» The American Institute of Architects Convention of 1900: Its Influence on the Senate Park Commission Plan
» "Beloved Ancien": William T. Partridge's Recollections of the Senate Park Commission and the Subsequent Mall Development
The Commission of Fine Arts:
DURING the waning days of 1901 a small band of young architects toiled almost without respite in the New York office of noted architects McKim, Mead & White, under the personal direction of Charles F. McKim, to finish the work on the exhibition of the Senate Park Commission plan, which was to open on 15 January 1902 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.  The model builders were also putting the finishing touches on their worktwo large models of the central area of the capital, one showing existing conditions and the other the proposals of the Senate Park Commission. One imagines that the holiday season that year played second fiddle to the inevitable frenzied activity that precedes the opening of an exhibition.
A few months earlier McKim had convinced Michigan Senator James McMillan, chairman of the Senate District Committee and responsible for the Senate Resolution establishing the commission, that laymen would never understand architectural plans and elevations, and for the exhibition to be successful the concepts had to be conveyed through the use of perspective drawings by the country's finest illustrators. Approximately forty views were rendered in watercolor, many of them of impressive size and in full color. Additionally, there were maps, plans, and large photographs of sites that had impressed the commission members during their earlier European study tour as having applications for Washington; a number of these photographs were taken by commission member Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., most likely with a simple tourist folding Kodak. 
The exhibition was a great success. President Theodore Roosevelt and a large number of other dignitaries attended the opening, and the local newspapers devoted an astonishing amount of space to it, describing the plan in great detail. Newspapers from other cities reported on it also; the New York Times published an article in the supplement to the 19 January 1902 issue by noted architectural critic Montgomery Schuyler, which was highly favorable to the plan. Schuyler also reported on it in the May 1902 Architectural Record, in a long article meant to appeal to the professional architects who read the magazine. The Century Magazine published articles in both its February and March 1902 issues written by Charles Moore, Senator McMillan's aide, entitled "The Improvement of Washington City." The members of the Senate Park Commission agreed to give talks, serve on professional juries, and design buildings, and there were requests for Congress to fund the plan immediately. In short, the Senate Park Commission plan for Washington got off to a rousing start, and there was a feeling of euphoria within the art and architectural circles not only of the capital but of major cities across the country.
Before discussing the happenings of the next eight years, culminating in the establishment of the Commission of Fine Arts, it may be helpful to backtrack and comment briefly on a number of movements related to this event that had been gathering strength during the last decade of the nineteenth century. The awakening of interest in the appearance of Washington and the quality of public architecture was evident in the architectural press at this time. In the 7 May 1892 issue of the American Architect and Building News, Washington journalist and civic activist Frank Sewall talked about the importance of proper siting and design of public buildings as well as the desirability of establishing a federal art commission. He said:
In this article, Sewall seemed to be asking for both a commission to devise a city plan, such as the Senate Park Commission, and for one to oversee the implementation of its plan, such as the Commission of Fine Arts.
The American Institute of Architects (AIA) was also interested in improving the quality of federal architectureand securing more government contracts for its membersand to this end lobbied hard for the passage in 1893 of the Tarsney Act, which provided that the Treasury Department's secretary could, "in his discretion"the directive was not mandatoryobtain plans for public buildings through competition among private architects, rather than turning the design over to the department's supervising architect, as was the usual practice. Although the act made no provision for any kind of review body, the well-publicized controversy that ensued brought attention to the mediocre quality of most government work; also, the act created an opening for the more active participation of architects and artists in federal projects.
The controversy centered around the refusal of Secretary of the Treasury John G. Carlisle to order any competitions for government buildings; it took the form of correspondence in 1894 between Carlisle and Daniel Burnham, then president of the AIA. At this time Burnham was a powerful man in his field. Firmly committed to the City Beautiful and Civic Reform movements, he was already a major Chicago architect and one of the leaders of the Western Association of Architects. He was chief of construction for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and through this position had developed strong friendships with prominent eastern architects, painters, and sculptors. His efforts on behalf of the Tarsney Act undoubtedly sharpened his skill in dealing with politicians and bureaucrats and made his name a familiar one in Washington, factors of considerable importance for his future roles as chairman of the Senate Park Commission and ultimately as chairman of the Commission of Fine Arts.
There were a number of efforts, in the form of congressional bills, beginning as early as the 1850s, to establish some kind of control over federal art and architecture. Some were concerned only with statues and paintings, others only with architecture, while a third group would oversee all the arts. Those concerned with architecture were generally limited to the supervision of competitions, selection of architects, allowable fees and other costs, and supervision of constructionin short, functions similar to those of the current General Services Administration; they were not meant to establish true architectural review agencies.
Congressional bills advocating the third, all-inclusive type of art commission, with review power as we know it, did not appear until the last decade of the century. These bills were prepared by an organization called the Public Art League, organized in 1895 by the Washington chapter of the AIA and the Cosmos Club of Washington. Its members consisted of distinguished men from all over the country, and its purpose was to secure enactment of a law establishing a commission of experts to decide upon the merits of works of art and architecture acquired or commissioned by the federal government. Its officers included artists, art critics, and heads of museums. The president was Richard Watson Gilder, editor of Century Magazine. Charles F. McKim, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, painter John LaFarge, and architect Glenn Brown were among the officers, and included in the list of directors were Daniel H. Burnham, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., sculptor Daniel Chester French, and painter Francis D. Millet. Nearly all these men were later associated with the Senate Park Commission or the Commission of Fine Arts, or in some cases both entities.
