Our History

How We Started

Coalition History Images
3rd Century Mall activities included, clockwise from top left, four public forums in 2004, the 2005 event at the Corcoran, the 2010-2012 Washington Monument Ideas Competition, and the 2012 public exhibit at the District Architecture Foundation

The architects, historians, preservationists, and concerned citizens who founded the National Mall Coalition were motivated by the realization, during development of the National World War II Memorial between 1997 and 2000, that the American public had no meaningful voice in development of the Mall. We set out to create a grass-roots organization that would give voice to the larger public interest in this nationally significant public civic space. Many us were capital area residents, and native Washingtonians, and we soon expanded to welcome supporters from all across the country.

From the beginning we tried to build a constituency based on key goals: to protect the planning legacy (the 1791 L’Enfant Plan and 1902 McMillan Plan) that has given us the majestic Mall we know and love today, and to ensure that needs of the American people are heard, especially regarding decisions about how we develop the Mall with new museums and monuments, how the Mall tells our common American story, and how we use this public space for learning about and experiencing American Democracy.  For the National World War II Memorial (completed in 2004), we advocated modifications to the scale and design that would preserve the majestic symbolic vista between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial and protect the openness of the continuous public space between those iconic monuments that had been the historic location for civil rights marches and anti-war demonstrations.

Since our founding, we have participated in the mandated public consultation process for all proposed changes to the National Mall and sought to elevate the needs of the American public in all planning decisions, with limited success. Read more in Public Policy – Our Involvement.

3rd Century Mall Initiative

In 2003, the Coalition launched the National Mall 3rd Century Mall Initiative to actively engage the public in short-term and comprehensive long-term planning and to propose innovative solutions to modern needs. We were concerned that uncoordinated and piecemeal development by the various government entities threatened to destroy the integrity of the Mall’s unified design and public open space.

corcoranphotocollageThat year, to raise public awareness and gather public input about the future of the Mall, we held four public forums at George Washington University and published the findings in 2004 in “The Future of the National Mall.”   Review an illustrated presentation about the need for the 3rd Century Mall initiative and ideas developed since 2004 for the future of the Mall in this website’s “Innovation” section.

We Invited Designers to Imagine the 3rd Century Mall

In 2005, at the Coalition’s “Designing for Democracy” public forum at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, we invited 6 architects to show concepts for expanding the Mall, what we call the “3rd Century Mall,” to provide new space for future museums and public activities while protecting the historical Mall.   The focus of all 6 designers was the underutilized island of East Potomac Park on which the Jefferson Memorial is located.2008 and 2009 Mall Reports

In 2008, we published Rethinking the National Mall which described our evolving thinking about the 3rd Century Mall. In addition, the Coalition worked with graduate students at George Mason University who prepared  a Mall circulation study that identified problems with pedestrian circulation, public transportation, parking, and general access to the monuments, museums, and cultural activities.  That study and its recommendations for better circulation planning and options laid the groundwork for our continuing efforts to improve access and circulation including development of the National Mall Underground proposal in 2013 and 2014.

In 2009, drawing upon our ongoing outreach to the public in meetings and public forums, as well as ideas by Coalition Board members and leadership, we proposed design and program ideas for how the Mall could be improved in Renewing American Democracy on the 3rd Century Mall. One action item in that 2009 report was to organize a public competition for the unfinished Washington Monument Grounds to educate the public about Mall history and engage citizens of all ages in thinking creatively about the future of the Mall.  This became a major project for the next two years.

Public Outreach through Education, Open Competition, and Exhibitions

Another new project we started in 2009 was educational self-guided Mall tours, first proposed in our Renewing American Democracy report. We published our first tour, America’s Struggle For Freedom, as a downloadable (from our website), two page guide. Following this tour visitors visit key memorials — Jefferson, George Mason, FDR, and Lincoln — to explore the themes of the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Right, Four Freedoms, and Civic Rights.

