Important Coalition Updates: J. Carter Brown, National Park Service & Washington’s ‘ugly new look’

Dear National Coalition to Save Our Mall Members and Friends:

The National Coalition UPDATE staff (“Feldman & Feldwoman & Felmanette”) took a 12 day vacation last week and is now home rested and well fed. We wanted to catch everyone up on six important pieces of news:

1. J. Carter Brown, until weeks ago the Chairman of the Commission of Fine Arts, died on June 17th at the age of 67. While gravely ill in the hospital, he had recently retired his Chairmanship. He had presided over CFA meetings as recently as April. Chairman Brown was a formidable force in the art world in Washington for over 30 years. As we are all acutely aware, he also was a key figure in assuring that the WWII Memorial site and design were approved while serious opposition was marginalized. Fascinating obituaries reviewing his life and work were published in The New York Times at: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/06/19/obituaries/19BROW.html and in The Washington Post at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A5304-2002Jun18.html The Post website includes the obituary as well as pieces by Richard Moe, President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and by Paul Richard, former Post art critic. Check out:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A8031-2002Jun18
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A7583-2002Jun18.html

2. On June 17th, the National Coalition submitted our comments sharply critical of the National Park Service’s Environmental Assessment for the Washington Monument project to the NPS. The deadline for public comments was June 23rd.

Lo and behold, a few days before that deadline, a Federal Express package arrived from the NPS containing the Geotechnical reports we had requested since last February, but with no time or opportunity for us (or anyone in the public) to seriously review them. Needless to say, this is standard practice from the NPS. If the scientific data was as supportive of the NPS plans as the NPS states, why withhold the data until days before the 2 month long review process?

3. The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has graciously given us permission to post on our website their excellent and highly critical comments about the EA.

In the coming weeks, we plan to post the entire public record of comments sent to the National Park Service about the Washington Monument project.

4. The National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) has removed the Washington Monument review of plans from its July 11 agenda. We’ve been told that the NPS requested it be reviewed at the August meeting. We’ll keep you informed. The July agenda does include other items of interest regarding the Mall — security for the Monumental Core (Mall and environs), Lincoln Memorial — and site approval for the 9/11 memorial at the Pentagon. NCPC
July 11, 2002 Meeting

Action Items
Urban Design and Security Plan that Identifies Permanent Security and Streetscape Improvements in the Monumental Core

Lincoln Memorial, Constitution Avenue and Bacon Drive, NW – Lincoln Memorial Circle Rehabilitation and Security Improvements
Pentagon, Arlington County, Virginia – Memorial to the Victims of September 11, 2001

5. We recently added to our website a terrific, thoughtful essay entitled “This Singular Space: Against the Memorial” about the WWII Memorial sent to us by John Renehan, J.D., Counsel to the New York State Task Force on Life and the Law, the state’s bioethics commission. Mr. Renehan completed this piece last August and had originally hoped to find a publisher. However, he was called into service for the state of New York after 9/11. He sent the essay to us and we are honored to post his unique perspective.

6. Finally, your chairman is quoted at the end of a story in Saturday’s (June 29th) National Post, a Canadian newspaper, in an article about “ugly” security in Washington:

Washington’s ‘ugly new look’ In a city that symbolized freedom, barriers abound

By Jan Cienski, National Post
Saturday, June 29, 2002

Most tourists seem to accept that tighter security is necessary in the wake of Sept. 11, but locals are starting to question the slew of precautions.

WASHINGTON – The marbled halls of the U.S. Capitol used to be filled with nosy tourists, wandering down obscure passageways, peeking into offices, taking up space on the private subway connecting the Capitol with nearby offices and generally treating building as if they belonged there.

No more.

Now tourists, all with paper tags stuck to their shirts, are carefully shepherded through the Capitol on guided tours. Stragglers are forbidden and many of the side passages are barred with red no-entry signs.

Tourists are also prohibited from walking out on to the terraces on the west side of the Capitol to take in the magnificent view down the Mall toward the White House and the Lincoln Memorial.

“I would have liked to have gone to the House and Senate chambers, but we had to stay with the tour,” said Bob Patrick of Pullman, Wash.

