another short stretch of informal parkway would provide the final link to the proposed Anacostia water park. Of all the planned improvements to the city's park system, the rehabilitation of the Anacostia River and its surroundings posed the greatest challenges. This shallow freshwater estuary was barely tolerable at high tide, when rising waters flooded acres of marsh and low-lying meadows, rendering a large amount of potentially valuable land useless for recreational or productive purposes. When the waters receded, they exposed vast expanses of reeking mud flats and rotting vegetation. The unpleasant odor and threat of malaria and similar diseases permeated the area, making life miserable for the region's poor inhabitants and for the workers and residents of the government installations located nearby. Congress bad already authorized numerous studies to ameliorate the problem. The commission availed itself of the Army Corps of Engineers 1898 report, which called for a comprehensive program of draining and filling to create a deeper watercourse surrounded by dry and solid land. Under the engineers' plan, a considerable portion of the shoreline along the lower portion of the river would be devoted to commercial purposes. The commission acquiesced to this treatment but proposed that a series of quays and viaducts be built to allow recreational passage through the area in the same manner proposed for the Potomac waterfront. At the height of commercial navigation, a low dam would eliminate tidal deviations so that a consistent shoreline could be established. This would be stabilized by a retaining wall, which would be raised and clearly visible in the engineers' proposal or more subtle and naturalistic in the park commission's formulation. Dredging would create a clear channel that would widen into a diversified array of lakes and basins that could be used for informal boating and organized regattas. Draining and stabilizing the surrounding meadows and tidal flats would create significant areas devoted to recreational facilities and landscaped park-land. Paths and drive would provide complementary circulation networks. Boat houses, bath houses, and shelters would cater to the seasonally varying needs of local residents. The commission's report included photographs of well-dressed boaters and spectators at Henley and Oxford to illustrate the sort of riverine landscapes and recreational practices it hoped to foster (fig. 21). [37]

Fig. 21 Henley — A suggestion of Anacostia Park. Senate Park Commission Report, page 109

The commission devoted considerable thought to the development of East Potomac Park (fig. 22). This area had already been reclaimed from the tidal flats of the Potomac, though filling continued to raise the island's surface further above the tide level. Rows of poplars and willows had been planted along the edge of the island to shelter recreationists and stabilize the shoreline by binding the soil together. The commission approved of this arrangement but maintained that the bulk of the island should remain informally developed to resemble the open meadow landscapes of natural river bottoms. The fringe of trees would frame these broad clearings and afford welcome shade without obstructing the cooling breezes off the river—another example of the commissions efforts to harmonize aesthetic and environmental factors. A carriage drive bordered by pedestrian paths would circle the island's perimeter but additional roads would be kept to a minimum to maintain a predominantly naturalistic appearance. The inherent appeal of this simple informal landscape would be heightened, the commission observed, by the pointed contrast it presented to the "strongly formal and elaborate scheme of the central group." The commission also considered the idea of using East Potomac Park as the location for a new national arboretum, maintaining that a great variety of trees and shrubs could be planted along the east side of the park without detracting from the desired naturalistic effect. [38]

Fig. 22 Potomac Park. Senate Park Commission Report, No. 194

The gently rolling hillsides east of the Anacostia afforded numerous opportunities for the park commission to further its goal of spreading recreational facilities throughout the city. The most substantial of the eastern parks would be a large reservation occupying a large portion of the hillside on either side of the line of Massachusetts Avenue. The commission asserted that this area was "so admirably adapted" to park development that it should not be lost residential construction, but only a modest area north of Massachusetts Avenue was protected from development, in association with the preservation of Fort Dupont. The commission also called for the creation of several minor parkways along the steep and narrow drainages of the Anacostia highlands. Srickfoot Creek Parkway would follow the tributary of this name through the grounds of St. Elizabeths and then proceed down to the Anacostia bridge. Giesboro Parkway would wind along the ridge from St. Elizabeths to Bald Eagle Point, preserving a notable grove of beautiful oaks, protecting the hillside below from development, and presenting sweeping views of the confluence of the Anacostia and the Potomac, along with the parks, monuments, and public buildings beyond. [39]

This primary ring of parks and parkways was to be loosely paralleled by an outer circuit linking the Civil War fort sites that occupied prominent hill crests in the northern and eastern parts of the city. Fort Drive exemplified the dual concerns for scenery and historic preservation that played an under-appreciated role in turn-of-the-century park-making efforts. The principle forts included in this proposal, listed in clockwise progression from Rock Creek Park, were Fort Steven, Fort Totten, Fort Slemmer, Fort Bunker Hill, Fort Thayer, Fort Chaplin, Fort Sedgwick, Fort Dupont, Fort Davis, Fort Baker, Battery Ricketts, Fort Stanton, and, further down along the proposed Giesboro Parkway, forts Carrol and Greble. The commission realized it would be unrealistic to acquire and develop the broad leafy corridors allotted to the major parkways, but suggested the drive be wider and more attractively landscaped than ordinary city streets. Though not as elaborately developed as the primary parks and parkways, and occupying considerably less ground, Fort Drive would afford a delightful suburban excursion of considerable scenic and historic interest. [40]

While this impressive system of outlying parks and parkways would clearly vault Washington into the front ranks of American park system development, the commission realized its job would not be complete unless it also provided smaller neighborhood parks and playgrounds to accommodate the recreational needs of citizens who lacked the time and means to make excursions to outlying parks. L'Enfant had equipped the inner city with a well-dispersed array of minor parks and reservations, but the commission believed these could be improved to greater practical benefit. During the late-nineteenth century, the city's squares and circles had been ornamented with an eclectic variety of sculptural and horticultural decoration. The commission applauded the commemorative sentiment that informed much of the sculptural display and acknowledged that the tidy lawns and colorful plantings added to the city's "cheerful and comfortable character." Sounding more like twentieth-century functionalists than nineteenth-century aesthetes, however, the commission called for additional development aimed at "giving each area a more distinct individuality" and "providing for more special forms of recreation chosen with a view to the surroundings and capabilities of each particular area." More people would be encouraged to use the city's parks, the commissioners advised, if they could enjoy them as vibrant social spaces rather than as sterile aesthetic displays or stern patriotic sermons. Bandstands, water features, illuminated fountains, fireworks displays, and more diversified horticultural treatments were proposed as means of luring residents into the city's parks, to their moral, physical, and mental benefit. [41]

