|Topic of the Month: D.C. Design for Memorial Day |
|Situated on the banks of the Potomac River, Washington, D.C. was founded on July 16, 1790 as the capital of the United States. The city was planned and developed in the late 18th century to serve as the permanent national capital. The National Mall is a large, open park area in the center of the city that features many war memorials and monuments to American leaders. |
The Mall is significant as the central axis of the District's monumental core as designed by Pierre Charles L'Enfant, a French-born American architect who studied at the Royal Academy in the Louvre before enrolling to fight in the American Revolution. In 1777, L'Enfant moved to the American colonies and became a military engineer with Major General Lafayette in the Continental Army. After the war, L'Enfant established a successful civil engineering firm in New York City and achieved some fame as an architect by redesigning City Hall in New York for the First Congress in Federal Hall.
In 1791, President George Washington appointed L'Enfant to design a new federal capital city under the supervision of three commissioners, appointed by Washington to oversee the planning and development of the ten-mile square of federal territory that would later become the District of Columbia. L'Enfant's plan for The Mall was for it to be the foremost avenue of the city, or the "Grand Avenue." It was to run west from the Capitol to a point directly south of the President's House where there would be an equestrian statue of George Washington. L'Enfant planned for the Mall to be "four hundred feet in breadth, and about a mile in length, bordered by gardens, ending in a slope from the houses on each side."
L'Enfant presented his plan to George Washington in August of 1791 and secured the lease of quarries at Wigginton Island and along Aquia Creek in Virginia to supply stone for the foundations of the Capitol. He insisted that his city design be realized as a whole, which brought L'Enfant into conflict with the District commissioners who wanted to direct the limited funds available into construction of the federal buildings. In this, they had the support of Thomas Jefferson. L'Enfant was dismissed from the project in March 1792, before he was able to find a publisher for his plan. However, George Washington retained a copy of one of L'Enfant's original plans, which is now in the possession of the U.S. Library of Congress. The last line in an oval in the upper left hand corner of the plan identifies the plan's author as "Peter Charles L'Enfant", as does the United States Code.
Following L'Enfant's dismissal, the commissioners placed the planning for the capital city in the hands of the surveyors, Andrew and Joseph Ellicott, who had earlier conducted the original boundary survey of the future District of Columbia. Andrew Ellicott then revised L'Enfant's plan and, unlike L'Enfant, succeeded in having his own version of the plan engraved, published, and distributed. Ellicott's revision subsequently became the basis for the capital city's development.
L'Enfant was not paid for his work and fell into disgrace, spending much of the rest of his life trying to persuade Congress to pay what he felt he was owed. In 1812 he was offered a position as Professor of Engineering at West Point, an offer which he declined. L'Enfant died in poverty and was buried at the farm of a friend in Prince George's County, Maryland.
During the course of the 19th century, L'Enfant's formal design for the Mall was largely forgotten, but in 1901 the McMillan Commission used L'Enfant's plan as the cornerstone of its 1902 report, which laid out a plan for a sweeping National Mall. At the instigation of the French ambassador, Jean Jules Jusserand, L'Enfant's adopted nation finally recognized his contributions. Their plan called for the restoration, development, and supplementation of the "Grand Avenue" ideal proposed by L'Enfant. The core of the Mall was to be a broad grass carpet, typical of those in Europe, 300' in breath and running the entire length of the Mall grounds, bordered on each side by four rows of American elm trees. Public buildings were to border the whole, separated from the elms by narrow roadways.
In 1909, after a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, L'Enfant's remains were reinterred in Arlington National Cemetery, on a hill overlooking the city that he had partially designed. In 1911 he was honored with a monument placed on top of his grave. Engraved on the monument is a portion of L'Enfant's own plan, which Andrew Ellicott's revision had superseded.
The First Building on The Mall
Built from 1847-55, The Smithsonian or "Castle" Building is the earliest building on the Mall and was designed by James Renwick. Alterations to the design were made by Adolph Cluss after a fire in 1865. The Gothic Revival 'Castle' building was built of local Seneca sandstone. It was named for James Smithson, an Englishman who willed his entire fortune to the U.S. in order to found "an establishment for the increase and diffusion of Knowledge among men."
Born November 11, 1818 in Bloomingdale, New York, James Renwick, Jr. was an American architect who The Encyclopedia of American Architecture calls "one of the most successful American architects of his time." Not formally trained as an architect, Renwick's ability and interest in building design were nurtured through his cultivated background which granted him early exposure to travel and a broad cultural education that included architectural history. At the young age of 12, he studied engineering at Columbia and graduated in 1836, receiving an M.A. three years later. Renwick then took a position as a structural engineer with the Erie Railroad and subsequently served as supervisor on the Croton Reservoir, acting as an assistant engineer on the Croton Aqueduct in New York City. In 1843, he received his first major commission at the age of twenty-five, when he won the competition to design Grace Church, an Episcopal church in New York City, which was executed in the English Gothic style. In 1846 Renwick won the competition for the design of the Smithsonian Institution building in Washington, DC. The many-turreted building is generally referred to as 'the Castle', and was designed in the Romanesque style, as requested by the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian. It was built of red sandstone quarried in Seneca, Maryland and was a major influence in the Gothic revival in the United States.
The National War Memorials of Washington, D.C.
