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Lafayette Square

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In L'Enfant's original plan, the President's Palace projected into a large square open on three sides, a hub for seven major radiating streets. An irregular Ushape, this square was modeled on Roman and Parisian examples rather than on an enclosed park. As L'Enfant designed 16th Street to be the same breadth as the diagonal avenues, it was intended that great prominence be given to the President's House by creating reciprocal views to and from numerous vantage points. The shape of the park was not firmly established until 1824, when Pennsylvania Avenue separated the president's grounds from Lafayette Park, named in honor of the French hero's American tour of 1824–1825. In the early 1830s Robert Mills suggested enlarging the executive department offices by covering the entire park with a single, vast building. Although the design was praised by Thomas U. Walter, local residents opposed it. In 1851, as part of Andrew Jackson Downing's design for the public grounds, Lafayette Square was landscaped in a picturesque manner. Clark Mills's equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson was dedicated on 8 January 1853, a cast-iron fence (perhaps designed by Robert Mills) was erected, and gaslights were installed.

Four groups of statuary were erected in Lafayette Park between 1891 and 1910. Reflecting Beaux-Arts ideals of public sculpture linking America with its European origins, all were dedicated to foreign heroes who fought in the American Revolution. Paul Pujol was the architect of the base for J. N. J. Falguière and Antonin Mercié's Lafayette (1891) in the southeast corner. The architects are unknown for Antoni Popiel's Kosciuszko (1910) in the northeast corner and J. J. Fernand Hamer's Rochambeau (1902) in the southwest corner. Thomas J. Johnson, with Cass Gilbert consulting, was the architect for Albert Jaeger's von Steuben (1910) in the northwest corner. The present landscape plan dates from the 1930s.

Private development around Lafayette Square was slow but produced some significant architectural works from an early date, principally Benjamin Henry Latrobe's Stephen Decatur House (see WH08) and Saint John's Church ( WH10). Although other early nineteenth-century private residences on the east and west sides of the square were inhabited by a succession of important public figures, none was of the architectural quality of Latrobe's work. All the buildings on the square were endangered when Daniel Burnham and Charles Follen McKim proposed in 1902 that they be replaced by monumental executive department office buildings. Some of the early residential architecture was destroyed when, in 1917–1918, Cass Gilbert partially succeeded in an effort to carry the 1902 proposal into effect and when later private initiatives were effected. Two of the most unfortunate losses to Washington's architecture were houses that once overlooked Lafayette Square. James Renwick, Jr.'s, elaborate Second Empire William W. Corcoran residence was at 1611 H Street (1854, demolished 1922), and H. H. Richardson's magnificent double corner house for friends and former Harvard classmates John Jay and Henry Adams (1884, demolished 1927) was at 1603 H Street and 800 16th Street. Additional prominent works of architecture in the neighborhood that have been destroyed include Richardson's Nicholas Anderson House (1882, demolished 1925) at 1530 K Street and John Russell Pope's John R. McLean House (1907, demolished 1939) at 1500 I Street. Jackson Place and Madison Place, the two north-south streets enclosing Lafayette Square, were extensively restored during the 1960s when John Carl Warnecke's New Executive Office Building and Court of Claims Building were erected.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee

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