Boston Map Society

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Matthew Gilmore on "Tilting Washington’s National Mall"

May 17, 2021 · 7:00 pm

Monday 17 May 2021 (Sponsored in partnership with the Boston, California, Chicago, New York, Philip Lee Phillips, Rocky Mountain, and Texas Map Societies). 

Location: Zoom, 7:00 PM ET/6:00 PM CT/ 5:00 PM MT/4:00 PM PT

Title: Tilting Washington’s National Mall

Speaker: Matthew Gilmore. Washington, DC, author, columnist, speaker, and blogger.

 One of the major decisions the Senate Park (or McMillan) Commission made in 1901 was to create a new centerline for the National Mall, around which to shape its design. Instead of drawing it directly east/west from the Capitol, continuing the line of East Capitol Street, they deflected it southward to pass through the Washington Monument. This was to cope with the design flaw of the misplaced Washington Monument. This was not entirely new… a few others seem to have considered this as a solution before the Commission did. But most other planners had a raft of other ideas whether to or how to cope with the “misplacement” of the Washington Monument, generally designing around it, but not reorienting the entire landscape.

 This new centerline (and the width of the Mall proposed by the Commission) became a key design element and determined the location and (even) design of the buildings on the Mall–including the Department of Agriculture and the New National Museum (now the National Museum of Natural history). It was a factor in the location of the Grant Memorial. It determined the location of the Lincoln Memorial. In the process, the highest politicians in the land were involved. And ultimately, President Theodore Roosevelt was required to make the decisive move to enforce it.

 

BIO

Matthew Gilmore has long endeavored in the field of Washington history; first as librarian in the Washingtoniana Division of the DC Public Library, then since as an author, columnist, speaker, and blogger. He last spoke to WMS in 2015 on “The Olmsteds and the Permanent System of Highways for the District of Columbia” – a version of which was published in The Portolan, 98-spring 2017.

 

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