This presentation is part of the online document Acknowledging Landscapes: Presentations from the National Register Landscape Initiative.
Jennifer Hirsch: I’m going to start my presentation by just talking a little about NCPC and who we are. I’m not going to be surprised if a lot of you are not familiar with our agency. We’re very unique. I think we’re the only federal agency like ourselves. We have an equivalent in Canada, but essentially we’re the planning agency for the federal government. We’re a small agency of about forty people created back in the 1920’s. One of our mandates is to protect the cultural and natural resources of Washington DC and the surrounding region. There was specific legislation that congress passed, the National Capital Planning Act, in the 1920s that created our agency and assigned us with specific roles and responsibilities that I’ll get into in a little bit. That legislation was basically rewritten substantially in the 1950s, but it still pretty much guides our work today. Essentially we oversee matters related to urban planning, urban design, transportation and historic preservation.
NCPC, we have a jurisdiction in the National Capital Region, which basically consists of the District of Columbia, which is the red square that you see on this map and then the adjacent counties in Maryland and Virginia. In Maryland, that would be Montgomery County and Prince George’s County. In Virginia, that would be the Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William Counties.
The Commission is made up of different presidential … The President appoints three people and then there are some federal representatives. Essentially the largest land-holding agencies have seats on the Commission. That would be the Department of Defense, the Department of Interior National Park Service and the General Services Administration. Then we have representatives from Congress, as well as representatives from the District of Columbia.
Essentially, as I was saying, the Planning Act defines our principle roles and activities. One of those is preparing a comprehensive plan for the National Capital with the District of Columbia. We’re responsible for preparing that plan. NCPC oversees the federal element of the plan. Most recently, it was adopted in 2004, though we are right now in the process of going through a series of updates. That includes seven elements. That’s the parks and open space element. We have an element that relates to foreign mission, visitors, the environment, transportation, the federal workplace, as well as preservation and historic features. We also have recently, in a draft form, an urban design element.
And so then the next area of our activity relates to preparing the Federal Capital Improvements Plan, which is essentially a six-year program of capital improvements that we put together by working with other agencies like GSA, the Park Service, DOD, the Smithsonian. It’s a report of essentially proposed projects that will be undertaken by the federal government over the six-year period. That report is submitted to the Office of Management and Budget and included in the President’s Budget
Finally, where perhaps our work on cultural landscapes is most relevant is the division I’m in, the Urban Design and Plan Review Division. We review and approve federal projects, but also projects that the District of Columbia government is proposing. That can be a range of projects, anything from the approval of a new memorial, for example, many of you may have been hearing about the Eisenhower Memorial in the news lately. That has not yet gone to the Commission for approval. We review a variety of projects; anything ranging from an addition on a new building or a project on the National Mall. I’m going to be talking a little bit about a couple of projects that have either gone to the Commission or is going to the Commission soon.
We also have some special initiatives. These are projects that NCPC staff works on. Sometimes these are plans that focus on a particular part of Washington, like the Monumental Core, which would be the area around the National Mall or the Federal Triangle. Recently we’ve completed a project or a plan on the SW Ecodistrict, which is looking at a specific area in Washington, the southwest area, which was in a period of urban renewal was transformed by the federal government into an enclave of area for federal workers. We’re basically looking at that area and how to go about making it more green and sustainable over the next generation. One of the issues we’re tackling there, or will be tackling with the Park Service very shortly, is looking at Banneker Park which is a specific area. It’s the terminus of 10th Street and Washington. It’s a modern landscape that was designed by Dan Kiley. Looking at eligibility of that modern landscape is something that we’ll be tackling in the next few years.
As I was saying, the projects we review range from the design of a new memorial, for example, the Martin Luther King Memorial, to rehabilitation projects along the Mall. Just last week, the Commission gave final approval to the Old Post Office Redevelopment Project. The project doesn’t necessarily involve cultural landscapes, unless you open your interpretation of landscape more broadly to apply to city planning, just the importance of the historic properties along Pennsylvania Avenue in a broader context than the L’Enfant Plan and the Federal Triangle.
