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District of Columbia: Creation of
World War II Memorial

Read the latest on this case
Agency: National Park Service

Criteria for Council Involvement:

  • This undertaking poses serious and unresolved adverse effects to the historic character of the National Mall, a historic property of unique importance to the Nation (Criterion 1).

  • The project raises important procedural questions regarding Section 106 review for projects under the Commemorative Works Act (Criterion 2).

  • There is considerable public concern, increasingly national in scope, about the potential effects of the proposed undertaking (Criterion 3).

Recent Developments

On July 25, 2000, the Council notified Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt that further consultation on the proposed construction of a World War II memorial on the National Mall would not be productive and that formal comments on the project would be provided for his consideration.

After giving consideration to a proposed Memorandum of Agreement from the National Park Service (NPS), the Council terminated further consultation in light of the high level of public interest, the exceptional values at stake, and the short time remaining in the project schedule for NPS to complete review under both Section 106 and the Commemorative Works Act. To prepare the Councilís comments, Chairman Slater appointed a panel consisting of herself, Vice Chairman Stephen Hand, Bruce Judd, FAIA, and Paul Fiddick representing the Secretary of Agriculture.

The public presented their views to the panel at an August 28 public hearing. On September 5, the Council panel issued its final comments to Secretary Babbitt.

While stressing its strong support for a long overdue memorial to those who served in the Armed Forces during World War II, the Council notified Secretary Babbitt that the project would result in serious and unresolved adverse effects to the National Mall. The Council noted that the memorialís overall scale and complexity would create a tension with the Mallís transcendent symbolic significance and fundamental simplicity.

World War II Memorial model

Model of the proposed World War II memorial

In particular, the proposed screen of 56 ornamented pillars would violate the Mallís open feeling and intrude upon its uncluttered historic vistas. Also, dusk and night views on the Mall would be altered by the current lighting plan, which would serve to further magnify the memorial as a newly introduced element. Finally, the sculptural element under consideration for the reconstructed Rainbow Pool has the potential to significantly alter the premier axial vista along the Mall.

In its comments, the Council also expressed its concerns about coordination of the Section 106 review process with the siting and design procedure NPS followed under the Commemorative Works Act and the limited involvement of the public during development of the memorial proposal.

Secretary Babbitt acknowledged the Councilís comments on September 13, and forwarded a memorandum from NPS supporting the project as proposed. On September 21, a key review hurdle for the project was met when the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) issued its approval of the final design.

In response, on October 2, opponents of the project filed suit in U.S. District Court against several Federal agencies and commissions involved in the review and approval of the memorial. The suit seeks to stop NPS from issuing a construction permit for the project. A final decision on the construction permit has not yet been made by the Secretary of the Interior, but ceremonial groundbreaking for the project has been scheduled for Veteranís Day.


In conjunction with the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC), NPS is proposing construction of a long-awaited World War II memorial on the National Mall. The memorialís cost of more than $100 million is being privately raised. As proposed, the memorial consists of a lowered plaza enclosed by parapet walls framed by 56 stone pillars and two memorial arches.

The proposed location is on the east-west axis of the National Mall between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial at the site of the Rainbow Pool. According to a 1998 NPS study, the area is considered one of the most culturally significant civic landscapes of the 20th century. The site, chosen for its prominence, was dedicated by President Clinton in 1995 on Veteranís Day.

Although its boundaries are defined variously by different authorities, the National Mall is generally known to the American public as the long east-west greensward from the Capitol to the Washington Monument and extending to the Lincoln Memorial and its grounds, including the Rainbow and Reflecting Pools.

The ceremonial heart of Washington and the site of both public protest and celebration, it has come to symbolize the American ideals of democracy. This significant commemorative landscape is a part of the East and West Potomac Parks Historic District, a National Register property.

At the Councilís June 1998 business meeting, members heard a presentation by NPS and ABMC on a design concept for the memorial. While avoiding the inappropriate scale of a previous design that had been rejected by the Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) and NCPC, the revised concept still entailed the demolition and partial reconstruction of the Rainbow Pool; alteration of portions of the landscape as designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., and others associated with the McMillan Commission; introduction of a new service roadway south of the memorial; and construction of a bus pull-off on Constitution Avenue.

Chairman Slater appointed Council members Arthur Q. Davis, FAIA, and Bruce Judd, FAIA, to a working group to monitor project developments. Although NPS briefed the working group when the next version of the design became available for review, that version was ultimately revised in accordance with further comments from CFA and NCPC. The revised design for the memorial was submitted for Council review in late June 2000.

Policy Highlights

The proposed World War II memorial is a case study of the shortcomings of current procedures implementing the Commemorative Works Act of 1984. In particular, the Councilís involvement in review of the memorial occurred only after a number of important actions were taken, including site selection, establishment of design criteria, and selection of an architect and design concept through a design competition. Meaningful consideration of alternatives in the Section 106 process was limited.

Key concepts relating to the nature of National Register significance for cultural landscapes, as well as the Councilís unique consultative approach to problem solving, were eclipsed by conflicting terminology and procedures contained in the 1984 Act.

A bill to revise the Commemorative Works Act, including provisions that would keep the central swath of the National Mall free of future memorials, has been introduced in Congress. The Council has offered to work with NPS, NCPC, and CFA to improve integration of Section 106 review into the memorial development process.

Staff contact: Martha Catlin

April 1999 report on this case

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