Before WWII: The Plan to Raze Nearly Every Building on East Capitol Street

This is the first in a series that looks back on the history of our neighborhood, with a focus on challenges residents have faced.

Before WWII: The Plan to Raze Nearly Every Building on East Capitol Street

By Hilary Russell

Posted July 26, 2022

Federal plans have always had a huge impact on Washington, DC’s residential communities, particularly those that sprang up close to the Capitol. The 1791 L’Enfant Plan that laid out the city had the determining influence. Next in importance was the 1902 McMillan Plan, whose vision of a monumental federal core triggered acres of demolitions that made way for the Federal Triangle and Union Station. This vision, aligned with Pierre L’Enfant’s vision of East Capitol Street as a main drag, was manifested in unrealized plans for a federal boulevard along East Capitol Street that would have leveled virtually all extant homes and businesses between Capitol Square and the Anacostia River.

The 1941 plan (shown here) developed by the National Capital Park and Planning Commission, amended its 1929 blueprints titled “Planned redevelopment study of part of the District of Columbia east of the Capitol.” The 1929 plan proposed turning East Capitol Street into an “Avenue of the States” and Lincoln Park into “Colonial Square” and bordering the broad avenue and the shrunken park with a slew of new “exhibition pavilions” that honored the original 13 colonies.

The 1941 plan abandoned this tribute to states and colonies and a diminished and renamed Lincoln Park, but embraced the concept of lining East Capitol Street with new government buildings. Those colored brown in the drawing are proposed federal office buildings and proposed “semi-public” buildings; those colored black are planned survivors that include Eastern High School, the Armory, and the District Jail.

World War II priorities helped to kill the 1941 plan, though it marks the site of one new government building: the football stadium built in 1965 now being demolished. The 1941 plan also presaged the recently opened sports fields and recreation areas between the stadium and the river.

Like other federal plans, the 1941 National Capital Park and Planning Commission plan paid no attention at all to the wishes of Capitol Hill residents, who had no elected mayor and council as well as no voice in Congress. The lack of regard and respect for the community impacted by the unrealized “East Mall” plan is reflected in the following reference to it in the 2002 book Washington in Maps:

“Paradoxically, this less affluent section of town might have enjoyed an aesthetic amenity of which future generations can only dream. Devising a traditional French boulevard enclosed by neoclassical buildings and embellished by a park at Lincoln Square, this was to have been a realization of L’Enfant’s vision.”

8 Comments

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8 responses to “Before WWII: The Plan to Raze Nearly Every Building on East Capitol Street

  1. Daniel+Buck

    Wait a second — that plan would have obliterated the 100 block of 10th St. SE as well. How dare they. Saved by WWII.

  2. Golem

    My understanding is that the Supreme Court was to be relocated where RFK Stadium now stands. That plan was kiboshed by the Supreme Court whose Justices proclaimed the lyric “we shall not be moved.” Their concern was that those 19 to 20 blocks was too far from the center of power and there was no place to eat lunch.

  3. Thomas Neale

    Capitol Hill residents complained bitterly when the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress was built , beginning in 1889. It blocked a beautiful perspective of the Capitol from Pennsylvania Avenue SE that must have been visible far down the avenue. Imagine seeing the East Front portico from an angle. I’ve seen a photo of this beautiful lost perspective, but cannot find it tonight. Maybe an internet wizard can locate and display it. #

  4. kandc

    Super interesting. I will look forward to future readings.
    The building of the SE/SW freeway did what this plan didn’t do–and now we are still paying the price. I for one, am glad that the city is proceeding to make that road east of 11th Street into a boulevard.

    It will also be interesting to see the original location of Eastern Market, the influence of the Navy Yard and so forth in Hilary Russell’s articles.

    Thanks.

  5. Marian Connolly

    Great job Hilary. I am a Hill history buff but had never seen the map of the 1941 plans to raze homes on East Capitol. How awful that would have been.

  6. John Melvin Garner ll

    Thanks for the update! The closest they got fulfilling some of the plan were the Old Navy buildings that were on Oklahoma Ave! RFK
    opened in October of 1961. Eastern High played St John in one of the first games in the new stadium! EHS 34. St John 14.

  7. Hilary

    Sorry! Yes, 1961. Opened as DC Stadium and renamed RFK in 1969.

  8. Elizabeth eby

    Like the photo appeared 8/3 interesting story

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