It’s all part of a tighter security that still affects the political heart of Washington more than eight months after terrorist-piloted airliners slammed into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

In addition to corralling tourists, the Capitol took delivery of 25,000 gas masks earlier this week, enough to protect politicians, staff and tourists in case of a chemical or biological attack.

“The environment has changed forever after Sept. 11, and I think we can be prudently precautious, but not scaredy cats,” said Terrance Gainer, the U.S. Capitol Police Chief.

Those precautions include blocking all entrances to the historic building with Jersey barriers, concrete obstacles that have become the most popular decorative feature of just about every monument and government building in Washington.

As well, the building is surrounded by cyclone fences and guard shacks where police officers scan the undersides of cars with mirrors attached to long sticks.

The scars and general tattiness led to complaints from The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper, deploring “the ugly new look of the Capitol, which resembles nothing so much as a communist-era border strewn with ad hoc fencing, upended sewer drains and bored officers sitting in late-model cars with the engines running.”

Last year, about 10,000 people a day strolled through the Capitol, most of them with no guides. Now only about half that number are admitted, all under tight control.

Most visitors seem to understand the new precautions.

“They have be careful in times like these,” said Pat Cote of San Diego, who had to go with her grandson to their congressman’s office to get tour tickets.

Across a park from the Capitol, the neo-classical Supreme Court Building is so far untouched by any new security barriers. But the Capitol Police are already asking to shut down streets near the court to daytime traffic, leading to complaints from the city’s non-voting congresswoman, Eleanor Holmes Norton, about “overreactions to 9/11.”

The White House is also far from normal.

Tours of the President’s house, a popular tourist attraction with long lines forming early in the morning to snap up the 3,000 tickets available daily, have been halted since the terrorist attacks.

“In these extraordinary times we’re taking extraordinary measures,” said George W. Bush, the President, after the shutdown.

The White House says the tours will restart “when it is determined to be safe.” In other words, never.

Pennsylvania Avenue, which runs in front of the White House, has been closed to traffic ever since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Locals spent years lobbying for the street to be reopened, allowing cross-city traffic to again flow normally. They appeared to be making headway until Sept. 11, when the idea of allowing trucks and cars to rumble a few dozen metres away from the White House became laughable.

Now the National Capital Planning Commission has adopted a plan to convert the unused road into a pink-bricked pedestrian area, permanently ruling out traffic.

“Security measures have become an unfortunate but necessary feature of life,” said Richard Friedman, head of the task force that chose the design earlier this year.

About 150,000 tourists a year also used to be allowed into the Pentagon, where they were taken on a two-kilometre stroll through the world’s largest office building. That has been halted indefinitely and now visitors merely slow down on the nearby highway to gawk at the side of the building that had been gashed by a hijacked airliner.

The search for safety is leading the city underground.

The White House already has an underground visitors centre, and similar facilities are being planned for the Capitol and for the Washington Monument, the distinctive obelisk in the centre of the Mall that is the city’s tallest structure.

The changes would block cars from approaching the monument, now surrounded by exceptionally ugly Jersey barriers and fields of scrubby grass. Under the National Park Service plan, police would have more time to scan approaching visitors, who would walk through a 100-metre tunnel to an underground centre.

The plan has aroused widespread opposition because of fears a tunnel will undermine the obelisk’s shaky foundations.

“Under the pretext of protecting the monument against truck bombs and other forms of vehicular assault (jet airplanes don’t seem to have crossed its radar screen), the service has come up with a bizarre plan that could end up presenting the Mall with an unexpected new treasure, the Leaning Monument of Washington, or perhaps — even better! — with 81,120 tons of New England Granite spattered all over the Mall,” wrote The Washington Post.

As those tourists emerge blinking into the sunlight, they will be carefully surveyed by video cameras to be installed at six of the Mall’s most prominent monuments at a cost of about US$3-million.

All of these plans have some activists cautioning that fear is changing the character of the U.S. capital.

“Of course in light of 9/11 it’s crucial that we all understand the need for security and address the kind of security threats that are out there,” said Judy Feldman, president of the National Coalition to Save Our Mall. “Our concern is that there has been a rush to judgment. We have to weigh to what extent we can secure ourselves against all these threats and then we have to come up with reasonable measures that don’t shut down a city that is a symbol of American freedom.”

 

Tags: ,

 

Share this Post