You are here

The Mall

-A A +A

The history and significance of the Washington Mall are embodied equally in its planning and institutions, which together have produced a remarkable urban space, continuously green and constantly evolving. Pierre Charles L'Enfant regarded the Mall as the most important element in his design for the city, one that would attract many cultural and economic enhancements. According to official boundaries established on 2 March 1797, the Mall was to enclose 227 acres and terminate at the confluence of the Potomac River and Tiber Creek. Now considerably larger, the Mall extends 2.25 miles from the foot of Capitol Hill to the entrance to Memorial Bridge. Its present irregular cross form and vast extent are not comprehensible from any single point within its boundaries. Its twenty-one architectural works span nearly two centuries, and plans call for a museum of the American Indian, a Franklin Roosevelt Memorial, and a Korean War monument.

Thomas Jefferson probably should be credited with the idea of linking the capital's two major public buildings by an extensive garden, which he identified as “public walks” on his February 1791 plan for the city. L'Enfant's Mall, a more complex spatial and architectural treatment of the city's central core, consisted of a sunken, tree-lined promenade 400 feet wide, flanked on each side by buildings raised on higher ground. In his description of the city written to George Washington on 22 June 1791, L'Enfant characterized the Mall as a “place of general resort” lined by theaters, assembly halls, academies, and “all such sort of places as may be attractive to the learned and afford diversion to the idle.”14 Prospects of the Potomac from all buildings in this central core would be to the western, open end, and would, L'Enfant said, “acquire new Swetness being had over the green of a field well level and made briliant by Shade of few tree Artfully planted.”15 It was here, at the junction of the two axes established by the Capitol and White House, that L'Enfant situated a bronze equestrian statue of George Washington authorized by Congress in 1783 to be located in the future national capital. At its eastern end, the Mall merged with the Capitol grounds, and L'Enfant placed there at the foot of the hill a sculpture group entitled Liberty Hailing Nature out of Its Slumber, his fundamental statement about the genesis and meaning of the city.

Benjamin Henry Latrobe's plan for the Capitol grounds and the Mall, 1815.

The major source for L'Enfant's arrangement of the Mall probably was the Parisian complex pivoting on the Place Louis XV (renamed the Place de la Concorde in 1795). The L-shaped relationship between the Madeleine church, Place Louis XV, Tuileries Gardens, and the Louvre was replicated in L'Enfant's plan of Washington by the President's House, a monument to Washington, the Mall, and the Capitol in a similar configuration and on a similar scale. L'Enfant was designing a city, not “a mere contemptible hamlet” (his words),16 and Paris must have seemed an appropriate prototype for the national capital because of France's participation in the American Revolution.

Benjamin Henry Latrobe became the first architect to build on the Mall, beginning the canal depicted on L'Enfant's map. It began at the mouth of Tiber Creek, usurping land along the Mall's northern boundary, crossed the Mall at the foot of Capitol Hill, and drained into the Anacostia River. L'Enfant had planned the Washington City canal to supply markets in the interior of the city; it was not formally opened until 21 November 1815. Located under present-day Constitution Avenue, the canal continued in operation until after the Civil War and was slowly filled in during the 1870s. As an architect, Latrobe's main concerns were the appearance of the Mall and its possibilities as a physical and social environment. In 1815 he proposed landscaping in the English picturesque manner of Capability Brown, with an irregularly shaped lake and groupings of trees, leaving expansive meadows for public use in an enhanced natural setting. L'Enfant's “few tree Artfully planted” at the western end suggest that he, too, would have planted part of the Mall in this naturalistic manner. In 1822 Charles Bulfinch planned for a row of regularly spaced trees to be planted around the perimeter of both the Mall and Capitol grounds. Only those at the Capitol were planted.

In 1816 Latrobe designed for a committee of the House of Representatives a national university located on 34 acres between 13th and 15th streets. His Ushaped complex of buildings was influenced by, and in turn influenced, Jefferson's contemporaneous plan for the University of Virginia. A porticoed temple serving as an entrance and observatory was to be placed on the main axis of the Mall, at 15th Street, as was a freestanding domed church at 13th Street. Professors' houses, lecture rooms, and a medical hall connected with student lodgings, in the manner of English university colleges, were planned by Latrobe to be built incrementally between 1818 and 1830. No action was ever taken on this grand scheme.

In 1820, Congress granted a triangular site of 5 acres at the east end of the Mall to the Columbian Institute, Washington's first intellectual society, for a botanical garden. Within three years the grounds were fenced, pathways and flower beds laid out, and two ponds dug. The first greenhouse was erected there in 1850, to house exotic plants collected by the South Seas Exploring Expedition. Two larger glasshouses followed, including an octagonal Gothic Revival design of 1859 attributed to Thomas U. Walter. In 1856 it officially became the United States Botanic Garden; its greenhouses were rebuilt and enlarged in the 1870s. The Grant Memorial (Henry M. Shrady, sculptor) at the foot of Capitol Hill was mandated by the Grant Memorial Commission, which was founded in 1901. In 1909 the marble substructure designed by Edward P. Casey was erected at the expense of venerable trees and plants of the Botanic Garden. When the memorial was completed in 1922, an additional two hundred trees were destroyed and the greenhouses removed. The grounds and buildings of the Botanic Garden were then shifted to the south. The present conservatory, designed by Bennett, Parsons and Frost of Chicago, opened in 1933. Frederic A. Bartholdi's 34-foot fountain, originally made for the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, stood in the Botanic Garden on axis with the Capitol until it was disassembled in 1927 and re-erected five years later on its present site at Independence Avenue and 2nd Street SW.

Plan for a national university on the Mall, 1816, by Benjamin Henry Latrobe.

In 1841 Robert Mills was commissioned by the newly founded National Institution for the Promotion of Science to prepare designs for a rejuvenated botanical garden to be located on the Mall between 7th and 12th streets, the focus of which was to be a building for either the National Institution or the Smithsonian Institution, whichever Congress sanctioned first. The National Institution provided the basic direction. It was founded in 1840 with a dual purpose of public education through monthly lectures on a variety of topics and of the collection of objects of historical, anthropological, and scientific interest. Its goals were reinforced by Congressman Robert Dale Owen of Indiana, head of the congressional committee charged with bringing the Smithsonian into being. His concerns were education for the masses and the development of an economical prototype for a style to serve all public architecture in America.

Robert Mills's plan of the Mall, 1841.

