Posts in category history
Tom from Ghosts of DC found an 1886 Post article about a plan to put Rock Creek in a tunnel from about M Street to just north of R Street, fill in the ravine, and create city blocks between Georgetown and Dupont.
Proponents estimated it would create 50 "squares" (generally city blocks) of space, for a cost of about $600,000 to $650,000, or about $15-16 million in today's dollars.
By keeping Rock Creek, DC has not only a surface waterway but a number of park spaces on the banks, such as Rose Park. Unfortunately, a different plan ultimately greatly marred the creek: Rock Creek Parkway, which dominates this section of the creek valley.
At any spot, someone trying to enjoy the edge parks or trail has to contend with a large freeway creating most of the noise and taking up much of the ravine floor. National Park Service management practice in this part of Rock Creek prioritizes motor vehicle traffic over any other user. Features in the park, like signs that tell trail users to yield to cars when crossing the on- and off-ramps, further make clear that nature and recreation come last here.
Here is the map from the article:
Tom also has an excerpt from the story:
"From what I have seen in the papers," said Capt. Symonds, when asked by a POST reporter for his opinion regarding the cost and practicability of the proposed Rock Creek tunnel, "I should consider it a perfectly practicable and feasible scheme, and I should think that the benefits resulting would fully justify the outlay necessary."
"How long would be the tunnel?"
"From the location as described it would require a tunnel about 2,000 feet long with some open cut work at the ends."
"What would be the cost?"
"Its cost would depend largely on the nature of the rock encountered. It would probably be necessary to arch it over throughout its length and if the excavated rock were suitable in quality it could be used for this purpose. In this case I should estimate the cost of the tunnel, with a sufficient water-way for all floods, to be about $250 per lineal foot. This would make the 2,000 feet of tunnel cost $500,000. Another $100,000 would cover all the open work at the ends, and all engineering expenses, etc. If it was found necessary to use brick for arching the cost would be about $50,000 more. This would make the cost from $600,000 to $650,000, which I believe would cover all expenses for the work proper without including any question of right of way. The excavated material would be used for arching in the form of rubble masonry, not in the form of concrete. The bed of the creek could not be used for a dumping ground. It could not be filled up directly with the excavated material, for it would have to be kept open for the passage of water until the tunnel was completed.
"It is not at all improbably," continued Capt. Symonds, "that a sufficient amount of good material would be excavated to arch the creek over from the lower terminus of the tunnel to the outlet of the canal. In this way the improvement could be made more far-reaching and beneficial. The creek would be blotted out of sight from Lyons' Mill to the mouth of the canal. I should think that the best use for the excavated material, beyond that used for curbing the tunnel, would be in building embankments across the valley of the creek connecting the streets of Washington and Georgetown, thus doing away with bridges and uniting the two cities. The spaces between the embankments could gradually be filled in. If properly managed it would be a splendid improvement.
DC's art community was chagrined to see the Hirshhorn cancel plans to build an inflatable "bubble" to house seasonal events. This is a good time to ask, "what now?" The bubble would have been a striking sculptural statement, but is that what the National Mall should be?
Should the Mall be a singular urban space, defined by consistent neoclassical style, or an architectural sculpture garden for individual masterpiece buildings? Either vision could be great, but with no agreement on what the Mall should be, neither is happening.
The question is not really about artist preference for classical or modern styles. That's a distraction. Rather, the question is whether the focus of the National Mall should be its open public spaces, or its buildings.
If the focus is the public space, then that space is better defined by framing buildings that have a consistent character.
Many of the best urban public spaces in the world are "outdoor rooms," where a plaza or park is framed by surrounding buildings that act as "walls." The activity mostly takes place in the central space, but the buildings define the central space's character. The more consistent the surrounding buildings, the stronger that character.
On the other hand, if the focus is the individual buildings, then it's more interesting to have a wider variety of styles. No one wants to see an art gallery where every painting is the same, after all.
Historic plans envisioned the Mall as a singular space among neoclassical buildings, with the Capitol as major landmark. But that idea has given way in recent history to much more individualized buildings. Besides the Hirshhorn, there's the the National Museum of the American Indian and the under-construction National Museum of African-American History and Culture.
It would be nice to have a great public space and a variety of architecture, but unfortunately the two visions are mutually exclusive. Urban walls need consistency, and sculpture gardens need variety. The more we push in one direction, the worse the Mall will function as the other. So which is it?
Urbanistically, neither option is necessarily better than the other. The Mall is such a large space, with such large buildings, that the normal rules of Jane Jacobs urbanism don't generally apply. There will be few corner stores or sidewalk cafes no matter what, and no mixed use.