AIA DC 2012 Exhibit
The Coalition’s two part exhibition at the AIA/DC in 2012 focused on Mall history and ideas for improvements in the Mall’s 3rd century and on the many innovative ideas developed in the National Ideas Competition for the Washington Monument Grounds.

Beginning in 2010 and ending with announcement of a People’s Choice winner in 2012, the Coalition sponsored, with George Washington University and many other educational institutions, a National Ideas Competition for the Washington Monument Grounds.  The competition drew more than 500 participants from across the country and around the world.  Contestants were asked to honor the historic L’Enfant and McMillan plans while creating new ways to make the barren, unwelcoming Washington Monument grounds the Mall centerpiece and oasis it was intended to be. Learn more about the Competition here. Also, you can visit the dedicated Competition website at http://www.wamocompetition.org .

American Institute of Architects Can Take the Lead, as AIA did in 1901

National Mall Coalition Exhibition Brochure 2012
The Coalition published this exhibition brochure in which we outlined the AIA’s historic role in Mall planning and proposed some ideas for thinking about a new plan for the National Mall

In 2012 we exhibited concepts for the 3rd Century Mall at the national AIA Convention (American Institute of Architects) held in Washington at the DC Convention Center. In addition we mounted a two-part public exhibition at the District Architecture Center, offices of the Washington Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, to further engage the local public in an ongoing conversation about the Mall’s future. Half of this exhibit focused on the 3rd Century Mall concept, the other on the process and winners of the Washington Monument Competition.

National Mall Underground Resiliency Project

Since 2011, we have been developing the National Mall Underground flood control/public access project in consultation with government agencies and business and civic groups.  We see this as a realizable project that will be a first step toward realizing comprehensive, collaborative planning for the Mall that benefits the public and all Mall constituencies.

Ongoing Advocacy and Public Outreach

Ongoing day-to-day activities by members of the Board include participating in and collaborating with other organizations on: public meetings for Mall-related projects, preparing and presenting thoughtful testimony to Congress and during design review hearings, and informing the public via our website and email updates of relevant Mall issues.   The Coalition has been part of the public consultation process in recent years for numerous projects including Washington Monument security, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Vietnam Memorial Visitors Center, the National Park Service’s National Mall Plan, the Smithsonian’s South Mall Campus Master Plan, and security for many museums, monuments, and public buildings.  The Coalition is often quoted in the media as a voice for the public interest on these government-drive projects.

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The National Mall Underground website describes the need for flood control, irrigation, tour bus and car parking, and a Mall Visitor Center. It illustrates national and international precedents and includes endorsements by business and civic groups.


Mall map - 7th Graders - Amy Dodson field trip 2
7th graders at the Capitol with the Coalition’s Mall mini-ma

Educational outreach since 2000 includes hundreds of free public talks by the Chair Judy Scott Feldman on the history and future of the Mall to school and civic groups, Elderhostel, Road Scholar, the Trust for the National Mall, and others.  Working with interns from George Washington University, the Chair developed the first of a proposed series of self-guided tours of the Mall focusing on civic themes.  This “America’s Struggle For Freedom” tour, printable from our website on one 8 x 11 sheet of paper, uses the Jefferson, George Mason, FDR, and Lincoln Memorial to explore concepts of the Revolution, Declaration of Independence, US Constitution, Bill of Rights, Four Freedoms, and Civil War/Civil Rights.  Our 2009 report proposes 7 additional tours on different themes intended to educate and build civic knowledge.

Another very popular project of public outreach is our mini-map National Mall: Stage for Our Democracy.”  This pocket-sized map is the only Mall map to show the entire Mall as envisioned in the historic L’Enfant and McMillan Plans and to tell the inspiring story of public use of the open space through time for civil rights, First Amendment, and other activities.  Since 2005, we have distributed over 220,000 maps, primarily at three main locations:  Congressional offices, through the service First Call; Ronald Reagan National Airport; and Dulles International.

We invite you to join our efforts.