I’m going to start now transitioning the presentation towards more specific projects and how NCPC has been involved, either in eligibility determinations, but more our role is assessing effects, I would say, on historic landscapes and how National Register nominations or cultural landscape inventories and various other type of documentation can be useful in that process. To highlight our work, I selected three projects that either we’ve reviewed or will be reviewing very soon that have gone through Section 106 review. All of these involve design urban landscapes very different from the kinds of landscapes that Steve was just discussing. I wanted to point out that in Washington it’s almost impossible to have a project that doesn’t either affect the L’Enfant Plan or collectively the L’Enfant Plan and the McMillan Plan, the plan for the city of Washington. I find that we’re not only assessing effects to individual building sites and landscapes, but also how these projects fit within and impact the larger L’Enfant Plan, which is listed in the National Register.
The importance of the L’Enfant Plan, for those of you who may not be familiar, is emphasizing the importance of topography in the city, open space as well as views and vistas. Between these open spaces, which are obviously important characteristics when you’re talking about any kind of historic landscape.
The first project I selected is National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is being currently constructed on the Mall. It is on a site that was part of the Washington Monument grounds, as you can see in this graph. It shows the context of the National Mall and the Washington Monument. I would say that there was a bit of controversy about having the museum go on this site, in that the site was carved out of the ground and given to the Smithsonian for a new museum. Just essentially to describe the plan for the museum is conceived of as a corona that is set within the landscape with a primary entrance on the south, that’s what you see here in the upper left, with a projecting porch.
As I was saying, though there was quite a bit of controversy about putting a museum on this site, for removing it from the grounds of the Washington Monument, however once it became clear that that was the plan there was an extensive environmental and historic preservation review process on how best to accommodate a new major museum on this site. There was quite a bit of analysis that went into determining on how best to place a building on the site and what would be an appropriate building envelope. A lot of analysis was informed by the surrounding buildings, but also the landscapes of the National Mall and the Washington Monument. The idea was that the building should relate both to the existing buildings on the Mall and respect the spatial relationships established by various setbacks, but also respect the landscape of the Washington Monument grounds itself.
Through the Section 106 process there was a great deal of effort to minimize impacts on the open space and more pastoral nature perhaps of the Washington Monument through the design of the new museum and its landscape. The idea was that you should still be able to connect to the grounds of the monument even though this would be a new museum on its own separate and distinct site with a new building and landscape program of its own. In the landscape plan you can see how new paths on the north side of the museum were placed in an effort to connect to the paths on the grounds of the Washington Monument. The landscape was designed to be as compatible as possible with the grounds and the curvilinear paths that were already established on the grounds of the Washington Monument , to maximize views, also as well of the monument and its grounds from certain locations along the National Mall and the surrounding Federal Triangle.
I put this slide in to show as part of the Section 106 process how a very large APE was defined. The numbers and types of historic resources we were dealing with through that process, in terms of both the slides on the lower left showing just the reservations in the L’Enfant plan itself, located in the APE. The slides on the right showing individual sites and the slide on the lower right shows the number of historic districts in the APE. It gives I think, a good idea of the complications that can arise given the number of resources that were involved.
A considerable amount of time was paid to analyze the impacts to the Washington Monument grounds and the surrounding views. That included views from the Washington Monument grounds itself, the Mall, as well as surrounding intersections, the Federal Triangle, as well as from further away views from the top of the Old Post Office.
This analysis is showing that the view from the grounds demonstrates that the building would significantly block views and alter the open character of the landscape. Efforts were made to push as much of the building underground as possible. The height of the building itself had to relate to the surrounding buildings, the Commerce Building is to the left of the proposed new museum that you see in this rendering. The next couple slides just show a series of views and how they would be affected by the construction of the building. This view was of particular concern to the SHPO, the view from 14th and Constitution, because it has a principle corner street view. This was a particular concern to the DC SHPO.