In addition to building facilities for social amusements within existing parks, the commission called for a concerted effort to provide playgrounds for every area of the city. Individualized playgrounds, or at least discrete areas within the same playground should be devoted to specific ages or activities. Facilities for young children might include sand boxes, swings, seesaws, and wading pools. Older children and adults would benefit from gymnastic apparatus, running tracks, ball courts, and playing fields. The commission declined to specify design schemes or locations for these facilities. Contrary to the stereotype of City Beautiful planners as autocratic aesthetes, the commissioners advised that it would be best to leave such decisions to local officials who were better equipped to respond to the practical needs of particular neighborhoods. A number of local citizens' groups had already been agitating for playground development. Several of these organizations contributed pleas for neighborhood recreational facilities to the compendium of local park proposals assembled by Charles Moore to assist the commission in it deliberations. [42] Underscoring the manner in which the Senate Park Commission reflected broader trends and drew on a wide variety of contemporary precedents, this section of the report was illustrated with photographs of playgrounds, outdoor gymnasiums, and wading pools in Boston and Hartford (figs. 23, 24). An illustration of an open-air restaurant in Viennas Prater reflected Harvard President Charles W. Eliot's advice that the best way to encourage sedentary Americans to adopt the "outdoor habit" was to equip parks with European-style beer gardens. Eliot also suggested the construction more and better roads would further increase the popularity of parks and parkways by catering to the popularity of recreational carriage driving. [43]

Fig. 23 Wading Pool, Riverside Park, Hartford, Connecticut. Senate Park Commission Report, No. 193

Fig. 24 The Girls Gymnasium, Charles Bank, Boston. Senate Park Commission Report, No. 201

While the commission believed that local playground development should be left to the discretion of neighborhood groups, it called for a centralized authority to ensure that its broader park system proposals would be fulfilled in a comprehensive, unified, and professional manner. Without a permanent park authority, the commission feared, its ambitious schemes might never be realized. Since the proposed parklands were spread throughout the metropolitan region among various official jurisdictions, important elements of the overall plan might fall by the wayside, or be poorly executed due to economic limitations, political pressures, or professional incompetence. Time was also of the essence. The longer it took to act on the Park Commission's proposals, the more difficult it would be to achieve its goals. Real estate prices would inevitably rise, development would encroach on coveted private lands, and changing circumstances would introduce additional complications and produce new priorities that would compete for limited funds, political capital, and open space. [44]

The Senate Park Commission's concerns were well-placed. It would take two decades for Congress to authorize a centralized park development authority and much longer than that for many of its proposals to be realized. Remarkably, however, the broader outlines of the commission's comprehensive park program were largely completed (fig. 25). The process was not easy and success was by no means guaranteed, but committed park supporters worked diligently with various commissions and government agencies to fulfill a large portion of the comprehensive plan. The Commission of Fine Arts played a crucial role following it establishment in 1910, with Olmsted taking a particularly active part as the first commissioner for landscape architecture. The Commission of Fine Arts' attention was divided among many concerns, however, and the focus of key members and staff was directed more toward the Mall and related public building issues, [45] It was not until 1924, with the establishment of the National Capital Park Commission, that a centralized authority undertook the oversight of Washington park development as its principal task. Strengthened and renamed the National Capital Park and Planning Commission (NCPPC) in 1926, this board was charged with overseeing the development and refinement of the city's comprehensive park plan. Importantly, it was also authorized to acquire and develop lands in related areas of Maryland and Virginia, providing a legal basis to further the Senate Park Commission's more wide-ranging agendas. The NCPPC produced a succession of general plans for the Washington region that were strongly influenced by the Senate Park Commission's proposals, though various details were altered to adapt to changing circumstances. Olmsted instilled a strong sense of continuity by serving on the initial iteration of this body as well. A key achievement of the NCPPC and its supporters was the 1930 Capper-Cramton Act, which finally provided significant funds to support Washington park improvements and realize the broader metropolitan dimensions of the Senate Park Commission's plan. [46]

Fig. 25 Evolution of the Park System of the District of Columbia. Washington Present and Future, National Capital Park and Planning Commission, 1950; Map 22 (click on image for a PDF version)

Even after the creation of the NCPPC, individual projects were generally attended to by the government agencies that owned the relevant land, often in conjunction with various special commissions and consultants. One such commission was appointed in 1913 to oversee the development of Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway, a lengthy process that was eventually completed through the infusion of Depression-relief funds in the 1930s. [47] Most federal lands in the District remained under jurisdiction of the Army Corps of Engineers, which did an admirable job of overseeing projects until the National Park Service took over Washington-area parks in 1933. The George Washington Bicentennial Commission engaged the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) to construct the Mount Vernon Memorial Highway between 1928 and 1932. This project fulfilled most of the goals associated with the proposed boulevard to Mount Vernon, though the location and design evolved considerably to accommodate automobile traffic and other changing concerns.

From the 1930's to the 1960's, the BPR and its successor agencies, the Public Roads Administration and the Federal Highway Administration, worked closely with the NCPPC and the National Park Service to extend this project along both sides of the Potomac River. The resulting George Washington Memorial Parkway largely realized the Senate Park Commission's goal of preserving the banks of the Potomac between Washington and Great Falls. [48] Just as the commission had hoped, both Great Falls and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal were granted national park status. While the proposed Georgetown Parkway was never completed, the creation of Glover-Archbold Park preserved a much larger portion of the Foundry Branch watershed than the commission had envisioned. Not all of the minor parkways west of Rock Creek park were developed as planned, but many of the smaller stream valleys identified in the original plan were protected. The NCPPC worked with its counterpart, the Maryland National Capital Park & Planning Commission to extend the Senate Park Commission's policy of informal parkway development to preserve the remainder of Rock Creek north of the District line and protect Sligo Creek and other picturesque stream valleys in suburban Montgomery County. Other regional parks and parkways were gradually developed by the National Park Service, the surrounding counties, and the states of Maryland and Virginia (fig. 26).