I like the American Indian museum, and I think I would have liked the Hirshhorn bubble. But I'm not sure I'd sacrifice the Mall's overall character for too many more standalone masterpieces. Either way, it would be nice to make a decision and then stick with it.
What do you think?
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
While some of us can't imagine living without Metro, at one point in time not all that long ago it was brand new. This 1976 promotional video, via PlanItMetro, shows the system's earliest days:
Some areas have drastically changed since Metro arrived, like Rhode Island Avenue, which was surrpunded by parking lots and is now the site of mixed-use, transit-oriented development.
The video also features 2-car trains, which seems unimaginable in our era of 6- to 8-car trains.
What do you notice?
Arlington Memorial Bridge opened in 1932, amidst the very depths of the Great Depression. It was a major event in Washington, which drew President Herbert Hoover, the first lady, and the vice president.
This vintage newsreel illustrates the excitement. The newsman is particularly enthusiastic that the bridge is wide enough for "4 cars to pass abreast."
By the way, did you know the bridge doesn't actually go to Arlington? Both sides are totally within the District of Columbia.
It's a common misconception that the boundary between DC and Virginia is the middle of the Potomac. But in fact, the entire river is part of the District. If you are standing on the Virginia shore and step one foot into the river, you have technically crossed into DC.
The Memorial Bridge technically connects mainland DC and Columbia Island. The island is best known for the traffic circle on the far side of the bridge, often-confusing ramps on and off the George Washington Parkway, unsafe pedestrian/bicycle crossings, and Park Police who yell at drivers when they stop for pedestrians.
Since Columbia Island is fully within DC, so is the Memorial Bridge. The actual Virginia boundary is along the much-shorter Esplanade Bridge, between Columbia Island and the Virginia mainland. This also means the GW Parkway and Mount Vernon Trail are partially within DC, since they run through Columbia Island.
Periodic protest organizer Adam Kokesh might benefit from consulting this map. He's trying to lead a July 4th march with guns on DC, but since DC prohibits carrying guns around, including loaded ones, he's now planning to march on the Memorial Bridge up to the District line and meet police there. He might have a hard time, since the District line doesn't cross the Memorial Bridge.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
DC's 1941 master plan is available through the Library of Congress. Published just months before Pearl Harbor, the plan is a fascinating look at the future pre-war planners envisioned.
The National Mall extends eastward to the bank of the Anacostia and dominates the plan. "Semi-public buildings," parking garages, and much more highway-like Constitution and Independence Avenues line the new Mall. On the other hand, Southwest retains its historic street grid, and isn't cut off by I-395.
What else jumps out?
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.page/1
A proposed skyscraper in Tysons Corner will be 435 feet tall, making it the tallest in the DC region, and first to breach the 400 foot threshold. The building is proposed as part of the SAIC redevelopment, adjacent to the Silver Line's Greensboro Metro station.
Traditionally, the tallest skyscrapers in the region have been in Rosslyn. But Rosslyn is in the flight path to National Airport, so buildings there can't rise higher than 400 feet. A bevy of development projects in Rosslyn, Alexandria, Tysons, and North Bethesda are in the 300-400 foot range, but this is the first serious proposal to crack 400 feet.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Prince George's County and Maryland have decided to throw their weight behind putting the FBI at the Greenbelt Metro station, but developer Walton North America hasn't given up lobbying for it to go at the 479-acre, non-transit-oriented Westphalia development out past Joint Base Andrews.
We received an email from the PR firm Edelman about a new website they are launching on behalf of Walton. The site, called "A Welcome Home for the FBI," argues that "Westphalia Town Center would provide a secure, state-of-the-art campus for the FBI within a vibrant community where FBI employees and their families can live, work and play," and that "Westphalia Town Center would be a win-win-win for FBI employees and their families, as well as Prince George's County residents and businesses."
There's even a map, captioned, "Westphalia Town Center provides many convenient transportation options." Does it, now?
While Westphalia is located next to the Capital Beltway and Pennsylvania Avenue and adjacent to Joint Base Andrews, it's not on or near a Metro line, MARC train, or the planned Purple Line. I've placed a star around potential spots for the FBI that are on Metro: Greenbelt, Franconia-Springfield (Fairfax's proposal), and two suggestions from Greater Greater Washington contributors, Morgan Boulevard and Suitland.
(This map actually shows Metro in entirely the wrong place. Notice how the Orange and Blue Lines appear under the Potomac around where Smithsonian station would be. The Red Line crosses into Maryland east of DC's the northern point, not west. This map doesn't show the Blue Line out to the Beltway at all, and the southern Green Line actually runs along Suitland Parkway.
