The Washington you see
today had its birth two centuries ago in a rational yet visionary design
unprecedented in its scale Pierre Charles L'Enfant's plan for the city
and its core mall area was influenced by urban planning then current
in Europe and neoclassical landscape design exemplified by Versailles.
Brilliantly adapting those ideas to Washington's terrain, L'Enfant placed
the Capitol on Jenkins Hill and the "President's House" on
a lower terrace then overlooking the Potomac River. Between them ran
Pennsylvania Avenue, to symbolize the connection between the branches
of government. The spirit of that plan lives in the city still.
result of a compromise between northern and southern interests, the
Residency Act authorizes President Washington to choose a site for the
capital on the Potomac River. Andrew Ellicott, aided by Benjamin Banneker,
surreys a ten-mile square encompassing parts of Maryland and Virginia.
The core of L'Enfant's 1791 plan is the triangle created by the Capitol,
the White House, and the Mall. The plan calls for grand avenues radiating
from a number of plazas. The cornerstone for the White House is laid
October 13, 1792; it is the oldest federal structure in Washington.
Senate chamber of the Capitol, designed by Dr. William Thornton, is
completed and Congress moves from Philadelphia to Washington. The House
chamber is completed in 1807, with a covered walkway between the buildings.
President John Adams and Abigail Adams move into the just-completed
President's House in 1800.
begins on converting Tiber Creek into L'Enfont's planned canal. It follows
what is now Constitution Avenue, then turns in front of the Capitol.
the British burn the Capitol during the War of 1812, Benjamin Latrobe
begins rebuilding. William Bulfinch completes the restoration by 1829,
sheathing in copper the dome designed by William Thornton.
Mills' winning design for a monument to George Washington calls for
a great obelisk with a colonnaded base. His Treasury building, begun
the same year, obstructs the line-of-sight L'Enfant had wanted between
the Capitol and White House.
of the District of Columbia that had been annexed from Virginia is ceded
back to the state.
of the Washington Monument begins. Because of sandy soil where L'Enfant
had specified a monument, it is not built at the exact intersection
of the axes. Work on the monument ceases in 1854 after the anti-foreign
Know-Nothing party seizes the monument to protest the contribution of
a memorial stone by Pope Pius IX. Rising sectionalism prevents the resumption
architect Andrew Jackson Downing submits a plan for a "national
park" on the mall, calling for a series of natural gardens. Only
his plan for the Smithsonian gardens is adopted, although his influence
is felt in the Department of Agriculture's garden and other parts of
the Mall. Downing's curving paths and varied foliage are quite different
from L'Enfant's rational, geometric plan with a "Grand Avenue"
lined with imposing residences, although L'Enfant's well-defined axes
Civil War Washington is transformed from a quiet town into a thriving
wartime capital with a booming population. In the decades after the
war the city's continuing vitality is evident in ambitious projects
that bring new life to the Mall area.
Canal is filled in. The Baltimore & Potomac Railroad builds a station
on the Mall where the canal had run between 6th and 7th streets and
lays tracks across the Mall. The National Gallery stands at the site
station, which was demolished in 1907 when Union Station was completed.
Law Olmsted's landscape plan for the Capitol calls for terraces that
enhance the building's setting on Capitol Hill.
Work is resumed
on the Washington Monument. It is dedicated in 1885.
from the Washington Monument to today's Potomac shoreline are reclaimed
to form what is now East and West Potomac Parks.
Park Commission-the "McMillan Commission"-proposes a reflecting
pool west of the Washington Monument, a memorial to Lincoln, another
major memorial south of the Washington Monument, a bridge between the
Lincoln Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery, government buildings
in the area between Pennsylvania Avenue and the Mall (the "Federal
Triangle"), and restoration of the open, geometric quality L'Enfant
had wanted for the Mall.
borrowed quarters for 143 years, the Supreme Court finally moves to
its own building.
World War II temporary structures are removed to make room for Constitution
Gardens, completed in time for the Bicentennial.
Capital Planning Commission recommends developing North and South Capitol
streets, removing railroad tracks and a freeway that divide the city,
reinforcing the connection between the Capitol and the Anacostia River,
improving the Anacostia waterfront, and linking waterfront areas from
Georgetown to the National Arboretum.
Citizen Information Center of the U.S. General Services Administration.