Fig. 26 Regional Park Plan, 1950. Washington Present and Future, National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Washington, 1950; Map 17

The story east of Rock Park was less sanguine, reflecting both the less compelling nature of the existing terrain and the unfortunate history of racial and economic discrimination in the provision of public amenities, both in Washington and the nation as a whole. Piney Branch Parkway was developed more or less as planned, but the proposed parkway stretching all the way to the Anacostia foundered as a result of competing developments, the fading appeal of formal boulevards, and a reluctance to commit resources to this economically deprived, politically weak, and increasingly African-American portion of the city. [49] While crucial connecting parkways remained unbuilt and the recreational potential of the Patterson tract was squandered, Mount Hamilton escaped development through its incorporation in the expansive National Arboretum—an attractive solution that had not figured in the commission's original deliberations. Traces of the commission's plans for parkways east of the Anacostia can be found in Suitland Parkway and the Anacostia Freeway, but these cursorily landscaped roadways received a fraction of the funding and attention lavished on recreational developments west of Rock Creek Park and along the Potomac River.

The most egregious example of the disparate allocation of park resources and the most dramatic deviation from the Senate Park Commission's comprehensive plan was the failure to transform the neglected and polluted Anacostia River into the clean, safe, and appealingly diversified recreational environment extolled in the original report. Revitalizing the Anacostia waterfront remains the single greatest challenge facing Washington park planners. The National Capital Planning Commission has recognized this failing and cast the improvement of the Anacostia and its environs as one of the top priorities of its Legacy Plan, a highly self-conscious attempt to extend the Senate Park Commission's goals and methods into the 21st Century (fig. 27). [50] The National Park Service, meanwhile, has more quietly undertaken the task of breathing new life into another unfinished aspect of the Senate Park Commission's vision by resuming studies that may some day lead to the completion of the long-delayed dream of a circumferential greenway linking the remains of the city's Civil War forts.

Fig. 27 Extending the Legacy, National Capital Planning Commission, Washington, 1997. (Bottom left): Anacostia Waterfront. (Bottom right): Kennedy Center, River Entrance.

While the Senate Park Commission's plans were not completely fulfilled, the underlying goal of providing Washington with a unified and comprehensive park system was achieved in admirable fashion (fig 28). The park system of the nation's capital is the equal of any in the country, exceeding many larger metropolises in the acreage devoted to public use and the diversity and scenic quality of its recreational resources. Few cities in the world can boast a comparable array of preserved natural landscapes, artistically ornamented parks, and broadly distributed facilities for active outdoor recreation. As an example of the practical and aesthetic possibilities of comprehensive city planning, Washington's park system epitomized the City Beautiful movement's faith in the ability of carefully coordinated civic improvements to elevate the social, economic, and aesthetic qualities of American urban life.

Fig. 28 Park System of the National Capital Region, 2001. National Park Service (click on image for a PDF version)

Given its widely acknowledged success and the emulation it spurred on the part of cities throughout the country, it is surprising that the park system component of the Senate Park Commission's plan would be so thoroughly overshadowed by the development of the Mall and its environs, which offered a compelling and triumphant tale but had far less relevance to the development of ordinary American cities. A number of practical, biographical, and historiographical factors have contributed to this trend. They range from the visual imagery used to promote the proposals, to the politics of the plan's inception and realization, to the professional affiliations and intellectual predispositions of the principle chroniclers of American planning history. The location, physical characteristics, and intended audiences of the two components of the plan also contributed to the Mall's preeminence in the historical record.

The most fundamental reason for the Mall's ascendance is that the monumental core is clearly one of the worlds most visually striking and symbolically powerful civic spaces, while the outlying park system is difficult to appreciate as an impressive artistic accomplishment and profound cultural statement in its own right. The disparity between these two visions was not always so distinct, however. While park systems are now taken for granted as integral components of urban life, anyone familiar with the unhealthy and unattractive appearance of most American cities and significant portions of the nation's capital would have appreciated the ambitious scope of the commission's proposals. Changing cultural concerns have also contributed to the park component's fall from prominence. The ideological implications of the American park movement may no longer be as apparent as the grandiose symbolism that characterizes the monumental core, but contemporary viewers understood that the creation of a broad-ranging park system represented an equally sincere and sophisticated attempt to shape, express, and uphold American values. Parks were prized as democratic and emphatically American institutions, where the beneficent influence of nature would uplift the spirits of over-stressed urbanites while the informal interaction in safely structured surroundings would remind everyone of their mutual interdependence as members of the same body politic. Modern audiences may no longer view parks as politically charged or uniquely American landscapes, but nineteenth-century sophisticates considered parks to be quintessential embodiments of the national culture, as emblematic of American values as Doric temples were to ancient Greece or cathedrals were to medieval France. [51]

The persistent emphasis on the monumental core can also be ascribed to the strengths and limitations of the available visual representations. The commission's proposals for the Mall, monuments, and surrounding buildings were strikingly rendered in a compelling series of lavishly colored illustrations that received considerable exposure through publication in the National Geographic and other prominent venues. Daniel Burnham's famous dictum about the efficacy of grandiose plans was clearly reflected in these commanding visions. The dark, diminutive parkway sections, in contrast, possessed little of the requisite "magic to stir men's blood." Basic geographical realities also contributed to the Mall's dominance. The outlying parks and parkways were literally marginalized in the few prominent images in which they figured, appearing as vague green spaces at the fringes of the boldly delineated monumental core. The same is true of the famous models, where the waterfront section of Rock Creek Parkway is the only park element depicted. Though the park drawings bore a greater resemblance to the executed designs, the images themselves have largely faded from historical consciousness. The Mall and memorial images are often reproduced, but it requires a trip back to the original report to uncover the tiny sections, dry diagrams, and prosaic photographs that illustrated the park proposals. [52] Subsequent iterations of the Washington plan perpetuated this disparity, with the monumental core appearing in charismatic renderings and the broader park system relegated to technical diagrams and lackluster land-use maps.