The driving force behind the League was the AIA's secretary, the indefatigable Glenn Brown. He was behind the Public Art League's first attempt, in 1897, to get a bill through Congress establishing a fine arts commission. This bill provided for a commission composed of the presidents of the AIA, the National Academy of Design, and the National Sculpture Society, with two other members to be appointed by the president. It was to pass on architecture, sculpture, landscape design, painting, medals and coins, and all objects of art; compliance with its decisions was to be mandatory. According to Glenn Brown, it was not successful because Congress would not accept the mandatory compliance clause and objected to the ex officio members; it was thought that the commission should be composed entirely of congressional or executive appointees. 
By January 1900 Brown and the Public Art League again succeeded in having a bill introduced, but it, too, was unsuccessful. Brown kept pushing, but in fact, McKim was opposed to more pressure on Congress when Brown wrote him late in 1901, requesting an opinion. (Brown wrote as well to Burnham and George Post, a former AIA president.) McKim's return letter to Brown said, in part:
Charles Moore agreed, adding, in a letter to McKim, that there were "one or two complications that are beyond the scope of the Institute work, which make it inadvisable at this time to press the subject of a permanent Art Commission." One obstacle was that the District's finances were not in the best shape at that time, and the other was that there had been criticism from some quarters about the cost of the Park Commission's work. He did believe, however, that it was time to think about a new draft of legislation. His feeling was that the president and one or two members of the cabinet should be ex officio members, or that the members should be appointed directly by the president, "putting him virtually in command." He thought results had shown that the best work would be secured by taking it away from Congress entirely and putting it in the hands of the president. 
That was the way things stood in 1902 at the time of the exhibition at the Corcoran and the issuance of the Senate Park Commission's report. The plan was enthusiastically received, and members of the AIA and the Public Art League felt the future development of the city was in good hands. However, the report only made recommendations; there remained the problem of congressional approval and of implementation. The commission itself had no legal standing once its report had been made. Furthermore, the method of establishing it had made a bitter enemy of Joseph Cannon, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and Speaker of the House after 1903. Years later Elihu Root, Theodore Roosevelt's secretary of war, described the situation:
The projects mentioned by Root came to the forefront soon after the Park Commission's report to the Senate Committee on the District of Columbia was issued; the Grant Memorial controversy will serve to illustrate the complexity of the situations the commission was called upon to consider. The memorial had been authorized by Congress just before the commission came into existence. Two tentative sites were mentioned, both on the Ellipse south of the White House. When the commission's report was issued, however, it showed the memorial as a focal point at the foot of the Capitol, in the area referred to as Union Square, at that time part of the Botanic Garden (pl. X). On the committee designated to select the memorial's sculptor were commission members Burnham, McKim, and Saint-Gaudens; in their report recommending the relatively unknown Henry Merwin Schrady, they argued against the Ellipse sites and for the Union Square location. They were supported in this by President Roosevelt, who felt strongly that no monuments should be placed on the Ellipse. In 1903 contracts were signed with Shrady and architect Edward P. Casey and work began; however, the site still had not been been specified. After many meetings and much effort by McKim, Root, and Senator George Peabody Wetmore, the Grant Memorial Commission selected the Union Square site. By this time, however, the pedestal had already been designed for one of the Ellipse sites, and more work was required to modify the design to fit the new site. Both McKim and Olmsted Jr. were on the committee to select the exact location for the sculpture. When the new location was staked out, it was found that some of the finest trees in the Botanic Garden fell within its boundaries. An uproar ensued with the Evening Star and the superintendent of the Botanic Garden leading the fight against the Senate Park Commission. Whereas the Star had heaped praise on the commission's plan after the opening of the 1902 exhibition, six years later, almost to the day (14 January 1908), it blasted the plan and particularly McKim, who was condemned for his fondness for "trees in tubs," as seen in the renderings made for the exhibition, and for his proposal "to root out all the noble old trees on the Mall and replace them with formal trees planted with painful precision on straight lines" (fig 1). Although in extremely poor health, McKim had continued to attend meetings for several years and to press for the commission's preferred site. At the height of the controversy he wrote Burnham: "Upon the adjustment of this matter depends the upholding or reversal of our plan by Congress." 
The battle to place the Lincoln Memorial on the site recommended by the Senate Park Commission involves a long and complicated history beyond the scope of this essay. The final site selection was not made until February 1912, nearly two years after the Commission of Fine Arts had been established. Speaker Cannon, of course, was against anything proposed by the Senate Park Commission. Union Station Plaza, Meridian Hill, and the Soldiers Home grounds were suggested as sites, with the most improbable suggestion being that the memorial take the form of a highway from Washington to Gettysburg. Again, McKim, Root, Brown, and the AIA led the fight. McKim, of all the Senate Park Commission members, was most closely involved as he had been the one in charge of developing this part of the Mall. Unfortunately, his death in 1909 occurred before the controversy was settled, and it was his close friend Henry Bacon who was chosen as architect.