Mills's plan was remarkable in the range of architectural issues that it addressed as well as in the daring of its conception. This was the second of two plans that Mills prepared for the Mall. The first, in 1831, was made in conjunction with his scheme to widen the canal from 80 feet to 150 feet. The lockkeeper's house at the corner of Constitution Avenue and 17th Street NW was erected the following year by the engineer and stonemason Robert Leckie. The existence of the canal in L'Enfant's original plan created an imbalance in the width of the grounds along the Mall's central axis, resulting in the irregular placement of buildings within its boundaries. In both of his Mall plans, Mills maintained the cross axis established by the Capitol and the White House as the site for a monument to Washington. His 1831 plan for the Mall showed an equestrian statue, but by 1841 (five years after the competition for the Washington Monument) he had designed a rotunda wider than the 352-foot Capitol facade as a Washington monument. It was to sit in a fully developed picturesque garden amid winding pathways and clumps of trees. Mills had planned this garden to complement his medieval revival building for the National Institution and to serve as agricultural experimentation fields. He favored a more formal arrangement, reflecting the medieval medicinal garden, for the National Institution grounds, although he submitted an alternate plan making the entire Mall picturesque.

Robert Mills's design for the Smithsonian Institution, 1841.

Neither this proposal for the National Institution nor his design submitted to the formal Smithsonian competition in 1846 was selected, but Mills was named assistant architect to James Renwick, Jr., who was in charge of constructing the Smithsonian Institution. The bequest of the English scientist James Smithson to found at Washington an institution for the “increase and diffusion of knowledge among men” made a reality of L'Enfant's original vision of the Mall as a place of learning and recreation.17 As the criteria for the Smithsonian were so liberal, the form it might take was interpreted by individuals in various ways. A library, an astronomical observatory, and a scientific research center were among possible functions vigorously promoted.

The search for an appropriate architectural image for this program, and for the best architect to realize it, was unprecedented in America. The Capitol and White House competitions of a half century earlier had simply invited participation through public notices in newspapers; by contrast, in the fall of 1846 Owen and the building committee of the Smithsonian actively sought out architects by traveling to Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and Cincinnati. Architects were asked to design an envelope around a functional plan carefully devised by the scientist David Dale Owen, brother of the congressman. This plan owed much to Robert Mills's 1841 design, as did the eventual choice of a Rundbogenstilstyle of architecture for the building. Although many talented and mature architects were practicing in America by the mid-nineteenth century, the Smithsonian competition attracted primarily a young (and unknown) generation of architects, perhaps because they were more comfortable with the medieval style mandated by the building committee. Twelve competitors submitted designs based on both Romanesque and Gothic styles of architecture.

The two entries submitted by James Renwick, Jr., of New York represented a manifestly more sophisticated handling of the medieval language than those of the other entrants. Partly to justify the decision of the building committee as being a knowledgeable one, rather than one based on rumored favoritism, and partly as a polemical tract to promote medieval architecture as a social and formal model for public architecture in America, Robert Dale Owen's Hints on Public Architecturewas published in 1849. Like most of his contemporaries, Owen was an exponent of the enlightenment theory of associationism, believing that social, cultural, and political ideals of one time and culture could be nourished in another by replication of the historical artifacts of the earlier period. In promoting the medieval style as a model, not just for the Smithsonian building but also for future public buildings in America, Owen was selecting from history's storehouse an architectural system that he perceived had allowed for more variation and freedom of expression than was possible in the more rigidly hierarchical classical system. His ultimate goal was to participate in the creation of an American style of architecture: “to see spring up in our midst, a school of our own … to originate as well as to adopt.”18

In 1833 the Washington National Monument Society had been founded by Washingtonians of local prominence, including several military officers and government officials. Their constitution, drafted by George Watterston, former librarian of Congress, mandated the largest monument in the world; the society saw size as a reflection of George Washington's greatness, just as L'Enfant had regarded the size of the city as a reflection of the vastness of the country. When in 1845 they selected Robert Mills's design for a 600-foot-tall obelisk on a circular base, they had to consider the reality of its scale, both in terms of its height and its 250-foot diameter. Its placement off the true east-west axis of the Mall seems to have been due to a combination of factors, although no explanation of its siting is found among the early records of the society. The actual crossing of the two important axes of the Mall was already occupied by the Meridian Stone, erected by President Jefferson in 1804 to be the point from which all future state lines were to be calculated. Its uppermost part has been excavated and may be seen at the crossing of these two axes.

Membership certificate for the Washington National Monument Society.

Due to the 150-foot-wide expanse of the canal along its northern edge, the Mall was already inherently asymmetrical. The Smithsonian Institution, begun in 1847, was placed 300 feet from the center line of the Mall (which was 1,440 feet wide), rather than along its southern perimeter. The site for the monument was chosen in January 1848. Its location south and east of two major axes would afford a view of both buildings from the Capitol (the principal viewing point of the city), and each would occupy its own distinct grounds in a panoramic view of Washington.

Throughout the 1840s, horticulturist and “rural architect” Andrew Jackson Downing had been promoting picturesque public parks for America to “soften and humanize the rude, educate and enlighten the ignorant, and give continual enjoyment to the educated.”19 The Washington National Monument Society and the Building Committee of the Smithsonian consulted him in 1848. His design to “ornament” the national capital, to influence the general taste of the country in the “natural style of landscape gardening,” and to create an arboretum “to form a public museum of living trees and shrubs” was accepted by President Millard Fillmore in 1851.20 The White House grounds would be the most formal, as they were to be the site of parades and military reviews. Appropriately, the Washington Monument grounds would be planted only with species of trees native to North America, and the grounds immediately adjacent were to be an evergreen maze, attractive especially in winter, for enjoyment by the increased population of the city during the months when Congress was in session. The Smithsonian grounds would be planted in a more natural style of open meadows, with tree species selected to echo either the pointed towers of the building or its round arches and, accordingly, carefully placed to achieve a reciprocal visual relationship with them. The natural style would be continued in the grounds of the Botanic Garden, where a small irregular lake would be introduced.

Andrew Jackson Downing's plan for the Mall, 1851.

Although Downing died in 1852, before detailed planting plans were completed, and the program of specific garden types for each segment of the public grounds was never undertaken, his influence was considerable on the development of the Mall and the later planting of the Capitol grounds. For eighty years the Mall was a picturesque garden: trees from this period can still be seen in the vicinity of the Natural History Museum and the Department of Agriculture. In 1855–1856 the American Pomological Society erected a monument to Downing's memory, designed by his partner, Calvert Vaux, and sculpted by Robert E. Launitz. The 4-foot-tall, classically inspired urn rests on a rectilinear base that is inscribed with an affecting eulogy and quotations from Downing's writings. Once situated in Downing's picturesque landscape, it now is part of the Enid A. Haupt Garden (1987), a Postmodern version of a picturesque garden located just south of the Smithsonian Institution building, designed by Jean Paul Carlhian.

Plan of the Mall by Benjamin Franklin Smith, Jr., 1852.