The disparate visual treatments and historical presentations of the park system and the monumental core reflect fundamental differences in the goals and audiences of the plan's two elements. The diffuse and heterogeneous qualities that made the broader park system difficult to convey in a single striking image may have hindered its historical reception, but they were essential to its success as a broad-based public amenity. By spreading its diverse benefits throughout the region, the park system catered to the practical needs of local citizens, unlike the monumental core, whose impressive but primarily symbolic appeal was directed toward a national, or even international, audience. This dichotomy was reflected in the primary sources of support for the plan's two components. The monumental core proposals were championed by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), a national body that sought to elevate the profession and demonstrate that American designers could rival their Old World predecessors in the production of monumental civic art. The AIA presented the restoration of L'Enfant's vision as the primary aim of the Senate Park Commission and cast its classical formality as the defining characteristic of the nation's capital. Given that the AIA leadership was heavily invested in presenting Beaux-Arts neoclassicism as the preeminent national style, the self-proclaimed "rediscovery" of L'Enfant and concomitant emphasis on ennobling the monumental core with grandiose architectural statements may have had as much to do with contemporary professional agendas as with the restoration of historical ideals.

The Washington Board of Trade and local officials charged with improving the quality of life for city residents held a different perspective on the capital's history and destiny. The "old Washington" these local leaders sought to preserve and nurture was an overgrown village steeped in Jeffersonian ideals and embellished with the aesthetic and ideological refinements of the Anglo-American park movement. From Downing's romantically configured Mall and Olmsted's picturesque Capitol grounds to the tree-lined streets whose leafy canopies provided soothing shade throughout the summer months, this Washington embodied the American ideal of pastoral simplicity, closeness to nature, and unostentatious civility. From this perspective, the architectural community's grandiose urban extravaganza could have appeared to be not just ahistorical, but un-American, autocratic, meretricious. The Board of Trade insisted Washington should continue to develop along lines that reflected its historical role as "a forest city" that had been "adorned with all the resources of the landscape gardener's art." The greatest need, the board asserted, was not to engage in ostentatious architectural displays but to provide "health-giving breathing places for the benefit of that portion of the people who must rely on fresh air and natural scenery on parks close at hand." [53] Both the Washington Board of Trade and the District Commissioners went out of their way to emphasize park development in their endorsements of the commission's efforts. "No other labor of the centennial year is more inspiring of notable results in increasing the attractiveness of the capital," the Board of Trade proclaimed, "than that of developing Washington as the city of parks." [54]

The Board of Trade had been developing park proposals for a decade or more when the AIA bustled to center stage in 1900 with its conference on the improvement of Washington. When the concomitant attempt to convince Congress to support the architects' plans for the monumental core failed, the Board of Trades support was pivotal in securing the Senate Park Commission's authorization, with the AIA's emphasis on public buildings deleted and the commitment to a comprehensive park system confirmed. Since the AIA and its supporters played a dominant role in writing the history of the commission, the subsequent celebration of the architects' influence and emphasis on L'Enfant and the monumental core could reflect a desire, either conscious or unconscious, to downplay the Board of Trade's contributions and focus attention on aspects of the plan that elevated the AIA's stature while supporting a more formal and architectural agenda. Professional rivalries may also have influenced the construction of the historical record. The Board of Trade maintained a generally positive relationship with the Army Corps of Engineers, whose custodianship of Washington parks and public buildings the AIA and its associates tended to view as detrimental. For decades after the report's release the AIA and the Commission of Fine Arts were frequently at odds with the Army Corps of Engineers and the District Commissioners over the realization of the plan and related issues. [55]

Even the language used to chronicle the commission's history displayed a subtle bias against the park dimensions of the plan. The ascendancy of the term "McMillan Commission" followed the common practice of honoring congressional sponsors, but this linguistic turn also answered the architectural community's need for a more neutral term than "Senate Park Commission," which called attention to the proposal's broader goals and complex political heritage. Now that the original participants and their immediate successors have departed the scene and historians have taken a more measured view of the City Beautiful that places greater emphasis on the contributions of the nineteenth-century movement and other broad-based influences, the term "Senate Park Commission" has returned to favor.

Perhaps the most important reason for down-playing the park components was that they complicated efforts to present the Senate Park Commission's plan as a revolutionary document that sprang full-formed from the commission's collective brow and radically altered the landscape of American city planning. The monumental core proposals were striking, to be sure, and the combination of traditional park and parkway development with Chicago World's Fair-influenced architectonic excess was arguably a significant step forward, but the broader park dimensions of the plan were deeply rooted in local and national precedents and conspicuously demonstrated the proposals close relationship to mainstream traditions of American civic improvement. The original commissioners made no secret of this at the time, acknowledging the value of existing local studies and invoking examples from park developments throughout the country. The Boston park system, in particular, was repeatedly hailed as an important predecessor, both as a source of design precedents and as a framework for the report's underlying goals and organization.

While architects and historians emphasize the legacy of the Chicago World's Fair, landscape architect Charles Eliot's 1893 report to the Boston Metropolitan Park Commission had equal or greater impact, both on the Senate Park Commission and on the broader course of American City planning. By transcending municipal boundaries to consider the needs of an entire metropolitan region and addressing a wide variety of scenic, recreational, and practical concerns in a detailed and methodical manner, Eliot pioneered an approach to comprehensive urban analysis that served as an explicit model for the Senate Park Commission's efforts and profoundly influenced the development of modern city planning. [56] Olmsted and others repeatedly pointed out the virtues of Eliot's approach as the commission's goals and methods were being refined. Olmsted's place on the commission was predicated in large part on his familiarity with the Boston park system, and he brought Eliot's ideas into the discussion long before Burnham appeared on the scene. Burnham was a larger than life personality, however, while the younger Olmsted was a modest technocrat who publicly deferred to his more famous colleague. Eliot had passed away before the commission undertook its endeavor's, silencing his powerful personae and prolific pen. While Burnham and his admirers subsequently credited the Chicago World's Fair as a leading influence on the Senate Park Commission, the actual report made scant reference to this supposedly seminal project, repeatedly invoking the Boston park system as a model and employing maps, diagrams, and photographs from Boston. [57]

Another reason for down-playing Eliot's influence along with the broader park system plans that served as his direct legacy was that the 1893 Boston document was not just more innovative than the Senate Park Commission's report, but significantly more wide-ranging as well, belying assertions by the commission and its supporters that the Washington plan was "the most comprehensive ever provided for the development of an American city." [58] The Senate Park Commission undeniably made major strides in the realm of monumental urban design, but the Boston report was far more encyclopedic, moving well beyond traditional civic art matters to address practical transportation problems, public health concerns, water and sewage provisions, and urban development patterns. Eliot's co-author Sylvester Baxter went into considerable detail on pragmatic financial issues and legislative strategies and even provided a prescient assessment of the problems of urban sprawl, calling for the construction of model garden apartments as an alternative to poorly planned and shoddily built suburbs. [59] The Boston report lacked the monumental architectural component that attracted so much attention to the Senate Park Commission plan, but as an illustration of comprehensive urban analysis, it was far more indicative of the measured and functional approach that informed the field's rise to prominence in the Progressive Era.