Finally, the next slide shows views from the top of the Washington Monument and shows not only how open space was going to be lost with the museum, but how the view from the top of the Monument would be modified. In some ways it indicates that how the site is no longer perceived as part of the Monument grounds, but it becomes more of an extension of the Mall itself. To address all of these adverse affects, the Smithsonian, the NCPC, the Park Service and the SHPO, entered into a programmatic agreement, and developed a series of mitigation measures to address these impacts directly related to the Washington Monument grounds itself. Part of that mitigation was to provide funding to complete the tree planting plan on the grounds as well as an update of the National Register nomination for the Washington Monument.
One of the things they wanted to point out was once we get into these consultations, often what we find is that the National Register nomination is often older or the documentation just doesn’t have the same level of detail that would be on par with nominations that would be completed today. Or that the focus is on buildings and structures and not necessarily on the landscape that they sit within. In this particular case the Park Service had completed a cultural landscape inventory which was very helpful to have on hand. As I said, part of the mitigation for this particular project an update to the Washington Monument National Register nomination will be done, which will focus more on, in addition to the building and structure but also on the landscape itself. We will have that to help us with future projects that will take place on the Mall or on the grounds of the Washington Monument.
Moving on, the next project I selected is a very different scale, much smaller. The American Pharmacist Association is off the Mall a little bit, it’s at 23rd and Constitution. For those of you not familiar with the area the Harry Truman Building is located to the north, the headquarters for the Department of State, the Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool are to the south or towards the bottom of your screen. This was a perimeter security project and the main issues here were both adverse effects to project site itself, the grounds of the Pharmacist Building; also to the adverse effects on the views and vistas of the L’Enfant Plan.
For those that may not know the building, it was designed by John Russell Pope and dedicated in 1934. The landscape was an integral part of Pope’s design. It was a classic Beaux-Arts building and landscape with a strong connection to the adjacent landscapes and buildings along Constitution Avenue. The National Register documentation dates to the 1970s and it therefore was primarily focused on the building and didn’t have a lot of detail on the landscape itself.
As I was saying this is a perimeter security project. The Pope Building, I should also mention there was a large addition constructed on the rear of the Pope building, probably five years ago. That building houses the Department of State employees and so this project was perimeter security due to the location of the Department of State employees located in that addition. What that would involve is the construction of some bollards as well as piers or fences in the public space or on the property line, as well as vehicular barriers in the garage entrances and a few guard booths. The proposal also included what you’re seeing on the left, that’s the actual project proposal, which included a sidewalk extension along 22nd Street. In order to construct that sidewalk a retaining wall was going to be necessary which was going to require the removal of trees and have some adverse effects on the landscape and the grounds of the Pope Building itself.
Here you can see on the right the existing view of 22nd towards the Truman Building and the Pharmacist Association on the left of the photo. You can see there was an existing sidewalk on the right side of the street but there was not a sidewalk on the left side of the street. To improve pedestrian circulation we, the NCPC, as well as the District Department of Transportation and the Park Service asked for this sidewalk to be extended. Because of that it was going to require construction of a retaining wall and also the removal of several of the trees you see here.
You can see a shot of the existing addition on the left and the proposed on the right. So to address the adverse effects we entered into an MOA that would call for an illustrated landscape report to compare the original planting plan that was called for in the 1930s when the building was designed, to the current conditions in order to develop a landscape design or rehabilitation plan for today. In order to determine what is the best design moving forward for a landscape design to mitigate these impacts.
The last project I selected is a project in its very early stages. It’s the redevelopment of the Carnegie Library in Mount Vernon Square. It’s one of the original L’Enfant reservations where New York Avenue, Massachusetts Avenue, K Street and 8th Street intersect. It’s located on one of the primary north/south axis of the city. The reservation originally served as a market in the 19th century but it was torn down around 1872. The surrounding residence and property owners petitioned for the streets to be removed and trees were planted and the park was improved as an open space.