After Downing's death the public grounds were put under the supervision of the horticulturist Charles Breckinridge, and the Mall was densely planted without the varied spatial effects of open meadows contrasting with wooded groves planned by his predecessor. With no centralized control over its development, the Mall evolved in a laissez-faire manner during the second half of the nineteenth century. In 1855 the Washington Armory was erected on the northwest corner of Independence Avenue and 6th Street SW, where it served a variety of functions before being razed in 1964. Designed by Maj. William H. Bell of the United States Army Ordnance Department, it was constructed of brick in the Italianate style, with an internal structural system of cast- or rolled-iron columns, beams, and floors. Modest in scale, it was a rectangular block with hip roof, three-by-seven bays, a rusticated basement, and two-story, round-arch windows set within blind arches, an early Victorian transformation of a classical temple.

In 1856, the agricultural division of the Department of the Interior planted propagating gardens on the north side of the canal between what was then 4 1/2 and 6th streets NW (the site of the National Gallery). Greenhouses flanking a small circular Chinese pavilion were planned, though only the greenhouses were erected. When the Department of Agriculture was officially established in 1862, its dual purpose was to acquire and diffuse information on agriculture to the American people and to continue to “procure, propagate and distribute” seeds and plants to Americans. Both functions were carried out on the Mall. Adolph Cluss and Joseph W. von Kammerhueber designed the first Agriculture Department Building, constructed in 1867–1868 on a 35-acre site west of the Smithsonian and aligned with it in respect to the center line of the Mall. It was torn down in 1930. Constructed of pressed red brick with brown-stone and terracotta trim, it was an eclectic Victorian design, German Renaissance Revival in style, but with a French mansard roof. Of modest size (170 feet by 61 feet) and I-shaped, it accommodated offices and laboratories. In the central section, however, two-story, round-arch, stained-glass windows lit a museum on the second floor. Decorative detailing related to the natural world; for instance, interior frescoes correlated the seasons of the year to the times of day and the ages of humankind.

Historical view, to the west, of the Department of Agriculture Grounds.

A formal ornamental garden, in contrast to the naturalistic planting of the rest of the Mall, was laid out across the Mall by the Agriculture Department in 1868, following designs by the Scottish-trained landscape architect William Saunders. Beginning in 1871, this garden was terraced with two Second Empire style pavilions marking its entrance. Between 1868 and 1870 the propagating gardens, located since 1856 at the east end of the Mall, were moved to the north and west of the Agriculture Department building, and over the years two dozen structures, in addition to extensive greenhouses, were erected. The largest was the Entomological Building, in the same style as the Agriculture Department building. The most curious was a 50-foot-tall stump of a giant sequoia from General Grant National Park in California that functioned as a tree house from which to view the Mall. The buildings and formal garden were removed in 1931–1932, but many of the greenhouses remained until the outbreak of the Second World War.

The first substantial public building erected on the north side of the Mall was the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station, designed by architect Joseph M. Wilson of Philadelphia. Constructed between 1873 and 1878 on the southwest corner of Constitution Avenue and 6th Street NW, its major feature was a square tower marking the corner of an asymmetrical composition. Designed in the High Victorian Gothic style and built of brick with extravagant use of stone belt courses and trim, it was a veritable textbook of window and corbeled brick patterns. Its plethora of detail was finely proportioned to its relatively small scale. Although the double row of tracks serving it did not cross Pennsylvania Avenue, they crossed the corresponding avenue in the southwest sector, Maryland Avenue, and ran along 6th Street, then onto the Mall proper just before they entered the train sheds extending nearly the entire width of the Mall. With the station itself too modest to serve a growing tourist and official population, the tracks a serious safety hazard, and the sheds a substantial eyesore, the Baltimore and Potomac Station was destined for a short life. It was razed in 1907.

When the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876 closed, many of the exhibits were donated to the federal government for a national museum. The responsibility of housing and displaying this enormous collection of predominantly large objects fell to the Smithsonian Institution. In February 1877, the Smithsonian's Assistant Secretary, Spencer F. Baird, asked Congress to fund a building to be located on the grounds south of the Smithsonian building and attached to its south tower. Designs for an extension were prepared by both Montgomery Meigs of the Army Corps of Engineers, who in 1875 officially visited European museums and reported on their design to Baird and to Cluss, the architect who had been charged with rebuilding the Smithsonian after a fire in 1865. Two paramount concerns—fireproof construction and large, open, functional spaces that were inexpensive to build—led both architects to base their designs on recent exhibition architecture. Both proposed brick buildings 300 feet square; Meigs's had a central rotunda and dome, Cluss's a roofed square courtyard. Both proposals were pyramidal in composition, with each set of exterior aisles expressed by increasingly higher rings of shed roofs. Interiors were to be lit by clere-story windows.

Adolph Cluss in partnership with Paul Schulze was selected as the architect of the United States National Museum, now the Arts and Industries Building. The architectural definition that Cluss gave to his functional shell was derived from his own German training and background and from the experience of the architecture of the 1873 exposition in Vienna, which in turn influenced the 1876 Philadelphia exposition. Colorful pressed and glazed bricks in conjunction with molded terracotta panels clad a building composed of round arches in what Cluss called “the modern Renaissance” style. The Arts and Industries Building is the Mall's only surviving major building by Cluss, although his architecture dominated it for more than a quarter century.

Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station, Joseph M. Wilson.

The Army Medical Museum and Library, once located on the northwest corner of Independence Avenue and 7th Street SW, was also designed by Cluss and Paul Schulze. Begun in 1885 and completed two years later, the substantial U-shaped building housed 47-foot-tall exhibition galleries lit by monitor roofs in its east and west wings. Four stories tall and constructed of brick, it was the most restrained of the Victorian buildings on the Mall, with extensive, nearly unbroken runs of segmental and semicircular arched windows showing the influence of the rationalist aesthetic of contemporaneous Chicago school skyscrapers. Overlying this highly organized composition were elements associated with the Rundbogenstil, so much a part of Cluss's earlier work, including a corbeled cornice, polychrome lattice treatment of the spandrels of the main semicircular arches, inset brick panels, and molded brick belt courses. Robert Dale Owen's scheme to create with the Smithsonian a prototype for American public architecture based on the Rundbogenstilis often considered a failure, yet all the buildings erected on the south side of the Mall between 1855 and 1887 were predicated on such models. Adolph Cluss was the architect of three of these four buildings. Modern interpretative fusions of Romanesque and Renaissance traditions, they shared basic window shapes, sculptural forms, common materials and colors, and highly functional plans. All were inexpensive to build. The central preoccupation of nineteenth-century architects, the creation of an architecture expressive of their own time, had an added dimension in the United States, where architects from numerous cultural backgrounds came together to create not only a nineteenth-century style but also one that was American. Cluss may well have felt that his buildings, so prominently located close to the Smithsonian Institution, which its designer and its chief promoter proclaimed to be “American,” were expanding the directions set by Renwick and Congressman Owen.

