Tuesday, August 07, 2012

The Development of Washington, D.C.


IN the early period of our history the people appreciated and demanded beauty in civic planning and development. We find Annapolis laid out on the lines suggested by Sir Christopher Wren for rebuilding London after the destruction of that city by the great fire of 1666. The suggestion of an imposing capital city may be found in Williamsburg, Va., with its principal street 200 feet wide, with a dignified vista of the Colonial Capitol at one end and William and Mary College at the other. The Governor's palace, with its extensive Mall and the Public Square in the center of the city, showed an appreciation of both dignity and beauty. L'Enfant proved his artistic ability in the scheme for Buffalo, with its radial streets, while New Orleans with its fan-shaped plan, laid out by Bienville, had many points to commend it to our attention.

This interest of our forefathers culminated in efforts to obtain the highest type of beauty and utility in their capital city. Washington and Jefferson exhibited an active personal interest in the plan of Washington City, and L'Enfant presented a great artistic composition in his design with its proposed park treatment, radial streets, beautiful vistas, reciprocity of site between points of interest and grouping of Federal buildings.

It seems strange that with this early tendency we, as a people, should have ceased to appreciate the value of a beautiful composition and the necessity for growth under artistic guidance. It is only in recent years that travel, culture and leisure have again called the attention of our people to the pleasure and cultivation derived from beautiful surroundings.

The report of the Park Commission on the future development of Washington City, secured by the efficient management of Senator MacMillan, was a spark which lighted a fire of enthusiasm that has spread North, South, East and West. In this movement culture and business go hand in hand. While culture is striving to attain the ideal in the elevation and refinement of life, business has been quick to appreciate the monetary value of beauty.

To indicate the magnitude of this movement, it may be well to mention as among the cities and towns which have taken active steps to procure a systematic and artistic growth: Cleveland, Buffalo, New York, Philadelphia, St. Louis, New Orleans, Hartford, New Haven, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angles St. Paul, Denver, Chicago and Cincinnati. This movement, which shows a keen appreciation of the value of beauty, is not Confined to the United States. It appears to be a wave that has spread over the world. London is spending millions in building the Victoria Memorial, with extended approaches, formal parks, and architectural surroundings, in cutting new streets and widening old streets. Paris, having spent two hundred and sixty-five million dollars on the Haussmann plans, is now contemplating an expenditure of two hundred and thirty-six million dollars on new artistic improvements. Rome, Berlin, Vienna and other European cities are expending vast sums in beautifying their cities. Australia, Japan and Johannesburg have commissions or artists studying schemes for the artistic growth of their cities. The magnitude of work contemplated and in actual progress in our cities and the possibilities of its refining influence upon our citizens is worthy of attention and encouragement.

Senator MacMillan with his knowledge of public affairs, thorough acquaintance with the District of Columbia and its needs, having managed large industries, fully appreciated the value of expert advice when he secured the appointment of a commission to study and report upon the future development of Washington City. The Commission, Charles F. McKim, D. H. Burnham, Augustus Saint Gaudens and F. L. Olmsted, were artists of education, experience and refinement, as well as men of executive ability, who had shown their capacity in executed work. The Commission were neither acquainted with the officials with whom they were to act nor with the problem which they were to solve. The officials were found to be broad-minded and exceptional men who aided and encouraged thorough investigation and study of the subject. The topography of the city and its surroundings was quickly appreciated by the Commission as the wealth and magnificent possibilities of its future development unfolded. The city, encircled by two beautiful rivers, nestled in an amphi-theater of hills; nothing could be more inviting to an artistic mind.

After a careful study of existing work in Europe and colonial work in this country they were ready to begin the preparation of their report. The Commission was surprised to find how broadly and thoroughly. Washington and L'Enfant bad grasped the subject, and, after a careful study, thought it best to adopt the broad principles of the original plan; at the same time ample problems remained for original solution, in the increased park areas, park connections, and the selection of statuary, the erection of buildings, and the treatment of waterways.

The Park Commission's report on Washington City was presented January 15, 1902. The recommendations for the future development of Washington consisted in suggestions for the grouping of future Federal buildings and important monuments in the center of the city, for new park areas necessary to preserve features of natural beauty or to enhance the natural landscape, and lastly suggestions for the most feasible and artistic connecting links between the parks. The report forms an admirable type for other communities to follow as its strength lies in offering a broad and comprehensive composition in which each detail is given its relative value.

Two models were presented by the Park Commission with their report; one showing the city as it is, the other showing the city as they suggest it should be. The model of the city as it is shows how a want of sympathy in well-meaning people has nearly destroyed the great composition left us by the Father of the Country. Since the days of Madison, each park, building and monument has been designed as an individual

No comments:

Post a Comment