The placing of the Grant and Lincoln memorials on the sites recommended by the Senate Park Commission was considered critical, because when so placed they would "compel" (to use Elihu Root's word) the development of the Mall according to the plan.  The siting of the Agriculture Department building was equally important, as it would establish the width of the Mall and thus a building line for all future Mall buildings. The determination of its correct placement generated one of the biggest crises the Park Commission members faced.  On the other side of the Mall, the new National Museum building (now the Museum of Natural History) required McKim and Olmsted to spend months on grading plans for the Mall, so the museum would be on the proper base line. It also raised questions of architectural style. It began to look too French, which conflicted with the commission's decision during its European tour that although the plan for Washington might be French in origin, the style of the architecture was to be Roman. All members of the commission wrote letters to Bernard Green, the government official in charge of construction, objecting to the design of the façade. In the end, it was Roman. It should be remembered that through all the years of controversy the Senate Park Commission members had their own busy practices; not one of them lived in Washington, and two, McKim and Saint-Gaudens, were in poor health. Also, there was no payment for any of this work.
Charles McKim's role in implementing the Senate Park Commission plan from 1902 until 1909, when there was no properly organized, legally established commission to do so, has not received sufficient emphasis. Without a doubt, he was the most active of the commission members during this period. Saint-Gaudens and Olmsted were by no means silent and were consulted frequently, but they were not as personally involved in the constant battles with members of Congress and other government officials. Saint-Gaudens, often ill, was not oriented toward the political battlefield by reason of personality, and Olmsted was still a relatively young man, in his early thirties. Burnham, while very effective politically, was extremely busy in these years working on city plans for Cleveland, San Francisco, the Philippines, and Chicago; consequently, he traveled frequently. At times, McKim chided him for not paying enough attention to the Washington work.
And so the major burden fell on McKim. He accepted it conscientiously, writing to Glenn Brown in 1904: "Don't forget to send me a copy of the Congressional Record when there is anything to read. I am prepared to go to Washington at any moment that I can be of use."  However, he was not well, and it is not an exaggeration to say that a great part of the little energy he had left was expended in defense of the Washington plan and in overseeing the work at the American Academy in Rome. The academy was another of the influential art organizations founded at the end of the nineteenth century, and it is interesting, but not surprising, that many of its directors and other officers became members of the Commission of Fine Arts in its early years.
While the Senate Park Commission members were battling to save their plan, there were frequent discussions among them about the burden of being called in constantly to solve problems and about the difficulties of trying to operate while having no legal standing. As early as 1902 McKim wrote Charles Moore: "The function of the Commission should be to defend and develop the general features of their plan, but it would be very undesirable, I feel, even if it were feasible, to set the precedent of calling them in on all occasions to determine the details...." 
The question of a permanent commission was also being discussed by the Senate Park Commission members, as well as by the AIA and government officials. During the Agriculture Department building crisis, McKim had stressed the necessity for such a commission in one of his letters to Roosevelt, asking for a commission "acceptable to yourself and both houses of Congress." At the same time he wrote Olmsted: "After consulting with Mr. Root, my own opinion is that the Park Commission, having made its report, and its existence acting as a red flag in the House of Representatives, that the sooner it goes out of existence the better, as it will never be recognized by the House of Representatives, for the reasons discussed with Mr. Root, and indicated in my letter to the President. Both the President and Mr. Root are strong in their view that Mr. Cannon's sympathy and interest should be enlisted immediately." The last word had been inserted and was handwritten.  Regarding this permanent commission, Olmsted wrote to Charles Moore: "What is to be the function of the proposed permanent Park Commission? Advisory and impotent, or executive and overburdened?" 
Early in 1905 McKim, after consulting with Moore, Saint-Gaudens, and Secretary of War William Howard Taft, met with Speaker Cannon in an attempt to enlist his support for some kind of advisory commission. Afterward he wrote Roosevelt saying that "Mr. Cannon and the Park Commission are now friends" and that Cannon recognized the need for a commission.  This was, perhaps, a bit of wishful thinking, but Cannon apparently did not object to Roosevelt's next step, taken a few days later, which was to create by executive order what was called the Consultative Board, consisting of the Senate Park Commission members and Bernard Green, superintendent of buildings and grounds for the Library of Congress, who had been helpful to the commission in the past.  The order provided that the board be consulted before any public buildings could be located or the plans approved, and that the board's examination should be confined to the location and the artistic effect of the exterior of the buildings. Lacking the sanction of Congress, the Consultative Board was still only a stopgap measure, but it held out some hope of relief to McKim, who wrote Burnham: "I have had to bear the brunt for monthstime, expense, and worryand there must be an end to what has become too heavy a load." 
In 1906 Glenn Brown and the Public Art League made another attempt to get legislation establishing an art commission through Congress, but it was not successful. The Architectural Record commented that the reason for failure was apparently the feeling that the Senate Park Commission had "satisfied all the necessities." 
Burnham was becoming increasingly unhappy with the lack of organization and confusion in Washington, and in 1907 he suddenly sent a telegram to Roosevelt announcing his resignation from the Consultative Board. After much persuasion on the part of the other members, particularly McKim, and also Charles Moore, he agreed to stay on, but expressed his feelings in a letter to Moore:
In the meantime, Glenn Brown continued to bring pressure to bear on Congress to pass legislation establishing an art commission along the lines advocated by the Public Art League and the AIA. He worked with Senator Francis G. Newlands of Nevada, who had taken Senator McMillan's place as the great friend of the Park Commission plan, to draft a bill establishing such a commission, but it did not arouse much interest.