Between 1882 and 1900 the tidal flats west and south of the Washington Monument were reclaimed under the direction of the Army Corps of Engineers, nearly doubling the length of the Mall. In addition, the engineers created a tidal reservoir and a 2-mile-long spit of land facing the southwest waterfront. In 1900 the question of how to develop this area coincided with the centennial of the federal government's move to its national capital and with the maturation of Beaux-Arts ideas concerning the role of public buildings in parklike settings within an urban context. In 1900, James McMillan of Michigan, chairman of the Senate Committee on the District of Columbia, initiated the process leading to the Senate Park Commission Plan of 1901–1902, often called the McMillan Commission Plan. Two pragmatic concerns, larger offices and living quarters at the White House and the need for the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad to comply with recent public safety legislation, were major stimuli. McMillan suggested running a wide, oblique avenue through the Mall, called Centennial Avenue, to link the Capitol and White House to a new railroad station on the Mall and to a proposed Memorial Bridge crossing the Potomac at the Mall's western end. As McMillan sponsored recent legislation that had called for a much-expanded new station near the center of the Mall (necessitating at the same time elevated tracks above it), his promotion of a new plan for central Washington must be viewed as a political expedient rather than as an expression of advanced architectural or urban thinking. The architect Henry Ives Cobb of Chicago prepared the 1900 plan for McMillan.

Glenn Brown, secretary of the American Institute of Architects, played a key role by urging architects attending the institute's annual meeting, held in Washington in 1900, to present some general principles for developing the Mall. Many envisaged extending it to include the triangles formed by Pennsylvania Avenue on the north and Maryland Avenue on the south. Most retained some aspects of the extant Victorian gardens, interspersing serpentine pathways with a geometric overlay of long, broad boulevards. The landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., son of the designer of Central Park in New York and the Washington Capitol grounds, presented the most farsighted address, equating the city's greatness with L'Enfant's design and stressing that its formal qualities should be reinforced. Olmsted believed that the landscape in which public buildings are set must respond to their inherently stately aspects. Cass Gilbert, later architect of the Supreme Court, felt that the White House axis should be strengthened by terminating its southern end with a memorial building set in the tidal reservoir and its northern axis with a new presidential mansion on Meridian Hill. He proposed massing executive office buildings in a formal arrangement around the White House grounds, as well as a similar complex for the legislative branch.

With the advice of the American Institute of Architects, the Senate Park Commission was formed by Senator McMillan in February 1901. Architectural advisors were Daniel Burnham of Chicago and Charles F. McKim of New York, the design leaders of the World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893. The landscape architect was Olmsted, whose father had worked with Burnham and McKim in 1893. Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the chief sculptor at the Chicago fair, was later added to the commission. The World's Columbian Exposition had been a full-scale model for exploration of the basic issues of formal and informal arrangements of buildings in relation to one another and to their appropriate landscapes. Its sources were avowedly grand-style European in origin, rather than an attempt to enlarge on the ideas and ideals of the contemporaneous native Chicago school of architecture. The lessons of the Chicago fair were seen by its designers and adherents as particularly applicable to the civic centers of American cities, a first step toward total urban revitalization. Public buildings, they believed, should be grouped in a landscape setting that included both water and formal plantings; they should be varied in form but derived from classical prototypes, be built of white or light-colored materials, have a common cornice line as well as other horizontal regulating lines, and harmoniously blend with one another.

By the spring of 1901, it had become evident that the commission would benefit from a study trip to major European cities. The opportunity to see anew familiar monuments and to discuss them on site with their colleagues would allow them to consider how the classic solutions to the numerous issues of urban design confronting them might be reinterpreted. Burnham, McKim, and Olmsted, accompanied by McMillan's secretary, Charles Moore, embarked on 13 June 1901. They returned seven weeks later, having visited Paris, Rome, Venice, Vienna, Budapest, and London. Olmsted recorded their journey with his camera; Moore later published some reminiscences from his diary. The architectural traditions of each country are discernible in the design they made during the fall and winter of that year. It was presented to President Theodore Roosevelt, Congress, and the public in January 1902.

The Senate Park Commission Plan embraced a huge, kite-shaped area of the city. It established a primary axis down the center of the Mall from the Capitol to a circle of radiating avenues on the Potomac 2.25 miles to the west, where a great monument to Lincoln was proposed. The major cross axis ran from the White House through the Washington Monument grounds to a memorial complex, to be dedicated to the fathers of the Revolution. A minor cross axis at 8th Street responded to the imposing portico of the Patent Office and the open intersection that extended from Louisiana and Pennsylvania avenues as they met at 7th Street across to 9th Street. This great cross-axial arrangement of the landscape could now be likened justifiably to that of Versailles in its organization, extent, conjunction of buildings and landscape, and interpenetration of densely wooded, almost forested, areas with a few controlled and directed open areas. The entire Mall, with vast triangles attached to either side, would be more than quadrupled in size and was to be subjected to a rigid geometric discipline.

The Senate Park Commission Plan of 1901–1902.

Four major groups of buildings were planned to accommodate present and future needs of both the federal government and the museum-going public. Executive department offices would replace all the homes facing Lafayette Square, as well as Saint John's Church. Fifteen buildings serving the legislative and judicial branches would join the Library of Congress in framing the Capitol. City government needs would be located in the triangle south of Pennsylvania Avenue between 6th and 15th streets. Everything that was not ordered, symmetrical, axial, white, or classical would be eradicated, including Downing's picturesque garden. All the Victorian buildings on the Mall would be replaced by classically inspired museums, organized in ranges along the Mall's perimeters. These future museums would face one another across a mile-long, 800-foot-wide lawn flanked by four rows of trees on either side, an arrangement that the commission members had seen at Hatfield House and Bushey Park in England.

The Washington Monument was allowed to remain, with its siting partially compensated for by realigning the east-west axis of the Mall, shifting it 25 feet to the south. The monument's location in respect to the north-south axis of the White House was too far out of alignment to permit modifications, so this fault would be turned to advantage by making it the focus of a terraced water garden on its west side. The plan included extensive parterres with formal garden elements synthesized from the Renaissance villa gardens the commission had visited in Italy and France. Charles McKim, who made preliminary drawings, envisaged the Lincoln Memorial as a standing figure facing the Capitol, silhouetted against a Doric colonnade that supported a quadriga. Lincoln would stand above an arcaded fountain wall in a manner reminiscent of a Hercules statue in the grounds of the French chateau at Vaux-le-Vicomte. Contained within a circle, the Lincoln Memorial would be separated from the Washington Monument by a reflecting pool shaped like a Latin cross, replicating on a smaller scale the cross-axial shape of the new plan.