Mount Vernon Square is also home to the Carnegie Library. In 1899, Andrew Carnegie donated funds to construct a library and its one of his largest donations outside the city of Pittsburgh. It’s probably one of the more significant Carnegie libraries in the country. Interesting that the building itself only took up a small part of the square itself, leaving a good portion of it untouched which seemed to reflect an understanding of the importance of an open space in the L’Enfant Plan. This proposed project has several components. One of them is to relocate the International Spy Museum to the interior of the Carnegie Library, but also to add a visitor center for EventsDC, I should note that the convention center for the city is located directly to the north of this building, and then to renovate and improve Mount Vernon Square itself. Right now it is a fairly underutilized significant public space in the city. There are a lot of people who would like to see it put back to its best use.
The project includes a renovation of the library building itself, construction of an underground exhibit space, as well as an addition on the north side of the building, and then an extensive renovation of the public space of Mount Vernon Square. What you can see from these images is what I was talking about in terms of the building being set back on the Square and the majority of Mount Vernon Square itself was left as an open space.
This slide shows the alternatives that are being considered for an addition to be placed on the north side of the building. It’s a very difficult building in some ways to add to. Many consider the primary façade in some ways to be the south facing one, but because of the way the building is placed on the site, it’s obviously very difficult to construct an addition.
At this point, architects have been working to develop the addition and the landscape team is focusing on the improvements to Mount Vernon Square itself. There is a lot of concern about movement through the Square as well as traffic itself going around the Square, as this is a heavily trafficked corridor through the city. The city has plans to reintroduce the streetcar in this area. The idea is that a glass pavilion would be built on the north side, which is what you’re seeing in this rendering. That pavilion would have a visitor center, a café and retail store.
We’ve only really recently begun the Section 106 consultation for this project and defined an area of potential affect. Again, you see the number of resources that we are going to dealing with as we move through this consultation process. Impacts to the L’Enfant Plan and views and vistas will be something that we have to pay a good deal of attention to. We have a National Register nomination for the L’Enfant Plan, but there’s only very minimal documentation itself on Mount Vernon Square. We only have limited documentation of the importance of the landscape design of the Square itself.
As we begin, we will look to evaluate how the effects of this project has on the building itself, but also the landscape of Mount Vernon Square and the L’Enfant Plan.
We will put a good deal of emphasis on views towards the Square and impacts on the viewshed and the vistas of the L’Enfant Plan, which are noted obviously as character defining features on the National Register nomination. It’s not something that I think is easily understood or accepted by some consulting parties. The idea of the Plan as being historic property is fairly well understood but then also that the views and vistas are a very critical component that can be negatively impacted by a project like this is sometimes something that we struggle to explain and hopefully minimize and mitigate. It’s something that sometimes through the Section 106 process is not that well understood.
As we move through the Section 106 process, evaluating how the project will have specific impacts both to the L’Enfant Plan as well as the design of Mount Vernon Square, as I mentioned we have limited documentation on the history of the park. I don’t know that we really have a very good idea yet of whether character defining features remain in the landscape and therefore something we should be looking to incorporate or asked that they be incorporated in the project. Similar to FCC we’re a licensing or permitting agency so we are sort of responding to what our applicants bring to us when they submit applications and that’s what we will be doing here in this case as well.
Basically, hopefully hearing a little bit about NCPC as an agency and a few of our projects gives some context to how we use National Register nominations and cultural landscape inventories through the Section 106 process. I’ve found that depending on the level and age of the documentation we may not have all the information we need to access impacts on landscapes. We have also found, as I mentioned, the focus of a lot of the nominations is on buildings and structures and the landscape often isn’t given the same level of detail or consideration. Finally, sometimes just the more conceptual nature of landscape characteristics regarding viewshed or circulation patterns or sometimes even spatial organization, those are less tangible than a building and so can be more difficult to assess affects, particularly if the National Register nomination doesn’t clearly articulate what it is about those things that are character defining.