On 19 January 1909, following an exchange of letters with the AIA and a meeting with Glenn Brown, architect Cass Gilbert, and painter Frank Millet, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order No. 1010, establishing a Council of Fine Arts with thirty members. Those chosen had been selected by the AIA's Executive Committee and approved by Roosevelt. In fact, the nature of the council itself and its responsibilities had been set forth by the Executive Committee in a letter to the president on 11 January, further evidence of the power wielded by this private professional organization at the time. The letter said, in part:
Why Roosevelt decided to establish the council at the very end of his administration, and why it had so many members, is not certain. It is likely that the AIA had convinced him of the urgency of settling the Lincoln Memorial question, as he had written the institute saying he would "request the Council immediately to report [on] . . . the Lincoln Memorial, as suggested . . . by the Board of Directors of the American Institute of Architects." 
The large number of members may have been Roosevelt's idea, as a maneuver to avoid the criticism that all crucial decisions were being made by the Senate Park Commission members, who were only four in number. In the same letter Roosevelt advised the AIA "to take immediate steps to secure the enactment of a law giving permanent effect to what I am directing to be done." To this end, a bill was introduced by Senator Newlands on the same day the executive order was issued. It was a rather complicated bill, providing for a Bureau of Fine Arts as well as an advisory council, and it was never reported out of the committee to which it had been referred. 
Twenty-one architects were nominated to the council, as well as four painters, four sculptors, and one landscape architectFrederick Law Olmsted Jr. The architects included Burnham, McKim, Gilbert, and Brown, and others who were well known and active in the AIA. The painters were John LaFarge, Frank Millet, E. H. Blashfield, and Kenyon Cox. Sculptors were Daniel Chester French, Herbert Adams, H. A. McNeil, and K. T. Bitter.
The council met on 9 February 1909 and approved the Senate Park Commission's site for the Lincoln Memorial. McKim, very ill, attended for a few minutes but later on resigned. Burnham was not present and was uncertain whether he would accept the appointment. Olmsted was out of the country. Apparently, Charles Moore was asked to serve after the list of names had been released. Although his name was not on the liststrictly speaking, he did not fall into any of the professional categorieshe wrote Brown from Europe on 13 February 1909 accepting the appointment. But he expressed his reservations about the council, the way in which it was created, and its large number of members. "I cannot help fearing," he wrote, "that so formed it will begin life with very serious handicaps." 
The idea of an arts council received enthusiastic support in the press, but there was a realization in the editorials that Congress would not accept this extra-legal creation, especially since the council's advice had to be followed unless the president, not Congress, directed otherwise. Refusing to accept any commission which might limit its power over appropriations, Congress included in the Sundry Civil Bill of 4 March 1909 a clause that denied any appropriations for the Council of Fine Arts and for any projects approved by it.
William Howard Taft became president on 4 March 1909; on 21 May he issued Executive Order No. 1074, abolishing the Council of Fine Arts. In a letter to Cass Gilbert, president of the AIA, Taft explained his reasons, saying that Congress had already directed specific legislation against the council, and furthermore, he doubted if there had ever been any power to appoint such a council in the first place. He said, however, that he hoped to secure from Congress authority to appoint a fine arts commission, since he was strongly in favor of it. "I shall have to take my own way to bring this about," he said, "since it is a matter of considerable delicacy." 
The successful legislation creating the Commission of Fine Arts was finally introduced in the House of Representatives by Samuel McCall of Massachusetts in early February 1910.  The bill was steered through the Senate by Elihu Root, who had long been a staunch supporter of the Park Commission plan, first as secretary of war, then as secretary of state, and finally as a senator from New York. It was most appropriate that his name was associated with the successful legislation for a design review body to safeguard the plan. Much later, when talking to his biographer, Philip Jessup, he said: "I came to be the man in the Government to whom they could come to find sympathy and get to the President. They were a lot of artists and architects, like lost children in the woods when they came to Washington." 
The debate on the bill comprises some 150 typewritten pages, double-spaced. It brings out the fears of those who were against it that Congress was about to relinquish its authority to a "coterie of artists" who would be impractical and visionaryoutsiders who would not understand what was best for Washington. Some members brought up the location of the Grant Memorial, still disputing its location in the Botanic Garden and blaming the Senate Park Commission for it. Although the bill under consideration covered only statues and monuments, with no mention of buildings, others assailed the siting of the Agriculture building, "below the ground." Still others were afraid the proposed commission might abandon the L'Enfant plan, thinking no doubt of the Senate Park Commission's new plans for the Mall and its extension to the river. The commission was frequently denounced as "illegal" or "unauthorized." It was sometimes referred to as a "sky-line commission." It is interesting that it was never called the McMillan Commission and seldom the Senate Park Commission, but almost always the Burnham Commission.