South of the Washington Monument, a circular, porticoed temple based on the Roman Pantheon and enframed by smaller temples and a peristyle was planned as a memorial to the fathers of the Revolution. In all cases members of the commission determined that the models for buildings were to be Roman, because their sobriety was more acceptable than current flamboyant Parisian architecture. Rome's climate was similar to Washington's, and they found the image of lively fountains and still sheets of water a more appropriate adornment to the city than equestrian figures, a number of which had been erected after the Civil War. Although each major idea employed by the commission can be seen as consonant with European nineteenth-century urban planning principles, the result, an eclectic mixture, was typically American.

Under Daniel Burnham's direction the Senate Park Commission Plan far exceeded its mandate, and its budget. By dint of shrewd showmanship, spectacular presentation drawings and models, convincing the Pennsylvania Railroad to agree to an off-Mall site for their new station, and persuading Congress to pay for its tunnel, Burnham brought his vision to a wide and influential audience. The fundamental truth of Burnham's Mall is contained in the dictum often attributed to him (but which he did not originate): “Make no little plans, for they have not the power to stir men's minds. Make big plans.”21 Although violated over the years in numerous individual instances large and small, the Senate Park Commission's grand concept of the Mall gave Washington its identifiable image as a great city.

Implementation of the plan was an enormous struggle, leading to the establishment of the Commission of Fine Arts in 1910 to monitor the development of the monumental core of the city. The initial effort, begun in 1901, when the Agriculture Department needed a larger building, exemplifies the conflicting forces associated with the design and erection of public buildings in Washington. The winners of the 1901 invitational competition, Lord and Hewlett of New York, were replaced in 1903 by Rankin, Kellogg and Crane of Philadelphia, former associates of one of the judges, Charles McKim. As the latter firm had not been one of the ten original competitors and as Congress had slashed the original budget from $2.5 to $1.5 million, Austin W. Lord took his claim as far as the Supreme Court, losing in 1909. In addition, actual placement of the building within the Agriculture Department grounds was the subject of heated debate. Secretary of Agriculture James Wilson favored the site of the existing building, set back 300 feet from the center of the Mall, in line with the Smithsonian Institution building. Daniel Burnham and Charles McKim argued for its placement farther to the south, maintaining the 800-foot clearance established by the Senate Park Commission. Both parties enlisted the support of President Theodore Roosevelt, but it took the Mall Parkway hearings before the Senate in 1904 to decide the issue in favor of the architects, upholding the legal authority of the Senate Park Commission Plan.

Remnants of Andrew Jackson Downing's picturesque plan for the Mall.

Almost contemporaneously, the first building to be erected on the north side of the Mall as a result of the Senate Park Commission was begun. The United States National Museum, now the Natural History Museum, was planned from the beginning to house the most extensive of the Smithsonian's collections, those relating to natural history and anthropology. As early as 1884, W. Bruce Gray proposed a design in brick and terracotta that would have nearly replicated the Arts and Industries Building on the corresponding site east of the Smithsonian building. Funds were not forthcoming. In 1901 Hornblower and Marshall (who were renovating the interior of the Smithsonian Institution building) were asked to prepare a design for the present location. A first design of Italian Renaissance inspiration yielded to one made after the architects revisited Europe to study museums. The new building was based on Charles Girault's Petit Palais, erected in Paris for the 1900 World's Fair. The plans called for a monumental central arched and apsed entry, ribbed dome with oculi surmounted by a lantern in the shape of Bramante's tempietto, and a rich program of sculpture. This design proved to be too exuberant for the Smithsonian staff and Senate Park Commission members. The functionalist aesthetic in the tradition of economy and practicality associated with the history of the earlier Smithsonian buildings came into play. A spartan Roman model was called for, “substantial and dignified,” with no “distracting architectural details.”22 The rationale was twofold: space for exhibitions and storage was of greater importance than architectural show, and no dome in the city should compete with that of the Capitol. As Hornblower and Marshall were unwilling to abandon their dome, Charles McKim, in his capacity as architectural adviser on the Senate Park Commission, produced the design for the Roman-inspired dome that was actually built.

The Natural History Museum was the first building to address consciously the problem of the natural slope of the Mall's terrain. As the Smithsonian Institution building stood about 50 feet higher than Pennsylvania Avenue, it was necessary to erect the Natural History building with north and south entrances on two different levels. It was also the first building on the Mall to conform to the siting criteria established by the Senate Park Commission, with its Corinthian portico centered on the porch of the Smithsonian 750 feet to the south and its main facade parallel to the newly established axis of the Mall and its east end canted 25 feet to the north.

Today there are six museums on the Mall (discounting James Smithson's original bequest), whose buildings and collections are gifts to the nation by individual Americans. The Detroit industrialist Charles L. Freer, a friend and business associate of Senator McMillan, was the first private donor. In 1906 he gave his pioneering collection of Chinese and Japanese art and American paintings of the Aesthetic period, along with the building and a million-dollar endowment, to the government to found the Freer Gallery. Freer himself selected the architect, Charles Adams Platt, in 1913 and determined the spatial development of the building. His preference for a style based on sixteenth-century English manor houses was vetoed, however, in favor of a classical style in conformity with the Senate Park Commission guidelines. Although Platt was given the commission in 1913, the selection of site did not take place until two years later. Neither private initiatives nor further expansion by the Smithsonian resumed for another two decades until the second great private benefactor, Andrew W. Mellon, undertook to create the National Gallery of Art.

The Senate Park Commissioners, however, turned their attention to the Mall upon completion of Union Station in 1907; their first priority had been to remove the Baltimore and Potomac train station and tracks from the Mall. The condition of the Mall west of the Washington Monument, an unkempt field of rubble, made it difficult for many people to envisage it as a grand urban space crowned by a great architectural monument. Opposition to memorializing Lincoln on this site delayed implementation of the entire Senate Park Commission Plan. In 1908–1909 Daniel Burnham prepared several circular designs for a Lincoln Memorial located between Union Station and the Capitol, but Congress reaffirmed the Mall site in 1909. A $2 million congressional appropriation establishing the Lincoln Memorial Commission in 1911 initiated an eleven-year process culminating in a masterwork of American architecture. Two architects, Henry Bacon and John Russell Pope, were asked by the commission (chaired by former President William Howard Taft) to prepare designs for the Mall and two other sites deemed physically and symbolically appropriate in relation to the major axes and monuments of the city. Meridian Hill, about a mile above the White House on 16th Street, and the Old Soldiers' Home, also on an eminence but north of the Capitol, were relatively undeveloped areas with commanding views to and from the city.

Lincoln Memorial and World War I temporary buildings on the Mall.