Catherine Smith: I work for the National Capital Region of the National Park Service, and I think our two agencies overlap enormously, because we’re looking at a lot of the same properties, or adjacent properties. We’re very concerned with things like the L’Enfant plan, and the National Mall, and the views and vistas. We also have folks here actively working on cultural landscape inventories. As you mentioned, the one at the Washington Monument ground. We’ve recently in recent years been attempting to update National Register nominations using all this cultural landscape inventory and documentation that has been going on through Park Service initiative. Unfortunately it’s … I think we’re sun-setting our special funding source for National Register update. I would be interested in meeting with you and talking about, along with maybe our cultural landscape lead, about how we can help you, and how we can let you know what’s going on in our office.
I quickly pulled out the A map, and saw that Mount Vernon Square is not ours anymore. We gave it away for whatever reason, like a lot of the reservations in the plan. We, as you know, manage many of the pieces and parts, and I wonder if we … We have lots of research too. Lots of archives that talk about the acquisition, and the management of those reservations over time.
Jennifer Hirsch: We often are working with your … You said you’re with the region?
Catherine: Yeah. I’m in the Cultural Resource Division. I’m not sure who you normally … you may be working with the Planning and Design Office, I’m not sure, or our Compliance Office.
Jennifer: Right, or that or we’re working directly with the park that’s involved.
Jennifer: It’ll be lovely to hear what you’re working on and doing. I know you’re … I don’t know if you’re involved with the … I think there’s a CLI about to be done for Pennsylvania Avenue. That’s the other thing I should have mentioned is that there’s a lot of concern about … We’re … An initiative NCPC undertaking about the planning for Pennsylvania Avenue, and part of that will be … There’s a question that’s come up about the eligibility of the landscape features of the 1974 Pennsylvania Avenue Plan.
Catherine: That … I worked closely with Maureen Joseph, who’s on that team. She’s putting together the team I think that’s going to do the CLI. I think that it’s actually a very interesting question. One: urban landscaped, and two: modernist landscaped, because DC has a lot of them, as far as modern planning initiative. When you were talking it made me think about how every agency must [inaudible]. How many agencies are involved in planning, and it must be the most over-planned city in the world. It seems, as far as we go through one plan, and then we move to the next plan. Then we have overlapping plans, and we’re all trying to coordinate what we’re doing.
I do think that we, at least at the National Capital Region, are starting to bring probably … we’ve developed a lot of documentation, but getting it to the National Register level, I have struggled, and Barbara knows this, because we’ve had conversations, but getting it properly like you say into the nomination, so that it’s clear to those using those nominations for Section 106. What are the characteristics? How a landscape really is just setting … It’s not to denigrate it, it’s just saying that it is part of a district. All parts of that district that give it, its feeling, and it’s association are features that contribute. But how to be able to quickly get at that, and how to make that understandable to folks who may not sit around thinking about landscapes all day long? I think that’s a real challenge.
Nancy Brown: If NCPC doesn’t have the landscape information they need to fully understand the Square, will they be doing a CLR?
Jennifer: We may look at doing that. We are still looking into what is existing documentation that we have on hand.
Barbara Wyatt: A question I had was about the Carnegie library, and the library grounds. They look like, and maybe that was just totally schematics, the drawings that you showed, where you were showing an evolution of the site. It was … I was a little bit alarmed at the endpoint. It looked like quite a departure from the more rectilinear site plan that has been place over time, and I wondered if that … if the current alignment of walks is … goes back to the 1899 design with the 1899 building, or can you shed a little light on that?
