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Home arrow Working with Section 106 arrow ACHP Case Digest arrow Spring 2003 arrow District of Columbia: Redesign of Pennsylvania Ave. at the White House
District of Columbia: Redesign of Pennsylvania Avenue at the White House

Agencies: Federal Highway Administration, National Park Service, and National Capital Planning Commission

Since its closure to traffic after the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing in 1995, “America’s Main Street”—the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue outside of the White House—has suffered makeshift security barriers and other diminution of its historic character.

Recently, a concept for a landscaped civic space was selected for the historic avenue at the White House after security assessments called for the street’s continued closure. The plan calls for a pedestrian promenade that can be reversed should Pennsylvania Avenue be considered safe to reopen to vehicular traffic in the future.

The ACHP and other consulting parties to the plan will weigh in on the specifics of the design and its potential effects on the large number of surrounding historic properties.

Security concerns following the Oklahoma City Federal building bombing eight years ago prompted a number of temporary protective measures around important national icons in Washington, DC. Among these was the closure of Pennsylvania Avenue to vehicular traffic outside of the White House.

ACHP members walking on Pennsylvania Avenue outside of the White House


ACHP members see firsthand the temporary security measures on Pennsylvania Avenue outside of the White House, Washington, DC (staff photo)



A plan to replace the avenue’s makeshift security barriers with “a safe and beautiful civic space” is now in the works, however. Last year, the ACHP participated in the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) Interagency Security Task Force of city and Federal agencies, which developed recommendations for security measures throughout the core areas of the city.

After security assessments of Pennsylvania Avenue indicated a need to keep the historic street closed, the task force took on the challenge of seeking a more permanent and esthetically pleasing security approach that will allow limited, secure vehicular access. Last fall, NCPC adopted the National Capital Urban Design and Security Plan, which included selection of landscape architect group Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates. The New York firm will spearhead the landscape redesign for the Pennsylvania Avenue Security project.

Interestingly, while examining the history of the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, researchers learned that at one time a row of trees existed along the famous street. The ACHP has supported the reintroduction of this historic feature, and has recommended an overall security design that is reversible, to preserve both the memory of Pennsylvania Avenue as a street and the hope for its reopening in the future. The ACHP also advocated the continued traditional use of the avenue for the Inaugural Parade.

In March 2003, NCPC adopted the Valkenburgh concept design of a pedestrian promenade, which includes new paving materials and tree planting within the civic space; accommodation of a planned secure transit system; a combination of retractable, removable, and fixed bollards; and new security booths. Components such as the bollards and the guard booths are expected to set a standard for excellence in security design.

To help unify Lafayette Park with the White House, the concept proposes replacement of asphalt with stabilized crushed stone, as currently used at London’s Buckingham Palace. This paved surface would slope gently upward to spatially emphasize the approach to the White House. In addition, granite pavers would accentuate entry to the precinct.

Any redesign, however, must take into account its potential effects on a number of nearby historic properties. In addition to the President’s home, the historic stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue is surrounded by premier historic properties such as the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, the Treasury Building, the Renwick Gallery, the Pennsylvania Avenue Historic District, the 15th Street Financial Historic District, and “the Nation’s Front Yard,” the Lafayette Square Historic District that contains approximately 30 buildings including the Decatur House, the Blair House, and St. John’s Church.

Having participated in the NCPC Interagency Security Task Force, the ACHP has shifted to formal involvement in Section 106 consultation to ensure that adverse effects to the historic area are minimized. Other participants in the redesign project include Federal Highway Administration, which has assumed the lead for Section 106 consultation purposes, the National Park Service, General Services Administration, U.S. Secret Service, the Smithsonian, the Commission of Fine Arts, the Committee of 100 on the Federal City, the Coalition to Save Our Mall, and property owners.

Staff contact: Martha Catlin

Posted August 15, 2003

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