Several amendments were made to the bill by the Senate; the most important was Root's recommendation that the phrase that gave the commission authority to "decide" on the various projects submitted be changed to "advise." He was wise enough to see that Congress would accept it no other way, and thus the commission's function became purely advisory.  In the original House bill, the appointments were for "seven artists of repute," later changed to "seven well-qualified judges of the fine arts"; review of fountains was added by Senator Jacob H. Gallinger of New Hampshire, who observed that Washington had "too many statues and too few fountains." In conference with the House, the requirement that the appointments be made "with the advice and consent of the Senate" was dropped. Root's explanation to fellow senators was that because it was decided that the members of the commission would not be paid a salary, but only their expenses, they did not fall within the category of those appointments traditionally requiring Senate approval. An important amendment that confirms the deep-seated congressional distrust of any amount of control by an art commission was offered by Senator Weldon B. Heyburn of Idaho, and accepted. It said that the provisions of the act would not apply to either the Capitol or the Library of Congress. Senator Root did not oppose the amendment but thought it unnecessary because the bill merely provided for advice. It is interesting that during the Senate-House conference, the position of this sentence in the bill was moved, so that it came after the general provisions of the act but before the sentence reading: "The commission shall also advise generally upon questions of art when required to do so by the president, or by any committee of either House of Congress." This made it possible for the president or Congress to ask for advice regarding the Capitol or the Library of Congress if they wished to do so. The final version read:
The bill became Public Law 181, 61st Congress, on 17 May 1910.
It will be noted that the legislation made no mention of public buildings. Still smarting from the Agriculture building affair, several members objected, during the debate, to giving up any control over the design or location of public buildings. It was pointed out to them that this prerogative was not mentioned in the legislation. One member, however, said this jurisdiction could be easily slipped in later under the clause that read: "The commission shall also advise generally on questions of art when required to do so by the President...." On 25 October 1910 President Taft did that very thing by issuing Executive Order No. 1259, adding "plans" for public buildings to the commissions jurisdiction. No mention was made, however, of "locating" these structures.
President Taft announced his appointments to the Commission of Fine Arts in June 1910. Among his papers in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress are a number of interesting letters and lists relating to the appointments. Evidently, Senator George Peabody Wetmore took it upon himself to send letters to prominent architects and artists asking them to recommend six architects, sculptors, painters, landscape architects, and laymen.  Those who sent names were architects Daniel Burnham, Whitney Warren, Thomas Hastings, Irving K. Pond, and William Mead; sculptors H. A. MacNeil and Lorado Taft; and painter Frank Millet. Together they submitted the names of twenty-two architects, twenty-one painters, thirteen sculptors, seventeen landscape architects, and thirty laymen. In two cases those who received the most votes were appointed to the commissionDaniel Chester French as sculptor and Frederick Law Olmsted as landscape architect. Olmsted was on everyone's list except Burnham's, whose only choice in this field was Edward H. Bennett. Warren wrote that he had a hard time coming up with the names of six landscape architects. He said, "the majority of these men are little better than amateur gardeners...and when one thinks that their occupation is to juggle with nature it would seem that only those who have devoted much time to the study of nature's architecture should be fit to practice." 
The top three in each field were: architects Walter Cook, S. B. P. Trowbridge and Frank Miles Day (tied with Cass Gilbert); painters E. H. Blashfield, John W. Alexander, and Frank Millet; sculptors Daniel Chester French, Paul Bartlett, and Herbert Adams; landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted, W. H. Manning, and Charles W Leavitt; and laymen Henry Walters, Charles L. Freer, and Theodore N. Ely. Glenn Brown was listed only once, by sculptor H. A. MacNeil, although Frank Millet noted that he had not placed him on his list because he thought he would serve best as secretary.
Actually chosen by the president were architects Daniel Burnham (chairman), Thomas Hastings, and Cass Gilbert; sculptor Daniel Chester French; painter Frank Millet; landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted; and as layman, Charles Moore, who had been so closely associated with the Senate Park Commission as to seem almost a fifth member. McKim and Saint-Gaudens had both died by this time, Saint-Gaudens in 1907 and McKim in 1909.
Unfortunately, by June 1912 the commission had lost both its chairman, Daniel Burnham, and its vice-chairman, Frank Millet. Millet was one of those lost in the Titanic disaster in April, and Burnham died in Germany in June. Burnham's place was taken by Peirce Anderson of his own firm, and E. H. Blashfield filled Millet's vacancy. Daniel Chester French was appointed chairman, to be succeeded in 1915 by another original member, Charles Moore, who held the position until 1937 and remained a member of the commission until 1940.  Frederick Law Olmsted left the commission in 1918, but was a member of the National Capital Park and Planning Commission from 1926 until 1932 and active in Washington planning circles until the early 1950s. Thus the commission retained strong personal ties with the Senate Park Commission through the first half of the century.
During its first year of existence, the commission reviewed forty-one cases; ten were for statues, fountains, and monuments, as specified in the organic act, and fourteen were for public buildings and works, the latter made possible by President Taft's executive order. These included the Burnham firm's city post office, just to the west of Union Station; the current building for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing; and new buildings for the departments of State, Justice, and Commerce and Labor. The latter were never built but were the forerunners of the Federal Triangle project of the late 1920s. The commission was also asked for its advice on such subjects as height limitations for buildings to be erected on the east and west sides of Lafayette Square, a new system of lighting for Pennsylvania Avenue, and the use of the Connecticut Avenue (Taft) Bridge by streetcars. The remaining projects were congressional committee referrals, mostly involving paintings and "miscellaneous" items, which were primarily for monuments outside the District of Columbia.