Of the various design solutions proposed by the two architects, three major ideas emerged, all incorporating a standing or seated figure of Lincoln. They all depended upon a columnar architectural framework that would be elevated above its surroundings. The largest and most impressive was a vast, circular double colonnade of Doric columns, which would be open to the sky and contain a seated figure of Lincoln. Pope proposed such a monument for the Old Soldiers' Home site, while Bacon planned a similar scheme for the Mall. A standing Lincoln before a Doric peristyle, rather than enclosed within an architectural space, was a second serious proposal. The third solution was a traditional classical temple with a cella to contain the statue; Pope suggested one for Meridian Hill based on the Athenian Parthenon. Henry Bacon's scheme for a variant on the enclosed temple for the Mall was selected by the Lincoln Memorial Commission on 3 July 1912. Bacon's design was closely allied to a design for a Lincoln Memorial proposed to the Senate Park Commission in 1901–1902 by Bacon's mentor, Charles Follen McKim. Each man designed a peripteral rectangle set perpendicular to the Mall's long axis.

With completion of the Lincoln Memorial in 1922, a major step had been taken toward the monumental development of central Washington. Gradually during the 1930s, buildings that had impeded development of the Mall were removed or relocated, principally the original Department of Agriculture building and the Botanic Garden. By 1937 four rows of trees on either side of the central parterres of the Mall had replaced most of the densely planted trees from Downing's original picturesque garden.

On 24 March 1937 President Franklin Roosevelt signed the congressional act that established the National Gallery of Art. Andrew W. Mellon had begun consciously collecting works of art to form the core of the National Gallery during his tenure as secretary of the treasury (1921–1932). His gift to the nation of this collection, as well as the building to house it, stimulated other major gifts, including those of Samuel Kress, Joseph E. Widener, Chester Dale, and Lessing J. Rosenwald. Suddenly the federal government became the guardian of an art collection of old masters that rivaled those of European museums.

Mellon selected John Russell Pope as his architect in 1936. Pope had previously designed major museum spaces in Europe as well as in America, including additions to the Tate Gallery and the British Museum in London, the Frick Museum in New York, and the Baltimore Museum of Art. His masterpiece was the National Gallery, the plans for which were slightly altered during his lifetime (the gigantic doors on the east and west ends were substituted for porticoes) and further modified after his death in August 1937, two months after ground breaking. Pope's partners of fifteen years, Otto R. Eggers and Daniel Higgins, completed the building in 1941. Pope had sketched the plan and external massing of the museum, as it was eventually built, during a single meeting with Mellon in February 1936; it was a compendium of his earlier Classical Revival museums and the summing up of nearly a half century of American museum designs.

A year after the founding of the National Gallery, Congress established the Smithsonian Gallery of Art Commission in 1938. Its purpose was to erect on the Mall a museum of contemporary art dedicated to living artists; it would be located across the Mall from Pope's building. Joseph Hudnut, dean of the Harvard School of Architecture and an avowed modernist, was selected to oversee the competition. For the jury, he chose Frederic A. Delano, chairman of the National Capital Park and Planning Commission and Franklin Roosevelt's uncle; John A. Holabird of the long-established Chicago firm of Holabird and Root; Walter Gropius, former director of the Bauhaus in Germany and then professor of architecture at Harvard; the Philadelphia architect George Howe; and Henry R. Shepley of the Boston firm of Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson, and Abbott. The ideological stance was balanced between modernists and traditionalists, with a slight edge given to the modernists.

The criteria outlined in the widely publicized competition program emphasized two aspects of the museum that predetermined a modern design. In direct reaction both to Mellon's National Gallery and to the recently established Museum of Modern Art in New York, it was to sponsor varied cultural activities rather than be a static repository for “great” works of art. This was translated into “maximum flexibility and freedom of extension,” a major planning tenet of modern architecture. The preliminary open competition announced in January 1939 drew 408 designs. In May, ten of the competitors were invited to develop their ideas more fully. The best-known architects of this group were Paul Philippe Cret, Edward Durell Stone, Hugh Stubbins, and the father-and-son team of Eliel and Eero Saarinen. The unanimous decision of the jury was for the simple, elegant building, modern in its asymmetrical balancing of horizontal and vertical masses, designed by the Saarinens in conjunction with Robert F. Swanson. The architectural press hailed the selection as the first step in updating Washington architecture, which was viewed pejoratively as the stronghold of conservatism. Opposition to the Saarinen design was powerful, led by the Commission of Fine Arts, which found the modernist vocabulary alien to the site and destructive of the ideals of the Senate Park Commission Plan. Without an equally powerful supporter in Washington and a strong constituency fighting for its survival, the project never gained congressional funding.

Numerous attempts to erect a memorial to Thomas Jefferson in Washington also were unsuccessful until the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Commission was established in 1934. Sponsored by New York Congressman John Boylan, the commission initially wanted to place the memorial at the apex of the Federal Triangle, then nearing completion. The site—where Constitution and Pennsylvania avenues converge—was appropriate because Jefferson had helped to draft the Constitution and because his early involvement in the design of the city had included a landscape plan for Pennsylvania Avenue. When art historian and architect Fiske Kimball, the leading Jefferson scholar and restorer of Monticello, was named to the commission, he insisted that a monument to Jefferson ought to be of the magnitude and importance of the monuments to the two other presidents. He favored the site in the Tidal Basin on axis with the White House, planned by the Senate Park Commission as the location for a major monument complex, of which the central focus had been a rotunda. Jefferson's idea that the replication in America of Roman architectural forms and details would promote Roman civic ideals among his countrymen, as well as his use of the Roman Pantheon as a prototype for the rotunda at the University of Virginia, influenced Kimball to promote this structure as the model for Jefferson's monument.

No competition was held; John Russell Pope was considered the only living American architect capable of providing a classical design of significant dignity, grandeur, and correctness. In the spring of 1936, he submitted three designs for four sites: a domed pantheon for either the Tidal Basin site or the termination of East Capitol Street on the banks of the Anacostia River; an open colonnade on the Mall opposite the National Archives; and a Doric temple in the middle of Lincoln Square, twelve blocks east of the Capitol. The pantheon scheme located at the Tidal Basin was favored, and during the following winter Pope clarified his thinking, presenting two alternatives, both located in a newly designed, formal Tidal Basin. Dredging of the Potomac in the 1880s and 1890s had created the irregularly shaped, low spit of land enclosing the Tidal Basin, where the first cherry trees were planted, a gift of the city of Tokyo in 1912. Pope's redesign of the pond into a rectilinear reflecting pool would have eliminated the trees, already a venerable part of Washington life.

Both of Pope's treatments of the pantheon called for a building one and a half times the size of the Lincoln Memorial to be elevated on a high podium. He favored a colonnaded rotunda with its portico facing the White House; a second design had porticoes facing the four cardinal directions. In mid-February 1937, the commission met with President Franklin Roosevelt, who had been closely involved with the project from the beginning. The president favored the single portico design; the Commission of Fine Arts gave its official approval, but the National Capital Park and Planning Commissioners withheld theirs. Opposition to the design came from many quarters: from those who deplored destruction of the cherry trees, from modernist architects who found the design hopelessly old fashioned (“Pope's arrogant insult to the memory of Thomas Jefferson,” according to Frank Lloyd Wright),23 and even from conservative architects who viewed it as a hackneyed design, particularly as Pope had just designed the National Gallery of Art on the Mall with a similar dome and portico. Despite Pope's death the project went forward, as his partner Otto Eggers had been largely responsible for drawing Pope's numerous ideas. A compromise struck in March 1938 cut the size of the building in half and left the landscaping of the Tidal Basin essentially intact.

