VIRGINIA AVENUE NW
Virginia Avenue NW is a cultural landscape in southwest Washington, DC. Located in the southwest quadrant, the segment of the avenue included in this cultural landscape inventory runs diagonally, southeast to northwest, for approximately one mile, between 18th Street NW and New Hampshire Avenue NW. The landscape is made up of fourteen reservations, managed by the National Capital Region, National Mall and Memorial Parks. Reservation numbers from southeast to northwest include: 110 (Artigas), 383 (Bolivar), 384 (Pan American Annex), 108, 106 (SanMartin), 378 (Federal Reserve Annex), 105 (Edward J. Kelly Park), 104, 103, 720 (Galvez), 101, 99, 98 and 134 (Juarez). The reservations are all small parks, many of them triangle shaped, some with statues, fountains and/or plazas. They range in size from approximately 0.01 acres to 2.2 acres.
Virginia Avenue NW was first laid out as part of Pierre L’Enfant’s plan for the city of Washington, in 1791. Despite its proximity to the White House and central Washington, DC, the avenue remained largely undeveloped until the late 19th century. Virginia Avenue NW was unpaved until the 1870s and the triangle parks created as a result of the L’Enfant plan were not improved until the early 20th century. The Office of Public Buildings and Grounds (OPBG) delineated, landscaped and enclosed these small parks for the first time between 1899 and 1912. During the 1930s, the southern half of Virginia Avenue NW saw its first large-scale development, after a number of federal agencies relocated their headquarters to either side of the avenue. This was followed by a massive redevelopment and highway construction project that reshaped the avenue’s northwest section in the 1950s and 1960s. Between 1947 and 1977, the NPS redesigned many of Virginia Avenue NW’s larger reservations, working with local, national and international architecture firms to design spaces that would accommodate a number of statues of Latin American revolutionary figures.
Historic Maps and Images
Analysis and Evaluation
Virginia Avenue NW derives national significance as one of the major public avenues envisioned in Pierre L’Enfant’s 1791 Plan of the City of Washington. It was listed to the National Register under Criteria A, B and C in 1997, as part of the L’Enfant Plan. The period of significance is 1790-1942. This Cultural Landscape Inventory recommends expanding the period of significance to include local significance under Criteria A and C, for the period that covers the actual construction of the Virginia Avenue NW small park reservations between 1899-1912, as well as the postwar urban renewal and beautification efforts that reshaped the avenue and many of its open spaces between 1950 and 1977. Under Criterion B, this CLI recommends expanding the period of significance for Reservation 383 (Bolivar), to include the date of the installation of the sculpture Felix de Weldon’s equestrian statue of Simon Bolivar, in 1959.
This Cultural Landscape Inventory finds that Virginia Avenue NW retains integrity from all three periods of significance: the L’Enfant Plan (1791-1792); the period of initial construction under the OPBG (1899-1912); and post WWII urban renewal and beautification efforts that included the dedication of a significant part of the landscaped to Latin American liberators (1950-1977). Original landscape characteristics and features from all three periods are present along Virginia Avenue NW, and the landscape displays all seven aspects that determine integrity, as defined by the National Register of Historic Places.
Landscape characteristics identified for Virginia Avenue NW are: location; land use; topography; spatial organization; circulation; cluster arrangement; views and vistas; vegetation; small scale features and constructed water features.
Land Use: Throughout its history, the Virginia Avenue NW Cultural Landscape has consistently maintained a number of original uses, all designed as part of L’Enfant’s original plan. These include transportation, recreation, commemoration and political use. Subsequent periods of significance resulted in the redesign of the avenue’s small parks to accommodate new modes of thinking regarding recreation, changing modes of transportation and shifting political priorities. These developments were in keeping with, and expanded upon, L’Enfant’s original intentions for Virginia Avenue NW. As a result, the landscape retains integrity to all three periods of significance.
Topography: Throughout its history, the topography of Virginia Avenue NW has been relatively flat. This is in keeping with the natural topography of the land that the avenue was built on, and the L’Enfant Plan for streets and open spaces throughout the city of Washington. Parks were first graded as part of their initial period of constructions, from 1899 to 1912. Slight topographical changes to the landscape via raised plazas, terraces and slightly sloped lawns, were designed or introduced during the third period of significance. These changes were relatively minor and did detract from the original impression of a generally flat streetscape. They are still, however, considered significant. As such, the landscape retains integrity to all three periods of significance.
Spatial Organization: All small parks designed as part of the original L’Enfant Plan had highly developed, geometric relationships to other L’Enfant-designed spaces, such as streets and avenues, surrounding small parks, seats of government and planned commemorative sites. Spatial organization of Virginia Avenue NW consists of the centrally located avenue with small park reservations located on either side. Sightlines and direct connections between small parks and other designed elements, were defining organizing principles of the plan, and expressions of the Baroque city planning that inspired L’Enfant. These relationships were first established by the OPBG during the initial period of small park construction along Virginia Avenue NW, which lasted from 1899 to 1912. As a result, the landscape retains integrity of spatial organization to the first and second periods of significance.
In general, the spatial organization of individual reservations along the avenue dates to the third, midcentury period of significance (1950-1976), when many of the small parks were redesigned to accommodate statues, commemorative fountains or street/highway expansion and most Virginia Avenue small parks also retain integrity of spatial organization to the third period of significance.