In its early years, both the Commission of Fine Arts and the applicants before it were feeling their way as to what should be or could be submitted. The commission was soon confronted with a formal request, under the wording of the Panama Canal Act, to report to the president on "the artistic character of the structures of the canal." Upon being questioned as to what kind of advice he desired, Colonel Goethals, chairman of the Isthmian Canal Commission, suggested that the Commission of Fine Arts might want to visit the Canal Zone before making its report. Chairman Daniel Chester French and member Frederick Law Olmsted were appointed a committee of two to make the trip; they spent three weeks in February 1913 inspecting the structures of the canal itself, the surrounding landscape, and the towns in the area that would house permanent workers, including the plans for the new town of Balboa, which was to contain the administrative offices. This was a difficult assignment, and the commission realized it; it was a bit like being asked to gild the lily. The thirteen-page report said:
And so the commission did what it could, considering that many of the structures, such as navy-yard shops and docks, were already in place, as were a number of navigational aidsconcrete lighthouses, range lights, and tripods; unfortunately, nearly all of them were considered "open to criticism as to details of appearance"; it was too late, however, to modify the designs. The commission did recommend a new design for a lighthouse for a prominent location at the Atlantic end of the canal. The design was the work of Austin Lord, the official architect of the Canal Commission, but it was never built because of "excessive cost and lack of room."  Other locations marked for lights were found to be impractical for anything monumental because of soil conditions; on the other hand, the report said, "there are points of interest as one approaches the canal from the Pacific with which it would be unwise to attempt to compete by any structure built for artistic reasons alone. The shore itself, with its rugged range of mountains, is inspiring, and the islands guarding the entrance are interesting in the extreme." 
The committee also turned its attention to the preliminary plan for the new town of Balboa, pointing out in particular that the orientation of the main axis as proposed was not satisfactory, as the view of the canal was cut off by navy-yard shops, and the vista ended in a foundry. A myriad of other proposals were examined, right down to the recommendation of an interior design architect for the hotel in Colon. When French and Olmsted returned, their proposals were reviewed and discussed with the other members of the commission prior to preparing the report (figs. 3, 4). 
At the other end of the scale, as far as submissions were concerned, was a letter the commission received in June 1921 from the city manager of Petersburg, Virginia, requesting advice regarding the laying out of a city park and asking the members to make a personal inspection of the area. A letter was sent explaining that it would not be possible for the commission to spend several days in Petersburg, but the city manager was not told that the commission's authority extended only to federal projects; instead, he was politely informed that the commission would be happy to look at any sketches or plans when available and would like to see photographs of the area as well.
The Commission of Fine Arts looked at many federal projects outside Washington in the early years, in fact, well up into the 1960s. In the days when the City Beautiful Movement still had some meaning, congressmen often thought it would add a bit of prestige to new post offices in their districts if the commission approved them; proposals for murals and sculpture for the interior of these and other federal buildings were also frequently submitted. The National Park Service, while still working closely with the commission today on the design for parks and memorials in Washington and its environs, used to submit plans regularly for various buildings and other structures in the national park system throughout the country. A Zion National Park hotel, plans for "Yosemite Village," bridges for Smoky Mountain, Yosemite, and Acadia national parks, and a bathhouse for Hot Springs, Arkansas were all on the commission's agendas in the 1920s; in 1928 landscape architect member Ferruccio Vitale was asked by the director of the National Park Service to make an examination and report on various submissions affecting Glacier and Yellowstone national parks.
The most important submissions during the commission's first twenty-five years, of course, were related to the implementation of the key elements of the Senate Park Commission plan. The Lincoln Memorial was one of the first major projects taken up by the commission. The Act of Congress providing for the memorial had specifically authorized the Lincoln Memorial Commission "to avail itself of the services or advice of the Commission of Fine Arts."  On 4 March 1911 the Memorial Commission asked the Commission of Fine Arts for suggestions as to the location, plans, and designs for the memorial, and for the best method of selecting the architects, sculptors, and other artists. The minutes of the 17 March meeting stated: "The subject was thoroughly discussed with a view to ascertaining the ideas of each member, and plans for future procedure were tentatively outlined." In July 1911 the commission unanimously recommended the Park Commission's preferred site in Potomac Park, and in June 1912 the final design of the commission's recommended architect, Henry Bacon, was approved. This memorial, the linchpin of the Senate Park Commission's Mall plan, occupied the Commission of Fine Arts until its dedication in 1921. At the same time, plans were being reviewed for the adjoining Reflecting Pool and the landscaping of the entire area (fig. 5). Arlington Memorial Bridge and the approach to Arlington National Cemetery, both designed to conform to the Senate Park Commission plans, were reviewed in the later 1920s and early 1930s.
As it concentrated on carrying out the Park Commission plans for the monumental core of the city, the commission became acutely aware of eyesore conditions that threatened the beauty of the Mall and nearby areas, and it mounted campaigns in the press and within Congress against such abominations as smoke-belching chimneys, unsightly billboards, and lines of parked cars spoiling the beauty of tree-lined avenues (fig. 6).