During the two decades following completion of the Freer Gallery, the Smithsonian Institution had concentrated its energies on research and collection development. With the appointment in 1953 of Leonard Carmichael as the sixth secretary of the Smithsonian, a program of expansion (with seven new proposed buildings) and modernization of exhibits was undertaken. Carmichael's concern was to gain a wider audience and to display and explicate the institution's extraordinary range of objects more effectively. The National Museum of American History, founded as the National Museum of History and Technology in 1955, was established to correct an imbalance in display that had favored science over history, art, and technology. Its initial holdings were those collected by the National Institution for the Promotion of Science, which had been particularly interested in the fledgling industrial productions of the country. These were first displayed in the Patent Office because of its association with American inventiveness. The Cold War and the technology race of the 1950s provided the major impetus to display American superiority in matters of science and technology in a museum setting in Washington. Visiting consultants from the German Museum of Technology, however, advised against isolating industrial, technological, and scientific collections from those representative of wider concepts of cultural history.

The Smithsonian's establishment of the National Portrait Gallery and the National Collection of Fine Arts (now the National Museum of American Art) in the historic Patent Office building at a location off the Mall in 1968 proved to be the most significant stimulus to research and collection of American art in the country. Acceptance by the Smithsonian in 1966 of Joseph H. Hirshhorn's gift of his six-thousand-item personal collection of late nineteenth- and twentieth-century art stipulated that the museum bear Hirshhorn's name and be located on the Mall. Because Hirshhorn's collection was particularly rich in sculpture, it necessitated both a building and a sculpture garden. Initially the Hirshhorn Museum was to be located on the north side of the Mall along Constitution Avenue at 8th Street, against a high embankment on the Mall; it was also planned to keep the 8th Street axis open in conformity with the Senate Park Commission Plan. Hirshhorn objected; he agreed to the aboveground corresponding site along Independence Avenue. In conjunction with Secretary of the Smithsonian S. Dillon Ripley, Hirshhorn selected the architect Gordon Bunshaft. From the beginning, Bunshaft's response to the axis running south from the National Archives was to terminate it with a circular building. As modernist architectural theory and practice were unconcerned with maintaining contextual relationships with adjoining buildings, and as its nearest neighbor, the Arts and Industries Building, was itself such a strong architectural statement, Bunshaft's building deliberately turned inward.

The National Air and Space Museum had been visited by 100 million people within a decade of its opening on 1 July 1976. Its current exhibits are constantly updated, reflecting the most recent advances and adventures in a field where America has been a leader from the advent of modern air travel. A Smithsonian museum to celebrate this area of knowledge was particularly appropriate, as the institution's research arm has had direct involvement in American aeronautics since it began using balloons in 1857 to collect weather data. In 1946, Congress established the National Air Museum (“space” was added in 1966) as a bureau of the Smithsonian and authorized construction of a building to house it a dozen years later. However, $40 million in construction funds were not appropriated until 1972. During the six years between Gordon Bunshaft's design for the Hirshhorn Museum and Gyo Obata's for the Air and Space Museum, the antihistorical bias of modernist architecture began to break down. While Bunshaft designed his museum to be independent of the earlier classically derived museums on the Mall, Obata abstracted from them major principles that he applied to a thoroughly up-to-date structure.

When the National Gallery of Art began experiencing overcrowded conditions, particularly for its expanding scholarly programs and library and archival collections, its board planned a second building to the east of the existing museum. A large area was needed for offices, while the museum was to house expanding permanent collections and substantial temporary traveling exhibits, a particular phenomenon of modern museology. In 1953 the successor firm to John Russell Pope, Eggers and Higgins, had proposed a centralized building, a short rectangle with four shallow arms, placed at the west end of the trapezoidal site to avoid its narrow east end. In 1967 Pietro Belluschi was hired to advise on the best strategy for the future expansion. Two important requirements emerged: a tunnel connecting the buildings to maintain constant atmospheric conditions when moving works of art and a design that responded to the strong longitudinal axis of the Pope building. One possibility considered was to connect the two buildings by a skyway over 4th Street rather than by a tunnel. When I. M. Pei was commissioned in 1968 to design the East Building, however, he felt strongly that the original building should remain untouched.

In the tradition of the Senate Park Commission's 1901 trip to Europe, the museum's director, J. Carter Brown, took Pei on a tour of his favorite American and European museums. Brown's preference was for domestically scaled rooms where works of art are seen in settings on a scale for which they were created. Pei was charged with creating a series of such spaces in the East Building, although it was recognized that the monumental scale of the Mall had to be maintained in his overall design. From the outset Pei conceived the office block as being housed not in leftover spaces of the museum but in a building of its own. His solution to the difficult geometry of the site was to place two triangles beside one another and connect them with a third triangle at roof level. Zoning laws require that buildings facing Pennsylvania Avenue and the Mall be set back within their blocks so that the sense of a continuous urban wall broken only by intersecting cross streets is maintained. Within these confines, Pei designed the East Building complex with four distinct facades responding to external prospects and internal functions. The Mall facade of his original design was criticized for not presenting a properly monumental appearance for such an important aspect. Pei then replaced offices on the Mall side with a library reading room, creating a glass facade that is ambiguous in its relationship to the Mall. Its location, shape, and materials seem to imply entry, a logical but mistaken assumption. The resulting facade is more in keeping with its location overlooking the Mall. The East Building opened in 1978 to worldwide acclaim, unprecedented for any Mall structure. Primarily a gift to the nation of Ailsa Mellon Bruce and Paul Mellon, children of Andrew Mellon, the gallery's founder, it remains the finest work of monumental modern architecture in Washington.

Constitution Gardens, located on the north side of the Mall parallel to the reflecting pool, was a bicentennial project sponsored by the National Park Service. The garden replaced temporary office buildings erected during the First World War that were finally removed in the 1960s. Designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill as a picturesque interlude with a duck pond surrounding an island, with gently rolling and winding pathways and with a variety of shaded bowers, these gardens were intended to provide an intimate natural setting in contrast to the open, formal nature of much of the Mall. Although pleasant, this landscape is so obviously contrived in comparison to the apparently inevitable and compelling experience of the nearby Vietnam Veterans Memorial that it suffers by its close proximity.