While the Senate Park Commission's plan may not have been as well-rounded as its Boston predecessor, it was significantly more comprehensive than conventional caricatures of the City Beautiful Movement would suggest. This points to a final reason for the ongoing emphasis on the monumental core at the expense of the broader park system proposals. For critics and supporters of the City Beautiful Movement alike, the monumental core components of the Senate Park Commission plan became an icon of the Baroque grandeur that ostensibly infused this controversial chapter in American planning history. When the City Beautiful was in its heyday and Burnham and other ambitious architects were attempting to impose similar schemes on other major metropolises, emphasizing the monumental core and down-playing the park dimensions helped differentiate the new movement from its predecessors and elevate the reputations of its practitioners. For those who viewed the City Beautiful as an atavistic exercise in architectural excess perpetrated by priggish aesthete's bent on imposing imperialistic order on unruly urbanites, or as an intellectually bankrupt folly that retarded the development of modern architecture and city planning, the commission's grandiose designs for the monumental core served as the perfect stereotype for defining and denigrating the movement. The park system proposals confounded both of these popular misconceptions by demonstrating the City Beautiful Movement's broader dimensions and underscoring its continuity with previous planning traditions.

The lingering stereotype of the Senate Park Commission plan as an expanded and politicized version of Chicago's White City serves a convenient heuristic purpose. According to the standard pedagogical progression, the City Beautiful Movement burst onto the scene with the Chicago World's Fair, reached its apogee of artistic and intellectual refinement in the Senate Park Commission's plan for the nation's capital, then came crashing to earth with Burnham's unrealized plans for Chicago, New York, and San Francisco. This compelling teleology has long enjoyed popularity—and the associated imagery makes for an impressive undergraduate lecture or textbook narrative—but the chimerical tale relies on the same half-truths and interpretive biases that have long distorted the historical reputation of the Senate Park Commission plan. While a few American cities constructed—or at least contemplated—grandiose civic centers inspired by the Mall and the Chicago World's Fair, most municipalities embraced the Senate Park Commission's broader legacy and focused on the development of wide-ranging park systems and other practical improvements. In fact, the park dimensions of City Beautiful plans were almost always their most successful attributes, responding to the practical needs of local residents and remaining popular long after the Baroque excess of monumental civic centers appeared mannered and out-of-date.

Recent historians have challenged the standard interpretation of the City Beautiful by calling attention to the broader motivations and practical achievements of the movement, but the Senate Park Commission is still remembered primarily for it's monumental proposals for the Mall. [60] Reinvigorating the monumental core was certainly no mean feat, but the continued preoccupation with the Mall and its environs sustains outmoded stereotypes, discounts it's affinity with contemporary planning efforts, and disregards its subtle adaptation's to local political and environmental considerations, [61] By ushering nineteenth-century park-planning principles into the twentieth-century in a compelling and context-sensitive manner, the park system proposal's profoundly benefited the citizens of Washington while serving as inspiration for comprehensive park development programs throughout the country. The analysis of such broad-based planning concerns may not elicit the same fervor as the exegesis of extravagant architectural gestures, but restoring the park system proposals to their historical prominence provides important insight's into the Senate Park Commission's goals and accomplishments while underscoring its profound importance to the history of American urban planning and landscape design.


1General histories of American planning reduce the park system component of the Senate Park Commission plan to a sentence or two, while even the most detailed analyses of Washington's development rarely grant it more than in few paragraphs. The Mall and its environs, meanwhile, have generated numerous studies, most notably John Reps, Monumental Washington: The Planning and Development of the Capital Center (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967) and Richard Longstreth, ed., The Mall in Washington, 1791-1991 (Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1991, 2002). Reps's more comprehensive survey, The Making of Urban America; A History of City Planning in the United States, (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1965), devotes an entire chapter to the Senate Park Commission plan, but focuses on the politics and aesthetics of the neoclassical core and passes over the broader park system in a sentence or two. The longtime standard on American landscape history, Norman Newton's Design on the Land: The Development of Landscape Architecture (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971) similarly dwells on the plan's Beaux Arts monumentality and covers the park system component in one terse paragraph. Thomas Hines's popular biography of Burnham scarcely mentions the broader Washington park system at all (Thomas Hines, Burnham of Chicago: Architect and Planner [New York: Oxford University Press, 1974]). Hines's essay "The Imperial Mall: The City Beautiful Movement and the Washington Plan of 1901-1902" in The Mall in Washington (79-99) epitomizes the reductive reading of the Senate Park Commission plan as an architectonic exercise in baroque urbanism. Richard Guy Wilson also short-changed the contributions of landscape architects to the City Beautiful Movement, elevating Burnham to demigod status and insisting that architecture was the "controlling art form" of the era (Richard Guy Wilson, Dianne H. Pilgrim, and Richard Murray, The American Renaissance: 1876-1917 [New York: Brooklyn Museum/Pantheon, 19791, 75-82). Frederick Gutheim's Worthy of the Nation: The History of Planning in the National Capital (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian University Press, 1977) seems almost generous in comparison, devoting four full paragraphs of its chapter on the Senate Park Commission to a summary of the plan's sixty-plus pages of park proposals. In his classic American City Planning Since 1890 (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1969) Mel Scott acknowledged the strong influence of nineteenth-century park system development on the Senate Park Commission plan, characterized the broader park system proposals as its "most commendable feature" (55), and went on to describe it in more detail than other chroniclers (four whole paragraphs!) but he, too, focused on the commission's efforts to transform the Mall into a neoclassical showpiece, which he cast as a typical example of the City Beautiful movement's unfortunate emphasis on aesthetics over practical reforms. Even the more recent accounts by scholars such as Jon Peterson and William Wilson, which point to the diverse and complex origins of the City Beautiful movement and dissect the Senate Park Commission's activities in great detail, give short shrift to the broader park system component when it comes to the actual exegesis of design features and development processes; both acknowledge the plan's roots in local and national park and parkway planning efforts, but seem less interested in discussing the park components than in addressing the plan's monumental aspects and recounting the efforts to revise the central core, which provide a more compelling case for the commission's role as catalyst of a new era in city planning history (Jon A Peterson, "The City Beautiful Movement: Forgotten Origins and Lost Meanings," Journal of Urban History 2 [August 1976], 417-28; idem, "The Nation's First Comprehensive City Plan: A Political Analysis of the McMillan Plan for Washington, D.C., 1900-1902," American Planning Association Journal 51 [April 1985], 134-50; idem, "The Mall, the McMillan Plan, and the Origins of American City Planning" in The Mall in Washington, 101-115; William Wilson "The Ideology, Aesthetics, and Politics of the City Beautiful Movement," in Anthony Sutcliffe, ed., The Rise of Modern Urban Planning [New York: St. Martins, 1980], 165-98; idem, The City Beautiful Movement [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989]). Visual depictions of the monumental core dominate all these accounts, with the broader park system represented, if at all, by a lackluster map or two. While they were not as lavish as the color graphics prepared to promote the Mall and its environs, the original report contained dozens of drawings and photographs explicating various elements of the park, parkway, and playground system.