It clearly looks as though this map originally had no Metro at all, and the designers hastily slapped the Metro lines on without sizing and positioning them right. Perhaps this illustrates how much Westphalia really thinks about transit.)
Walton is so eager for the FBI that they recently offered to fund a bus line to Branch Avenue Metro. Unfortunately, a bus is unlikely to draw nearly the percentage of FBI workers that a Metro site would. The county has explored ways to extend the Green Line to Westphalia, but no serious planning has been done for it and nobody, including Walton, has any idea of how to pay for it.
As a greenfield, largely undeveloped site, Westphalia will require lots of new, expensive infrastructure whose long-term costs will get pushed onto the public. That spending will ultimately weaken pressure to build in existing communities where there's already underused transportation infrastructure, at the Metro stations. Those communities, however, don't have PR firms to push the government to put jobs there.
Putting the FBI in Prince George's County is the right move. The east side of the region has not gotten its share of federal or private jobs, forcing people to travel long distances from east to west. The FBI wants a large security fortress, which is incompatible with potential locations in central DC.
An site that is short walk from one of Prince George's 15 Metro stations, however, could house a large high-security complex and also catalyze walkable transit-oriented development closer to the station. This would maximize the value we get from our existing regional transportation network. With so many available Metro-accessible sites in Prince George's, Westphalia is not a good spot for the FBI.page/1
Ghosts of DC found a great map from the Library of Congress archives. It shows the property values of each block in DC in 1879.
Matt Yglesias noticed and pointed out that it shows a time when Logan and Shaw were more expensive than Georgetown.
Actually, the blocks around Logan and the Shaw blocks to the east don't appear to have that much more of an concentration of darker blocks than Georgetown. But it is true that this map likely captures the moment when Georgetown slowly started to slip behind the rest of the city in terms of economic status.
This is a fact that many are familiar with. Starting in the late 19th century Georgetown became somewhat of an Irish and African-American slum (although sometimes this is a bit overstated). It's reputation grew as a rougher part of town through the early 20th century. In the 1930s, Georgetown became one of the first "gentrified" neighborhoods in DC when New Dealers swooped in and bought up the old houses. The rest is history.
While the early 20th century brought poverty to Georgetown, in 1879 it wasn't necessarily clear that that was the future. Georgetown had only just been an independent city eight years prior (actually it was briefly known as "West Washington" at this point). And the governor of DC (during its brief territorial status) Henry Cooke thought it wise to construct his grand Cooke's Row of Second Empire mansions in 1868.
Perhaps it was the Panic of 1879 (which hit Cooke personally due to his widespread real estate speculation) that started Georgetown's decline, but it is more likely the rise of the railroad and the related decline of the canal.
But looking at the map you can see that the biggest concentration of expensive real estate at this point was what is now considered downtown (and probably remains the most expensive land in DC). Soon after this map was created, the Kalorama neighborhood was created and attracted the wealthy. By the 1890s, Georgetowners worried about getting cut off from the happening parts of DC and lobbied to have the Dumbarton Bridge built.
If you were to draft this map again in the 1920s, the differences would be starker. With robber barons building gilded age palaces on Massachusetts Ave. Georgetown found itself on the wrong side of the creek.
One final note: As I said, the slum status of Georgetown in the 20th century is sometimes overstated. There were pockets of deep poverty, including the "Holy Hill" Irish neighborhood in west Georgetown, the "Herring Hill" African American neighborhood on the east side, and scattered decrepit alley dwellings in lower Georgetown.
But the grand estates of Georgetown were still around. Tudor Place, Evermay, Dumbarton Oaks, and Halcyon (not to mention scores of lesser grand homes) all coexisted with the slummier sections of Georgetown.
Of course even today, we have people living in structures built for animals right next to luxurious houses. But they paid millions of dollars for the privilege.
Cross-posted at the Georgetown Metropolitan.
"Please empty your pockets and put all of your electronic devices on the bin," DC Library Police officers used to tell every patron entering the revolving doors of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. The days of passing through a metal detector at the city's central library are long gone.
Under the tenure of Chief Librarian Ginnie Cooper, the library has modernized the 1st floor's Great Hall (originally Peterson Hall) and is creating a "Digital Commons Technology Space."
The library police also have a new perch that resembles a judge's bench. The desk follows the same 1970's style as the original circulation desk, just around the corner.
"Welcome to MLK Library. May I help you?" is now the refrain greeting patrons at the library.
How time flies.
- Metro bag searches aren't always optional
- Young kids try to assault me while biking
- Focus transportation on downtown or neighborhoods?
- Redeveloping McMillan is the only way to save it
- Endless zoning update delay hurts homeowners
- DDOT agrees to repave 15th Street cycle track
- Vienna Metro town center won't have a town center