The genesis of the most recent museum on the Mall, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the National Museum of African Art, was S. Dillon Ripley's wish as secretary of the Smithsonian (1964–1984) to build a center to foster international relations on a cultural, rather than political, level. Because the Freer Gallery's collections had expanded by tenfold and the African Art Museum had developed rapidly after it was acquired by the Smithsonian in 1979, larger exhibition and storage space was needed. A complex of buildings to house several new or expanding functions of the Smithsonian was designed in 1978–1979 by the Japanese architect Junzo Yoshimura. He proposed two pavilions located in the south forecourt of the Smithsonian Institution building to serve as entrances to the underground museums and an international center. The pavilion adjacent to the Freer Gallery was modeled on a Japanese house, and a low, vaulted structure reminiscent of African adobe construction to its east was to stand next to the Arts and Industries Building. In 1979 the Smithsonian chose the Boston architects Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson, and Abbott to carry out the project. The design underwent inevitable changes with a third element added, but the basic concept of underground museums with aboveground entrance pavilions set in a densely landscaped garden remained. When the complex opened to the public in 1987, it contributed an example of Postmodern architecture to the Mall, a style that consciously returns to pre-Modern historicism and often takes its design motifs from the immediate architectural context.

The announcement in 1980 of a competition for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial invited American artists to design a memorial that would be a “symbol for national unity and reconciliation after the controversy of the Vietnam War.” In the same year, Congress approved a 2-acre site on the north side of the Mall contiguous to the Lincoln Memorial. Conceived in 1979 by veteran Jan Scruggs after seeing the film The Deer Hunter, the memorial was sponsored by Vietnam veterans, who raised the money and administered the entire project. A jury composed of architects (Pietro Belluschi and Harry Weese), landscape architects (Grady Clay, Garrett Eckbo, and Hideo Sasaki), and sculptors (Richard H. Hunt, Constantino Nivola, and James Rosali) judged 1,421 designs, the largest competition in the history of American architecture. They awarded $20,000 to twenty-one-year-old Yale architecture student Maya Lin for her “simple and forthright” design, a V cut into the earth by two, 200-foot-long polished black granite walls set asymmetrically on the site, which pointed to the Washington Monument to the east and the Lincoln Memorial to the southwest. The wall was to be inscribed with the names of the 57,692 men and women who died in the war, a prerequisite set by the competition program. Lin said of her design:

The memorial is composed not as an unchanging monument, but as a moving composition to be understood as we move into and out of it; the passage itself is gradual, the descent to the origin slow, but it is at the origin that the meaningof this memorial is to be fully understood.… Walking into the grassy site contained by the walls of the memorial, we can barely make out the carved names upon the memorial walls. These names, seemingly infinite in number, convey the sense of overwhelming numbers, while unifying those individuals into a whole. For this memorial is meant not as a memorial to the individual, but rather to the men and women who died during the war, as a whole.24

Response to the design was immediate and divided: supporters were overwhelmed by its subtle beauty, while detractors, many of them veterans, found it impersonal and lacking an image with which they could identify. While private funding was being raised, inclusion of a sculpture group of three armed soldiers on patrol by Frederick E. Hart was considered. Placement of the sculpture, whether close to Lin's work or in a wooded area, was resolved in meetings of the veterans, the Commission of Fine Arts, the National Capital Planning Commission, and the National Park Service. Construction took place over a two-year period with Lin consulting with the Washington firm the Cooper-Lecky Partnership, the architects of record. Some alterations have been made: the walls had to be lengthened due to the incorrect official number of dead provided by the Pentagon; the approach and paved pathway were built to accommodate the large number of visitors (grass was intended to extend to the wall), and in-ground lights have been installed; all have marred the original design in small ways, but nothing has destroyed its essential quality. No one predicted the extraordinary response to the memorial. Its dedication on a cold, wet 11 November 1982 marked the beginning of pilgrimages by millions of Americans, many of whom have left memorabilia of their dead (all of which have been catalogued and preserved). The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is now the most visited of our national monuments. A measure of its power is that both “hawks” and “doves” believe the memorial expresses their view of the American involvement in Vietnam. As its sponsors intended, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial truly has contributed to an American catharsis. The visceral reaction it prompts demonstrates how architecture of exceptional quality fundamentally affects the human psyche.

The Washington Mall is a paradigm of American architecture in its extent, eclecticism, and constant flux. The scale of L'Enfant's public grounds inhibited their early development, but once begun they became the locus of an extraordinary sweep of activities. The Mall grew as the city itself expanded, filled with museums and monuments, and has now nearly reached its capacity. The variety of its landscapes and buildings is a direct expression of the great historical and cultural change characteristic of the modern era. Buildings whose antecedents range over time and the globe are a peculiarly American phenomenon, reflecting the scope of the country's population, drawn from around the world. The individual nature of each building, designed to respond to specific programmatic and symbolic functions of its own time, exists within a framework at once ordered and slightly incoherent. The Mall's glory is its variability and freedom of access at any point, a triumph of disciplined energy. Given the pragmatic nature of American public architecture, it is amazing that L'Enfant's original intention of the Mall as a “place of general resort” has been respected. In totality the Mall represents mythmaking on a gigantic scale, always evolving and changing as we constantly redefine ourselves.


Pierre Charles L'Enfant to George Washington, 22 June 1791, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division.


Pierre Charles L'Enfant to Commissioner of Public Buildings, 30 August 1800, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division.

Smithson's will outlining the bequest went into effect on his death on 27 June 1829. His nephew was the primary heir, but when he died, in 1835, Smithson's fortune passed to the U.S. government.

Robert Dale Owen, Hints on Public Architecture (New York: Putnam, 1849), p. 6.

Andrew Jackson Downing, "A Talk About Parks and Gardens," The Horticulturalist (October 1848); reprinted in Rural Essays (New York: G. P. Putnam, 1853), p. 192.

Downing's description, dated 3 March 1851, which accompanied his plan, is in the National Archives, RG42, Records of the Commissioners of Public Buildings and Grounds.

The statement was actually a paraphrase of Burnham's thinking made by San Fransisco architect Willis J. Polk.

Richard Rathbon, A Descriptive Account of the Building Recently Erected for the Departments of Natural History of the United States Nation Museum (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1913), p. 16.

Quoted by William B. Rhoads, "Franklin D. Roosevelt and Washington Architecture," Records of the Columbia Historical Society52 (1989): 148.

Lin's statement was an integral part of her design, preserved in the Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Writing Credits

Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee

If SAH Archipedia has been useful to you, please consider supporting it.

SAH Archipedia tells the story of the United States through its buildings, landscapes, and cities. This freely available resource empowers the public with authoritative knowledge that deepens their understanding and appreciation of the built environment. But the Society of Architectural Historians, which created SAH Archipedia with University of Virginia Press, needs your support to maintain the high-caliber research, writing, photography, cartography, editing, design, and programming that make SAH Archipedia a trusted online resource available to all who value the history of place, heritage tourism, and learning.