2In terms of cold statistics, the commission devoted about thirty-five pages of its 1902 report to aspects of the monumental core, while its discussion of outlying parks, parkways, playgrounds, and other recreational features ran well over fifty pages and was bolstered by another twenty-odd pages of appendices and augmented by dozens of illustrations and several enormous maps. The report's introduction repeatedly emphasized that the commission was not simply concerned with improving the appearance of the monumental core. The commission's aim was to propose a "comprehensive plan" that would address "the location of public buildings, of preserving spaces for parks in the portions of the District beyond the city limits of Washington, of connecting and developing existing parks by attractive drives, and of providing for the recreation and health of a constantly growing population." This broad scope was outlined in the senate resolution of March 8, 1901 that authorized the commission and charged it with the task of preparing "plans for the development and improvement of the entire park system of the District of Columbia." (U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on the District of Columbia, The Improvement of the Park System of the District of Columbia, Senate Report No. 166, 57th Cong. 1st sess. [Washington: Government Printing Office, 1902], quotes, p. 7). Hereafter, Senate Park Commission Report.

3Senate Park Commission Report, 19.

4Senate Park Commission Report, 7-24, quoted, 19, 23.

5The best overviews of nineteenth-century American park development are David Schuyler's The New Urban Landscape: The Redefinition's of City Form in Nineteenth-Century America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986) and Albert Fein, "The American City: The Ideal and the Real, in The Rise of an American Architecture, ed. Edgar Kauffman, Jr., (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1970), 51-112. More critical interpretations of the American park movement that emphasize the park's role as elitist retreat and agent of social control can be found in Paul Boyer, Urban Masses and Moral Order in America, 1820-1920 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978), Christine Boyer, Dreaming the Rational City: The Myth of American City Planning (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1983), and Roy Rosenzweig and Elizabeth Blackmar, The Park and the People: A History of Central Park (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1992).

6Mary C. Robbins, "Park Making as a National Art," Atlantic Monthly (January 1897), 86-98; Robbins elaborated on similar themes in "The Art of Public Improvement," Atlantic Monthly (December 1896), 742-51.

7Underscoring the competitive nature of contemporary park development activities and the prevailing sentiment that Washington was unconscionably outpaced, the Washington Board of Trade declared, "Certainly there has never been a time when the citizens of the capital have been more deeply impressed with the necessity of keeping abreast of the times in the way of public improvements, not the least of which are its public parks," [from "Report of the Committee on Parks and Reservations, November 8, 1899," reprinted in W.V. Cox, "Park Improvement Papers No. 1. Action of the Board of Trade in Relation to the Park System of the Park System of the District of Columbia," in Park Improvement Papers: A Series of Seventeen Papers Related to the Improvement of the Park System of the District of Columbia; Printed for the use of the Senate Committee on the District of Columbia (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1902). Cynthia Zaitzevsky chronicled the development of Boston's "Emerald Necklace" in Frederick Law Olmsted and the Boston Park System (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982). The Buffalo park and parkway system is discussed in Francis Kowski, ed., The Best Planned City: The Olmsted Legacy in Buffalo (Buffalo, N.Y.: Burchfield Art Center, 1991). The Minneapolis park system is summarized in several of the previously mentioned secondary sources and detailed in Horace W.S. Cleveland, Suggestions for a System of Parkways for the City of Minneapolis (Minneapolis: Johnson, Smith and Harrison, 1883); and idem, Public Parks, Radial Avenues, and Boulevards: Outline Plan of a Park System for the City of St. Paul (St. Paul: Globe Job Office, 1885). Wilson summarized the goals and methods of Kansas City planners in The City Beautiful, 99-125.

8The development of Washington's park system is recounted in numerous sources including Frederick Gutheim/National Capital Planning Commission, Worthy of the Nation: The History of Planning in the National Capitol (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1977) and John Reps, Washington on View: The Nation's Capitol Since 1790 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991). The creation and early development of Rock Creek Park is detailed in Cox, "Park Improvement Papers No. 7. Notes on the Establishment of A National Park in the District of Columbia and the Acquirement and Improvement of the Valley of Rock Creek for Park Purposes," in Moore, ed., Park Improvement Papers, 107-176.

9Report of the Advisory Committee on the Bathing Beach of the District of Columbia for the Year Ending June 30, 1901 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1901)

10The Senate Park Commission borrowed this graphic technique, along with a number of key maps, from Charles Eliot's 1893 report to the Boston's Metropolitan Park Commissioners. ([Boston, Massachusetts] Metropolitan Park Commission, Report of the Board of the Metropolitan's Park Commissioners, January 1893).