The First Division Monument
Located in President's Park at the corner of 17th Street and State Place, NW, the First Division Monument was conceived by the Society of the First Division to commemorate the lives of members of the division who died during World War I. On October 4, 1924, the stately column surmounted by an allegorical statue of Victory was dedicated, and was the first memorial built in Washington, D.C.. Cass Gilbert was the architect of the original memorial, and Daniel Chester French was the sculptor of the Victory statue. Later additions to the monument commemorate the lives of First Division soldiers who fought in subsequent wars. The World War II addition on the west side was dedicated in 1957, and was designed by Gilbert's son, Cass Gilbert Jr. The Vietnam War addition on the east side was dedicated in 1977, and the Desert Storm plaque in 1995. Both the Vietnam War addition and the Desert Storm Plaque were designed by the firm of Harbeson, Hough, Livingston, and Larson of Philadelphia, PA. Congressional approval was obtained to erect the First Division Monument and its later additions on federal ground.
World War II Memorial
The National World War II Memorial commemorates the sacrifice and celebrates the victory of the WWII generation and honors the 16 million who served in the armed forces of the U.S., the more than 400,000 who died, and all who supported the war effort from home. Symbolic of the defining event of the 20th Century, the memorial is a monument to the spirit, sacrifice, and commitment of the American people. The Second World War is the only 20th Century event commemorated on the National Mall's central axis. Friedrich St. Florian's winning design balances classical and modernist styles of architecture. The World War II Memorial opened to the public on April 29, 2004 and was dedicated one month later on May 29. It is located on 17th Street, between Constitution and Independence Avenues, and is flanked by the Washington Monument to the east and the Lincoln Memorial to the west.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial honors members of the U.S. armed forces who fought in the Vietnam War and who died in service or are still unaccounted for. Its construction and related issues have been the source of numerous controversies, some of which have resulted in additions to the memorial complex. The designer, Maya Lin, felt that "the politics had eclipsed the veterans, their service and their lives." She kept the design elegantly simple to "allow everyone to respond and remember." Some groups criticised the memorial because of its non-traditional design, but Lin successfully defended her design in front of the United States Congress. Eventually a compromise was reached and a bronze statue of a group of soldiers was placed off to one side of the monument. The memorial currently consists of three separate parts: the Three Soldiers statue, the Vietnam Women's Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, which is the most recognized part of the memorial. The black cut-stone masonry wall, with the names of fallen soldiers carved into its face as requested by the families of the casualties, officially opened to the public on November 13, 1982. The memorial is located in Constitution Gardens adjacent to the National Mall, just northeast of the Lincoln Memorial. The memorial is maintained by the U.S. National Park Service and receives approximately 3 million visitors a year. The typesetting on the Memorial Wall was performed by Datalantic in Atlanta, Georgia. In 2007, it was ranked tenth on the List of America's Favorite Architecture by the American Institute of Architects.
Korean War Veterans Memorial
Shortly after the completion of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, talk began to create a memorial honoring Korean War veterans. The Korean War Veterans Memorial was authorized by Public Law 99-572 on Oct. 28, 1986, "to honor members of the United States Armed Forces who served in the Korean War, particularly those who were killed in action, are still missing inaction, or were held as prisoners of war." President Ronald Reagan appointed the Korean War Veterans Memorial Advisory Board, and in September of 1988 the commission met and approved a site for the memorial. The chosen location is adjacent to the Lincoln Memorial directly across the reflecting pool from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The winning design was submitted by a team of architects from State College, PA and was shown to the Fine Arts Commission (FAC) in July of 1989. The FAC felt there was a need to study the design in more detail, so the architectural firm Cooper - Lechy Associates was hired to deal with their concerns. A revised design was shown to the FAC in December of 1990 eventually received full approval. The memorial consists of a Mural Wall and nineteen stainless steel statues which were sculpted by Frank Gaylord of Barre, VT and cast by Tallix Foundries of Beacon, NY. They are approximately 7'3" tall, heroic scale and consist of 14 Army, 3 Marines, 1 Navy, 1 Air Force. The Mural Wall was designed by Louis Nelson of New York, NY, and was fabricated by Cold Spring Granite Company in Cold Spring, MN. The wall consists of 41 panels extending 164 feet. Over 15,000 photographs of the Korean War were obtained from the National Archives to create the mural. The reflective quality of the Academy Black Granite creates the image of a total 38 statues, symbolic of the 38th Parallel and the 38 months of the war. The memorial was dedicated on July 27, 1995 by American President Bill Clinton and South Korean President Kim Young Sam
The United States Marine Corps War Memorial
Also known as The Iwo Jima Memorial, the U. S. Marine Corps War Memorial is located in Arlington, VA across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. and honors the Marines who have died defending the United States since 1775. The statue depicts 32-foot-high figures erecting a 60-foot bronze flagpole from which a cloth flag flies 24 hours a day. They occupy the same positions as in the Pulitzer Prize winning photograph taken by news photographer Joe Rosenthal in 1945 when the 4th and 5th Marine Divisions invaded Iwo Jima and raised an American flag on top of Mount Suribachi. The memorial was designed by Horace W. Peaslee. Once the statue was completed in plaster, it was carefully disassembled and trucked to Brooklyn, NY, for casting in bronze. The casting process took nearly 3 years. After the parts had been cast, cleaned, finished, and chased, they were reassembled into approximately a dozen pieces and brought back to Washington, DC. The base of the memorial is made of rough Swedish granite. Burnished in gold on the granite are the names and dates of every principal Marine Corps engagement since the founding of the Corps, as well as the inscription: "In honor and in memory of the men of the United States Marine Corps who have given their lives to their country since November 10, 1775." Also inscribed on the base is the tribute of Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz to the fighting men on Iwo Jima: "Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue." The memorial was officially dedicated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on November 10, 1954, the 179th anniversary of the U.S. Marine Corps.
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