After Burnham's death in 1912, Frederick Law Olmsted was the only Park Commission member on the Commission of Fine Arts. His knowledge of the intent of the Senate Park Commission members was invaluable, and even after he left the Commission of Fine Arts in 1918, he was frequently consulted. It is interesting to note, however, as one reads the minutes of the meetings of the commission, how often Olmsted was willing to depart from details seen on the Senate Park Commission plansmore so than the other members who were farther removed. For example, he voted to remove the cross arms of the Reflecting Pool when a temporary World War I building prevented the immediate construction of the northern arm, and he was not averse to the removal of the watergate steps at the Lincoln Memorial when that came up in the late 1920s. In the early 1930s he was asked to design Union Square, and when he brought his design to the Commission of Fine Arts in April 1934, he was criticized for abandoning the formal treatment shown on the Senate Park Commission renderings. In a long statement submitted to the Commission of Fine Arts, Olmsted stated his reasons, citing changes to the area since 1901, and added:
A major feature of the Senate Park Commission plan, and one that was dear to the hearts of early Commission of Fine Arts members, was the elaborate proposal for the Washington Monument Gardens (pl. IX). There was no question that this had been carefully thought out, that it was considered the jewel of the Mall plan, especially by its designer, Charles McKim. Legislation was introduced in Congress in 1928 to complete the development in time for the George Washington Bicentennial in 1932, but doubts about soil conditions around the foundations of the monument caused both the Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Park and Planning Commission to call for a full engineering report. The report recommended that the design of 1901 be abandoned because the areas requiring either excavation or heavy loading were located where they would seriously affect the stability of the monument. The Commission of Fine Arts looked at two simpler designsone with an informal character by Olmsted and the other a strictly formal design by William Adams Delanobut found neither satisfactory when compared to the "elegance, taste and beauty" of the treatment of the grounds of the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial. Also, the members criticized the designs for not recognizing the White House axis in any appropriate way.  Even these plans, according to the engineers, were not feasible unless the foundations of the monument were carried down to bedrock, and that, Director of Public Buildings and Public Parks Ulysses S. Grant III told Charles Moore, could invite "immediate and complete disaster, with no possibility of correction."  This possibility, plus the lack of funds during the Depression, brought an end to the discussion, and the monument still stands today on its unadorned mound.
A number of other projects proposed by the Senate Park Commission were undertaken until the Depression, followed by World War II, curtailed construction; some were built essentially as outlined in the Senate Park Commission's report to the Senate, others underwent significant changes or were never completed. The Federal Triangle was the largest of the building projects and was certainly faithful to the Senate Park Commission's vision for Pennsylvania Avenue, although as originally proposed, this complex was to be composed of District of Columbia, not federal, buildings (fig. 7). On the crucial site south of the White House, which was to terminate the north-south axis of the Mall, only a single memorial to Thomas Jefferson was placed on a site reserved for both a memorial, possibly to the Founding Fathers, and a grouping of public buildings. The Mall was landscaped early in the 1930s according to the plan, and the Freer Gallery of Art in the early 1920s and the National Gallery of Art in the mid-1930s continued the precedent established by the present-day Museum of Natural History, erected under the supervision of the Senate Park Commission members before the creation of the Commission of Fine Arts. However, the Smithsonian Castle stayed right where it was, interrupting the Mall building line established after the Department of Agriculture building imbroglio. Around the Capitol, the Senate Park Commission had recommended an enclosure of legislative buildings, and the first Senate and House office buildings were erected only a few years after the plan was presented. Additional Senate and House buildings went up in the 1920s, but gaps remained. The Supreme Court, although not a legislative building, filled one of these spaces in 1935. On Lafayette Square, the plan to demolish the small houses surrounding the square and replace them with government buildings of uniform height and style was begun in 1917 with the Treasury Annex, followed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 1922 (fig. 8), but that was as far as it went, probably because of the vexing problem of how to explain the demolition of such historic buildings as the Blair, Decatur, Dolley Madison, and Tayloe houses, together with St. John's Church. In the landscape department, work on the Anacostia Water Park, a project not usually thought of as an integral part of the Senate Park Commission plan, was begun in 1915 and worked on actively in the 1920s. The Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway, also part of the Park Commission plan, was authorized by Congress in 1913 and completed in 1936. It was the first federally authorized parkway. 
Lastly, mention should be made of the commission's efforts to guide the development of Arlington Cemetery according to the Senate Park Commission's strong statements in its final report regarding the need, throughout the cemetery, to use only the simplest white headstones, placed in uniform rows, such as could be seen in the old Civil War section of the cemetery (fig. 9). These words were taken verbatim from a draft written by Saint-Gaudens, and offer only one example of the many, mostly behind-the-scenes contributions of the noted sculptor to the work of the Park Commission. They offer a vivid contrast to the more circumspect language used throughout the report by authors Moore and Olmsted. For example: "There is nothing that needs proper supervision and planning more than the modern cemetery, for there is certainly nothing that suffers more from vulgarity, ignorance, and pretentiousness on the one side, and grasping unscrupulousness on the other; . . . the eye and the feelings are constantly shocked by the monstrosities...." 
The Commission of Fine Arts began thinking about the preparation of a general plan for Arlington as early as 1913. Saint-Gaudens' plea for appropriate headstones in this military cemetery came to the forefront with the nation's participation in World War I, and the sad realization that the number of graves would soon increase dramatically. The three architect members of the commission agreed to submit designs for the headstones to the Quartermaster General's department, with the result that the one designed by member Charles Platt was selected to be used for all World War I graves, not only in Arlington, but in whatever national cemetery they might be located (fig. 10).