11The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' plans for the Anacostia section were submitted in U.S. Congress, House, Executive Doc. No. 30, Report of Lieut. Peter C. Hains, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 52nd Cong., 1st sess; and U.S. Congress, House, House Doc. No. 87, Report of Col. C.J. Allen, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 55th Cong., 3rd sess. The engineers also hired noted New York City landscape architect Samuel Parsons, Jr. to prepare plans for the improvement of the Mall and provision of a link with Rock Creek Park; these proposals were presented in U.S. Congress, House, Plans for Treatment of That Portion of the District of Columbia South of Pennsylvania Avenue and North of B Street SW, and for a Connection Between Potomac and Zoological Parks, Doc. No. 135, 56th Congress, 2d sess., December 1900. The Washington Board of Trade presented detailed proposals for a Rock Creek Parkway and Fort Drive in W[illiam] V. Cox. "Park Improvement Papers No. 1. Action of the Washington Board of Trade in Relation to the Park System of the District of Columbia," in Charles Moore, ed., Park Improvement Papers, 1-17, and "Report by Henry B. Looker for the Committee on Parks and Reservations of the Washington's Board of Trade, December 15, 1899," Appendix I to Cox, "Park Improvement Papers No. 7, Notes on the Establishment of A National Park in the District of Columbia and the Acquirement and Improvement of the Valley of Rock Creek for Park Purposes," in Moore, ed., Park Improvement Papers, 145-48. The various alternative proposals for Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway are described in Timothy Davis, "Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway: The Evolution of a Contested Urban Landscape," Studies in the History of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in 19 (April-June 1999), 123-237. Late-nineteenth-century efforts to create a Mount Vernon Memorial Avenue are recounted in Timothy Davis, "Mount Vernon Memorial Highway and the Evolution of the American Parkway," Ph.D. diss., University of Texas at Austin, 1997; and idem, "Mount Vernon's Memorial Highway: Changing Conceptions of An American's Commemorative Landscape," in Places of Commemoration, Search for Identity and Landscape Design, ed. Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn, (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 2000), 123-177. Among the groups agitating for the development of playgrounds and local recreational outlets were the Columbia Heights Citizens' Association, the North Capitol and Eckington Civic Association, the Takoma Park Citizens' Association, and an organization known as the Washington Civic Center ("Park Improvement Papers, No. 3. The Need of Additional Playgrounds, Parks, and Reservations" in Charles Moore, ed., Park Improvement Papers.

12Senate Park Commission Report, 17 ("one great composition"), 24 ("modern park system").

13Olmsted later characterized Langdon as the "staff landscape architect to the Park Commission" and promoted his application for the position of chief planner for the National Capital Park Commission when that body was being formed in 1925, asserting that Langdon knew more about the Senate Park Commission's intentions than any other individual; Charles W. Eliot, Jr. was eventually awarded the post, however, due in part to his own considerable connections and in part to Langdon's reputation as a rather prickly character (letter, Olmsted to Horace Peaslee, 23 April 1925; Olmsted Associates Papers, file no. 365, Library of Congress; numerous letters documenting the evolution of the park system component of the plan and underscoring Langdon's role can be found in Charles Moore's papers at the Library of Congress Manuscript Division, primarily in Box 2, Olmsted Letters, 1901-1903). Landscape historian Cynthia Zaitzevsky described Langdon's working relationship to the senior Olmsted in Frederick Law Olmsted and the Boston Park System, 152; Reps noted Langdon's contribution to the Senate Park Commission's plans in Monumental Washington, 90.

14This material was compiled by Moore and later reprinted as Park Improvement Papers: A Series of Seventeen Papers Related to the Improvement of the Park System of the District of Columbia; Printed for the use of the Senate Committee on the District of Columbia (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1902).

150Senate Park Commission Report, 25-31; figures 148, 147, 175, 84, 17, 3, 63, 86, 105, 78, 79, 101, 177, 100, 149, 196 (figure numbers reflect the placement of images in the original exhibition; this sequence reflects their placement in the commission's report between pages 25-31).

16Senate Park Commission Report, 47-53; "Appendix A, Public Bathing Places," 124-29; quote, p. 28.

17Senate Park Commission Report, 75-77, quote, p. 75.

18Ibid., 75-77.

19Ibid., 83-84.

20U.S. Congress, Senate, Communication from the Engineer Commissioner, District of Columbia, submitting estimates of the Cost of Converting Rock Creek into a Closed Sewer, in Response to a Resolution of July 22, 1892, Misc. Doc. No. 21, 52nd Cong., 2nd Sess., 1893; "Report by Henry B. Looker for the Committee on Parks and Reservations of the Washington Board of Trade, December 15, 1899," Appendix I to Cox, "Park Improvement Papers No. 7. Notes on the Establishment of A National Park in the District of Columbia and the Acquirement and Improvement of the Valley of Rock Creek for Park Purposes," in Moore, ed., Park Improvement Papers, 145-48. The development of Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway is detailed in Timothy Davis, "Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway: The Evolution of a Contested Urban Landscape," Studies in the History of Gardens and Designed Landscapes 19 (April-June 1999), 123-237.

21The improvement of Rock Creek was discussed in the report's introduction, in the general overview of park features, and in a special appendix (Senate Park Commission Report, 11, 85-86, 137-42). Related illustrations appeared on or opposite pages 10, 11, 85, 86, 87, 140, and 141.

22Sears Gallagher and Percival Gallager were credited for these renderings and the subsequent parkway sections in Senate Park Commission Report, 147, fn. 1.

23Ibid., 85.

24Ibid., 97-98.

25Ibid., 91-94.

26Ibid., 91-94.

27Ibid., 94-95.

28Ibid., 95-97.

29Ibid., 121-22.

30Ibid., 57-59; 91-98.

31Ibid., 10.

32Ibid., 87-89; quote, p. 88.

33Ibid., 98-101.

34Ibid., 101-102.

35Ibid., 102-103.

36Ibid., 103-104.

37Ibid., 105-109, 115.

38Ibid., 117-19.

39Ibid., 113-14.

40Ibid., 111-12, 167.

41Ibid., 79-82.

42Statements from the Columbia Heights Citizens Association, the North Capitol and Eckington Citizens' Association, and several other groups were compiled in "The Need of Additional Playgrounds, Parks, and Reservations, Park Improvement Papers No. 3" in Moore, ed., Park Improvement Papers.

43Senate Park Commission Report, 79-82. Charles W. Eliot, "The Utilization's of Public Reservations. Park Improvement Papers, Second Series, No. 1," in Charles Moore, ed. Park Improvement Papers (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1903), 247-57. This was essentially a second edition of the initial volume, containing a few additional entries.

