Comments: Second Division Memorial Modification, President’s Park

By Judy Scott Feldman, PhD, Chair, National Mall Coalition

(Submitted to the National Park Service by the National Mall Coalition, October 28, 2019)

On behalf of the National Mall Coalition, I am writing to comment on the proposal to modify the Second Infantry Division Memorial, on the National Mall between the Ellipse and Constitution Avenue. As you know, the Coalition is a non-profit citizens group based in the District of Columbia that advocates the preservation and appropriate public use of the National Mall.

We were represented at the meeting on January 15 at the offices of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), and have had a report on the meeting’s content. We understand that the meeting was convened under the ACHP’s regulations implementing Section 106 of the National Historic  Preservation Act to consider the project’s area of potential effects (APE) and to discuss what effects it might have on historic properties, including the historic character of the National Mall.

The Second Division Memorial today consists of three integrated elements: a central bay containing the iconic flaming sword, and two flanking wing walls with flagstaffs, all on a low stone platform. The central bay was constructed in the 1930s to commemorate Second Division personnel lost in World War I; the wing walls were added later to commemorate those lost in World War II and Korea. The current proposal is to expand the platform on which the Memorial stands and add two plinths on which the names and locations of more recent engagements would be inscribed. New walkways would also be added to afford improved access to the Memorial.

The project is a modest one, but it would not be without effects. The obvious effects appear to involve two questions.

  1. Would making the Memorial more accessible do violence to its unique visual character? As things stand, the Memorial is most readily viewed at a distance, from Constitution Ave. It is seen as a dignified central element in a landscape of trees, flowers and turf. Should it remain this way, or should it become a monument that people can readily access and climb upon, and that is perhaps available as a stage for public events? We see value in both points of view, but think there is little doubt that by altering the Memorial’s visual character as it would, the project would have adverse effects that require further consultation.
  2. What will be inscribed on the plinths? The architect showed some tentative examples that included campaign name (e.g. “Operation Iraqi Freedom”), geographic location, and dates. We think it would be very inadvisable to include campaign names, which are often obscure and in recent years have become rather jingoistic. Including only locations and dates (e.g. “Afghanistan 2001-?) would be sufficient, and would avoid crowding the plinths too quickly. The inclusion of campaign names also strikes us as an adverse effect requiring more discussion.

We commend the project architect, Hany Hassan of Beyer Blinder Belle, on his sensitive approach to this project, and look forward to consulting further toward the resolution of its adverse effects.


Tags: ,