Last updated: January 24, 2023
Historical/Interpretive Information/Exhibits, Public Transit, Scenic View/Photo Spot
The National Mall is America's Front Yard and its national significance cannot be overstated.
Today the term National Mall includes:
- the area historically referred to as 'the Mall' (which extends from the grounds of the U.S. Capitol to the Washington Monument),
- the Washington Monument, and
- West Potomac Park (including the Lincoln, Jefferson, Vietnam Veterans, Korean War Veterans, World War II, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorials)
The National Mall is a landscaped grass lawn that stretches from the US Capitol Building to the Washington Monument Grounds, a mile to the west. The Mall is bordered by Constitution Avenue on its north side and Independence Avenue to the south. At its center is are eight four-hundred-fifty-foot long, one hundred seventy-foot wide stretches of grass lawn that run end-to-end between the Washington Monument and US Capitol building. The lawns are separated by cross streets and a thirty-five-foot wide gravel path that also spans the outer perimeter. One hundred thirty-foot wide groves of trees sit beyond the lawn on its north and south sides.
Significance and Symbolism
The central landscape itself is the clarifying the vista - and thus the symbolic relation - between the Capitol and the Washington Monument, representing the legislative and executive branches of government (since the Washington Monument stands on axis with the White House) – the primary design intent of both the L’Enfant and the McMillan Plans, which significantly contributed to the designs of the Mall. The Mall is therefore a symbol of American democracy.
Conceived in 1791, modified in 1902, and constructed, for the most part, in 1932-36, the Mall lies at the very center of the plan of the federal city. The Period of Significance for the Mall includes two separate periods:
- 1791- 1792, encompassing the year the L’Enfant Plan was created, and the subsequent year, when changes were made to the plan by L’Enfant’s successor, Andrew Ellicott; and
- 1902-1975, extending from the publication of the McMillan Plan, encompassing the years 1932-1936 when the plan was revised and largely implemented, to the year when the final tree panel was planted with elm trees following the removal of the last temporary war building a few years earlier.
The Mall gains its significance not only from being part of the L’Enfant Plan, but also from its inclusion in the central area of the McMillan Plan, and the adaptation of this plan by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., and other planners in the 1930s. Olmsted, one of the leading twentieth century American landscape architects, for many decades played a major role in the design of Washington and helped oversee the Mall’s construction in 1932-36. This construction was authorized by an Act of Congress passed in March 1929, and funded by the Public Works Administration in the early years of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration.
The Mall evolved over the course of time with the nation. From a grazing ground for animals to the protests of soldiers seeking their World War I pensions and citizens seeking their civil rights, it has been the stage for our national conversation. Today the Mall provides the setting for hundreds of public events each year, from political demonstrations to cultural celebrations, all of them expressions of American citizens’ First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly. Together with the Washington Monument and West Potomac Park (including the Lincoln, Jefferson, Vietnam Veterans, Korean War Veterans, World War II, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorials) the National Mall is one of the most symbolic and significant places in America.
Everyday the employees of National Mall and Memorial Parks care for the National Mall through ongoing maintenance, careful planning and management.