44Senate Park Commission Report, 18.

45For an overview of the Commission of Fine Arts activities, see Sue Kohler, The Commission of Fine Arts: A Brief History, 1910-1995 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1996).

46Frederick Gutheim provides a compelling overview of the NCP&PC's activities and Washington park and planning efforts in general in Worthy of the Nation.

47The development of Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway is detailed in Timothy Davis, "Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway: The Evolution of a Contested Urban Landscape," Studies in the History of Gardens and Designed Landscapes 19 (April-June 1999), 123-237.

48The original segment of George Washington Memorial Parkway, linking Washington and Mount Vernon, was initially called Mount Vernon Memorial Highway. Completed in 1932 under the official aegis of the U.S. George Washington Bicentennial Commission, it was transferred to the National Park Service in 1933. For more on the development of Mount Vernon Memorial Highway and George Washington Memorial Parkway, see Timothy Davis, "Mount Vernon Memorial Highway and the Evolution of the American Parkway," Ph.D. diss., University of Texas at Austin, 1997; and idem, "Mount Vernon's Memorial Highway: Changing Conceptions of An American Commemorative Landscape," in Places of Commemoration, Search for Identity and Landscape Design, ed. Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn, (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 2000), 123-177.

49Howard Gillette expounds on this theme in his encyclopedic Between Justice and Beauty: Race, Planning and the Failure of Urban Policy in Washington, D.C. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995).

50National Capital Planning Commission, Extending the Legacy: Planning America's Capital for the 21st Century (Washington's, D.C: National Capital Planning Commission, 1997).

51Historian Albert Fein made this comparison and embellished on the analogy in his essay, "The American City: The Real and the Ideal," 51.

52The entire park system was meticulously delineated in the maps folded into the back of the original report, but these diagrams were too unwieldy for easy perusal when new, and have now become too brittle for all but the most audacious investigators to assay.

53Cox, "Park Improvement Papers No. 1. Action of the Washington Board of Trade in Relation to the Park System of the District of Columbia," in Moore, ed., Park Improvement Papers, 5 ("forest city," "landscape gardeners art" and "breathing places"), 7 ("Old Washington").

54Cox, "Park Improvement Papers No. 1. Action of the Washington Board of Trade in Relation to the Park System of the District of Columbia," in Moore, ed., Park Improvement Papers, 2. In their letter of endorsement reprinted at the beginning of the Senate Park Commission's report, the District Commissioners make no reference to L'Enfant or to the provision of public buildings and monuments, but assert that they, other district officials, and the city's residents eagerly awaited "a comprehensive scheme of improvement of the park system" (Senate Park Commission Report, 14).

55Petersen chronicles the politics of the commission's authorization in his essay in this volume and in previous writings on this subject ("The City Beautiful Movement: Forgotten Origins and Lost Meanings," Journal of Urban History 2 [August 1976], 417-28; "The Nation's First Comprehensive City Plan's: A Political Analysis of the McMillan Plan for Washington, D.C., 1900-1902," American Planning Association Journal 51 [April 1985], 134-50; and "The Mall, the McMillan Plan, and the Origins of American City Planning" in Longstreth, ed., The Mall in Washington, 101-115). A transcript of related negotiations was reprinted as "Park Improvement Papers, No. 5. Informal Hearing Before the Subcommittee of the Committee on the District of Columbia, United States Senate," April 1, 1901, in Moore, ed. Park Improvement Papers, 7, 6-79. Burnham, Brown, and their AIA associates may have viewed the park commission aspect as a political subterfuge to enable them to pursue their agenda for the Mall, but Olmsted, the Washington Board of Trade, and other local interests took this component of the commission's mandate with utmost seriousness.

56Charles Eliot, "Report of the Landscape Architect," in [Boston, Massachusetts] Metropolitan Park Commission's, Report of the Board of the Metropolitan Park Commissioners, January 1893, 82-110. Eliot's report was reprinted along with many of his other writings in Charles W. Eliot, Charles Eliot Landscape Architect (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1903). Eliot's career and the details of Boston's metropolitan's park system are discussed more fully in Newton, Design on the Land, 318-36, Schuyler, The New Urban Landscape, 138-46, and Scott, American City Planning, 17-26.

57The introduction to the commission's report identified Olmsted as "the consulting landscape architect not only of the vast system of parks and boulevards which make up the metropolitan system of Boston and its suburbs but also of large parks in various cities (Senate Park Commission Report, 9) Olmsted presented Eliot's report as a model for the commissions endeavors in "Park Improvement Papers, No. 5. Informal Hearing Before the Subcommittee of the Committee on the District of Columbia, United States Senate," April 1, 1901," in Moore, ed. Park Improvement Papers, 84-86; when Daniel Burnham's participation was being discussed, William Boring, chairman of the American Institute of Architect's committee on legislation, insisted that the Chicago architect had not yet been consulted in the matter and knew nothing about it (p. 79).

58Senate Park Commission Report, 16.

59Sylvester Baxter, "Secretary's Report," in Report of the Board of the Metropolitan Park Commissioners, January 1893, 1-81.

60Despite his excellent analysis of the broader origins and diverse goals of the City Beautiful movement, Wilson ultimately characterizes the Senate Park Commission's plan in typically reductive form as "a stunning neoclassical scheme for the revitalization of Washington, D.C." (The City Beautiful Movement, 38). Even's Schuyler, who masterfully explicated the practical, aesthetic, and ideological agendas of the late-nineteenth century park movement in The New Urban Landscape, casts the Senate Park Commission's plan as the antithesis of naturalistic park system development. Peterson's numerous essays pay greater heed to the plan's park dimensions, but his focus is still drawn to the Mall and the battles over its development.

61In his important recent volume Between Justice and Beauty (88-108), for instance, Howard Gillette correctly notes that the focus on the Mall replicated a common Washington pattern by privileging national interests at the expense of local concerns. By taking the standard approach of equating the Senate Park Commission plan with the monumental core scheme, however, he fails to credit the commission for its broader concerns and for the more widespread benefits afforded by the locally focused park system proposals.

Dupont Circle fountain on after its completion in 1921. Daniel Chester French, sculptor; Henry Bacon, architect for base. Commission of Fine Arts.
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Last Modified: March 20, 2009