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.”