With such a record, the Commission of Fine Arts could take some satisfaction in the work it had done to bring the Senate Park Commission plan to fruition. Down to the present day, the commission has always considered itself the successor to the Park Commission. On the other hand, there has never been a feeling that the plan was immutable. As early as the mid-1920s, the commission's Tenth Report noted that the agency's position was that the L'Enfant plan of 1791 was the fundamental one for the District of Columbia, and that the plan of 1901 was "a restatement of the authority of the L'Enfant plan, together with such extensions of that plan as were necessary to make it apply to increased areas and changed conditions. This Commission have [sic] never held that the plan of 1901 might not in its turn require changes and extensions."  Years later, in 1938, Charles Moore, although still ultra-conservative in his architectural tastes, said in a letter to chairman Gilmore Clarke: "The Plan of 1901 has been outgrown, as Burnham anticipated it would be when he prophesied that our descendants would do things that would astonish us. The trouble is that needs have outstripped the capacity of planners; and pressing necessities have prevented a broad, comprehensive, logical plan for the future." 
On 23 May 1935 the commission celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary with a dinner at the Century Club in New York, attended by present and past members. Charles Moore and Frederick Law Olmsted, members of the original commission of 1910, were there. Moore, still chairman, was presented with two gifts commemorating his twenty-five years of service: a medal designed by sculptor Lee Lawrie (fig. 11) and a portrait painted by Eugene Savage; both artists were members of the commission. The portrait hangs today in the commission's offices, along with paintings of its other chairmen. Senator Elihu Root, who had played such a key role in convincing Congress of the importance of carrying out the 1901 plan and establishing the Commission of Fine Arts, could not be present but sent Charles Moore a letter expressing his regrets and recalling the circumstances under which the legislation was steered through Congress. The letter closed with the following paragraph:
No one at the dinner could have foreseen the cataclysmic political and cultural events that were to follow in the next ten years, and even the inevitable abandonment of the classical style that had dominated architecture since the Chicago Fair of 1893 was probably not uppermost in the minds of those who attended. This was a time to recall the names of Burnham, McKim, Olmsted, and Saint-Gaudens, and the conception and implementation of one of the truly significant city plans of the twentieth century. With many of the most important features of the Senate Park Commission plan either in place or well underway, in spite of a world war and years of severe economic depression, the commission could, justifiably, congratulate itself on a job well done. As it celebrates the 100th anniversary of the plan of 1901 and looks forward to its own centennial in 2010, the Commission of Fine Arts today salutes those early members, who took to heart Senator McMillan's advice:
This chapter in an outgrowth of a paper entitled "Artists and Architects in Government Planning: the Beginnings of the Commission of Fine Arts," read at the National Collection of Fine Arts (today's Smithsonian American Art Museum) symposium, Art in Washington; Some Artists, Patrons and Institutions in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries, 15 May 1980.
I would like to thank Pamela Scott for sharing her extensive research on the Senate Park Commission plan, particularly her work in the McKim, Mead & White papers at the New-York Historical Society and the Burnham papers at the Art Institute of Chicago.
To my son, Eric Kohler I express my thanks for his encouragement and for sharing his knowledge during the production of this book.
2In regard to these exhibition items, the commission noted in its Annual Report, 1911 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1911), 5; "They have been stored for several years in the cellar of the Library of Congress, where most of them still are. Careless handling and the lack of proper storage facilities have damaged many of the plans, and none of the photographs are in condition for exhibition purposes, being punctured, soiled, or with frames broken; several of the original plans can not be located. The Commission had the plans put in as good condition as possible, but, in order to insure their proper safeguarding, better storage facilities are required." The Commission of Fine Arts has, at present, one hundred large mounted photographs, five large watercolor renderings, three small watercolor renderings, and one ink-and-wash rendering. The rest are presumed lost.
3Frank Sewall, "Washington and Its Public Buildings," American Architect and Building News 36 (May 1892): 87. Another article, "Washington's Architectural Need," had appeared earlier in the same magazine, 35 (February 1892); 107-8. Both articles had also appeared in the Evening Star newspaper.
4Glenn Brown, Memories, 1860-1930; A Winning Crusade to Revive George Washington's Vision of a Capital City (Washington, D.C.; W. F. Roberts, 1931), 364. Glenn Brown's firsthand account of the events and people involved in the development of Washington and the formation of the Commission of Fine Arts is invaluable.
5McKim to Brown, 7 December 1901, McKim, Mead & White Papers, New-York Historical Society, hereafter MM&W Papers, NYHS. It should be noted that Congress never did approve the Park Commission plan as a whole, only individual elements, such as the Lincoln Memorial.
27Since 1910 several pieces of legislation have required that the commission's approval be obtained, including the American Battle Monuments Act of 1923, which dealt with the design of war memorials overseas, and the Commemorative Works Act of 1986, which required the approval of both site and design of all commemorative works on certain federal lands in the District of Columbia and its environs.
31A Report by the Commission of Fine Art in Relation to the Artistic Structures of the Panama Canal, 63rd Cong., lot Sess., S. Doc. 146 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1913), 5; hereafter Panama Canal Report.
35Public Law No. 346, S.9449, 9 February 1911. See Edward F. Concklin, ed., The Lincoln Memorial, Washington. Prepared under the direction of the Director of Public Buildings and Public Parks of the National Capital (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1927), 19.
40Senate Committee on the District of Columbia, The Improvement of the Park System of the District of Columbia, 57th Cong., 1st Sess., 1902, S. Rept. 166 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1902), 58. Saint-Gaudens' original draft can be found in The Reminiscences of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Edited and Amplified by Homer Saint-Gaudens (New York: Century Co., 1913), 2:275.
Last Modified: March 20, 2009