Jennifer: I don’t think … I think the walkways, and the paths themselves through Mount Vernon Square have been heavily altered. The archway … The proposed arch is … It is quite a departure from what see in some of the historic plans, but it’s not a total departure from what’s out there today.
Linda McClellen: Related also to Barbara’s thing is how do you … How are you going to deal with a period of significance for a resource such as this, and Barbara was asking you about the alignment of the walks, of course, any plantings as well. Did you go back and research to look at all of the plans that are available, and look at the degree to which they have been executed?
We at the Register, of course, if we were going to look at new documentation, we would be asking those questions. We would be asking about period changes if we … of course, we’d love to see graphics that illustrate the grounds, and the development of the grounds at different points in history. I get the feeling that you don’t know much about the history of the library grounds development.
If this were a new project that hadn’t already been listed on the Register, you would go out, and you would document that at this time, because that’s what our documentation standards are. What do you do when you have a nomination that doesn’t go there, but that you know you have to at least assess the eligibility, assess the historic integrity. I’m talking about period significance now, because you’re not only talking the period of the original construction, but how did that change over time in relationship to some of these other changes for the plans of Washington?
My question is, at what point will you go back and look at that evolution of the footprint, the ground plan around the library?
Jennifer: Right now that’s what we’ve asked the Landscape Architect to do. You’re asking all very good questions, and we don’t have … I don’t have a definitive answer for you right now. There’s no doubt, obviously, that the site is historic in and of itself. As a reservation it’s part of the L’Enfant plan, I think it’s a question of what is the integrity of the landscape today? Are there features out there that we should be working to make sure that are either incorporated into the new design? I think we’re still trying to answer those specific questions.
Linda: I’m wondering why you’re not asking the question of what doesn’t have historic integrity here? Assuming that there’s a layer of historic significance there, even if it doesn’t date to the same period as the construction of the library. I’m saying you approach something like this, and you assume, because in recent history no one knows of that being altered or changed.
Catherine: This is Catherine Smith, again. Just to bring up a similar project that we worked on here at the Region. We recently … We have a draft form, a CLI, a cultural landscape inventory for DuPont Circle. It’s a similar … It’s not unusual in DC to have … the circles, or the squares have changed circulation patterns over time. I had a conversation with our historic landscape architect who was doing that CLI, about periods of significance, and when to end our period of significance, because there were elements of the 19th century DuPont Circle Plan that were there. Layered on top of that was … some of it got taken out in I think it was the 20s or 30s. We tend to be as broad in our periods of significance as we can, so that ended up being … there were … it still had integrity for its 19th century Victorian plan, but layered on top of that are changes that came about in the 20s or 30’s when we were … That also reflected changes in function and use of the circle.
We tend to look at it in a very layered way, but it can get really confusing, because when you step back, and you look at it from National Register’s standard … I come from outside the Park Service, and I’m used to looking at districts as a whole, and say it doesn’t have integrity. It has these buildings, and these pieces, and the streets are in the same alignments, and whatnot. Ultimately for me, sometimes it comes to, what do I see, when I see this landscape? Am I seeing 1920, or am I seeing … can I still recognize enough of the element?” I tend to set a fairly high standard. However, we try and be as broad as we can, and incorporate resources and changes over time, as long as they’re reflecting important trends, or important events, or designs. I don’t anything about Mount Vernon Square, but it sounds like … hopefully, ongoing research will get at when were these sidewalks laid down in this format in 1970, or was it done in 1910?
Linda: I think we’re talking about a method of approaching these landscape questions when we have a lack of documentation. I think that we can assume that most National Register nominations are not going to have that level of detail that we want, and need for our planning purposes when it comes down to a specific project like this. I agree with you Catherine about looking at what time is this place? Just as architectural historians look at architectural character, there are characteristics that speak to landscape historians as well for the time and period. I would think that there probably were … Was substantial change done during the 30s here, as part of the public works programs. Maybe there were things done afterwards, but I think I’d shoot for the 30s, and find out what was done here then.