The Washington Monument we know today is iconic, but it was never really planned to look that way. Before it grew up, the monument went through many, many proposed designs. After decades in limbo and a construction mired in drama, one engineer's vision triumphed over artists, politicians, and critics.
Although the Capitol has withstood plenty of attacks from foreign and domestic adversaries over the years, sometimes the most destructive forces can come from something as common as a gas leak... How did a series of accidents and events lead to one of the most devastating incidents in the Capitol's history? What priceless artifacts were lost forever, and who were the people risking their lives to prevent further destruction of the nation's history?
Activist Hugo Deffner came to Washington in 1957 to accept an award for his work in promoting accessible architecture. However, he discovered a city entirely inaccessible to wheelchair users and other disabled people. Over the following decades, a combination of tireless activism and legislation transformed Washington into one of the most accessible cities in America.
Ford’s Theatre is remembered today as the site of a national tragedy that changed the course of American history, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. However, just 28 years later, a second tragedy occurred there that claimed 22 lives and injured many more.
The U.S. Botanic Garden—located adjacent to the Capitol in a triangle between Maryland Ave SW, Washington Ave SW, and First Street—is rooted in the earliest planning of the capital city. Many of the Founding Fathers believed that a living repository for plants would have countless benefits, from the production of food and medicine to the scientific study of international specimens to the enjoyment of aesthetic beauty. George Washington himself wrote an impassioned letter in 1796 about how a botanic garden should be included in the city plan, even suggesting a few feasible locations.
It takes a lot of talent to design a city, especially one with such sweeping vistas and wide, radial streets as our Nation’s Capital. It’s hard not to admire the vision of Major Pierre Charles L’Enfant, the engineer behind Washington, D.C. But everybody makes mistakes—even visionaries— and L’Enfant was certainly no exception.
His biggest blunder was probably tearing down the house of his boss’s nephew.
When I.M. Pei, the celebrated Chinese-American architect from New York, was selected to design a new addition for D.C.’s National Gallery of Art, the Washington Post’s architecture critic remarked it was “no doubt one of the toughest [assignments] since Michelangelo was asked to put a dome on St. Peter’s.” Pei knew it would be a difficult task to build the new gallery, but that did not deter him. This is the story of how one of Washington's most unique buildings came to be.
Back in 1887, the Baltimore Sun was looking for a bold way to celebrate its 50th anniversary and to declare itself one of the nation's premiere newspapers. What better way to do that than with the first skyscraper in the nation's capital?
When Loren Pope learned of the acclaimed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, he spent months working up the courage to mail him a letter. "There are certain things a man wants during life, and, of life," Pope divulged in 1941. "Material things and things of the spirit. The writer has one fervent wish that includes both. It is for a house created by you." Wright penned in response, "Of course I'm ready to give you a house." Their earnest collaboration resulted in a humbly exquisite Falls Church home. Pope's wish had come true, but mere wishful thinking would not be enough to save the house from highway builders in the 1960s.
If a local architect and a couple of U.S. Senators had been able to get their way, instead of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington might have honored the 16th President with a grandiose stadium patterned after the Roman Colosseum.
It was January 1911, and Congress was about to pass legislation to create the Lincoln Memorial Commission, to advise on the final plan for a monument to the slain president along the banks of the Potomac. But architect Ward Brown, secretary of the Washington chapter of the American Institute of Architects, dreamed up an exotic alternative to the shrine and statue that most others had envisioned. The Washington Post, in a lengthy article entitled "Planning a Gigantic Stadium in Washington to Dim the Glory of Rome's Noble Colosseum" described Brown's plan for a marble and concrete elliptical stadium 650 feet long and 550 feet wide, and standing 10 to 12 stories in height--roughly the size of Roman Colosseum, except that the latter was slightly taller. The proposed structure featured other classical affectations as well, including two great triumphal arches, 40 feet wide and 85 feet high, which would serve as the main entrances. Six smaller portals would have surrounded them. The stadium would have seated 87,000, with room for another 15,000 standing spectators.