Circulation: All the L’Enfant small parks are located within traffic rights-of-way, and as a result, city streets border the parks on all sides. The relationship of the reservations along Virginia Avenue NW, to the surrounding street grid, is a fundamental element of the L’Enfant Plan and an integral part of the circulation pattern L’Enfant developed for the city as a whole. The OPBG defined this relationship during the second period of significance, when they built the small parks along Virginia Avenue NW, delineating them from surrounding streets with curbing and fencing. Virginia Avenue NW’s primary circulation system, designed during the first period of significance and built during the second, remains intact and the landscape retains integrity to this period.
As with spatial organization, the design of the circulation patterns present at individual reservations generally dates to the third period of significance, when these parks were redesigned around modern plazas, newly installed statues and commemorative water features. As a result, the circulation of Virginia Avenue NW also retains integrity to the third period of significance.
Cluster Arrangement: Clusters of rectangular and triangular open spaces along Virginia Avenue NW were designed during the first period of significance, as part of the L’Enfant plan, and built/expanded by the OPBG, during the second period of significance, The relationship of these small parks to one another is an expression of the L’Enfant Plan’s overall spatial organization, which established direct links and geometric connections between various elements. Despite various periods of redevelopment along the avenue which affected the location and layout of individual small parks, the current cluster arrangement retains integrity to the first period of significance. During the third period of significance, an additional cluster arrangement was designed for the avenue, consisting of the thematic arrangement of statues devoted to Latin American liberators, installed at small parks between 1950 and 1976. These statues are all extant and thus the landscape retains additional integrity to the third period of significance.
Views and Vistas: Vistas from small parks towards government buildings and monuments were a defining characteristic of the L’Enfant Plan and an important aspect in its overall spatial organization. These vistas were designed to connect smaller spaces with sites of national importance, binding the city together through a constant reminder of shared American values. The main sightlines designed for Virginia Avenue NW were views southeast, toward the Tiber Creek and National Mall and northwest to Georgetown. Additional views included sightlines down the street grid at F and G Streets NW, between Virginia Avenue NW and the Executive Mansion, as well as between planned open spaces, including reservations No. 4 and other open space along Virginia Avenue, New Hampshire and New York Avenues NW. Views between smaller parks, including circles, triangles and medians, further enforced Washington’s city plan, designed by L’Enfant as a reflection of America itself. The construction of the Virginia Avenue NW parks during the second period of significance established these planned views for the first time, and established additional ones, directed toward new monuments, like the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. While mid-rise development in the 20th century has obstructed some of these views, enough remain intact for the Virginia Avenue Cultural Landscape to retain integrity to the first and second periods of significance. Between 1950 and 1976, a number of views were introduced at individual reservations, framing newly installed statuary. As a result, several small parks also have integrity of views and vistas to the third period of significance as well.
Vegetation: Vegetation was not included as part of L’Enfant’s original design for open spaces in Washington. As part of the delineation and development of small parks in the early 20th century, the OPBG planted turf grass, shade trees and flowers in small parks along Virginia Avenue NW. Research for this CLI did not uncover any specific planting plans for these reservations, and no vegetation is believed to date to the second period of significance. Elements of landscape designs installed during the mid-century period of redevelopment along the avenue, including plant material and planting plans, are intact. Thus the Virginia Avenue NW landscape retains integrity to the third period of significance.
Small Scale Features: Small scale features found along Virginia Avenue NW include five statues, installed in five small park reservations during the third period of significance, and a number of lampposts, benches, built in seating, trashcans and curbing, designed as part of redevelopment or redesigns of reservations dating to the same 1950 to 1976 period. Many of these features were specifically designed as part of larger plazas and exhibit characteristics of modern landscape design, such as the use of simplified, geometric forms and lack of ornamentation. The statues depict a number of “liberators,” who helped secure independence throughout South and North America. These include, from SE to NW: General Jose Gervasio Artigas, Simon Bolivar, General Jose de San Martin, Bernardo de Galvez, and Benito Juarez. With the exception of the San Martin statue, which dates to 1924, all of the statues were cast between 1950 and 1976. Several are copies of originals located in South America. A sixth statue, a 1956 copy of an ancient Greek Discus Thrower by Myron, is located in Reservation 106 (San Martin) and was a gift from Italy. The statues and other small scale features, described in detail below, retain integrity to the third period of significance.
Constructed Water Features: Two large decorative fountains, dating to the third period of significance are located at reservations 383 (Bolivar), and 378 (Federal Reserve Annex) along Virginia Avenue NW. These fountains were designed as part of the redevelopment of the southeast half of the avenue, as an enclave of government offices. The 1959 redesign of Reservation 383, as Simon Bolivar Plaza, included the construction of an asymmetrical blue tile pool. Six jets spouting water high into the air represented the six countries liberated by Bolivar. In 1974, construction of a new Federal Reserve annex building on Reservation 378 included the design of a circular memorial fountain dedicated to Robert Latham Owen, co-sponsor of the Federal Reserve Act. Landscape architect George E. Patton designed the modernist fountain as a complement to the new building. Both of these fountains are still present and retain integrity to the third period of significance.
The final report will be posted here when it is available from the National Park Service.