The parks were a primary feature of the McMillan Commission Plan, the nation’s preeminent manifestation of the City Beautiful ideal of grand civic space. They are the cumulative product of a century of work by noted American architects. They are the setting for the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, Vietnam and Koran War Veterans Memorials, and many others. They include nationally recognized works of art, most notably Daniel Chester French’s statue of Abraham Lincoln.
The parks were created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in one of the city’s most ambitious reclamation projects. Intended to improve both river navigation and the sanitation of the Potomac Flats, the reclamation project lasted for more than 30 years, beginning in 1882, and created more than 730 acres of new land enclosed by stone seawalls. Under an 1897 Act of Congress, the reclaimed land was reserved for recreational use. The McMillan Plan reserved the interior of West Potomac Park for passive recreation, and spaces for active recreation were later sited on the park’s fringes. During both World Wars, land in the parks was used for the construction of office and dormitory buildings to support the war effort. The parks are characterized by broad expanses of open space framed by mature landscape plantings and historic boulevards and drives. They have been managed by a succession of government agencies, beginning with the Office of Public Buildings and Grounds, and currently the National Park Service.
East Potomac Park (Reservation 333): From its earliest origins, East Potomac Park was meant to be a model “public playground,” and the park still contains many early-20th-century recreational features. Reclamation of the land was completed in 1911, and it was transferred to the Office of Public Buildings in Grounds for park use in 1912. The completion of Ohio Drive in 1916 allowed access to the park, and a development plan dating to the same year set the framework for the construction of later, primarily active, recreational amenities. In 1966-68, approximately 1,800 Japanese Cherry trees were planted along Ohio Drive around the perimeter of Hains Point. These trees were planted by friends of President and Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson in honor of their nationwide Beautification Program.
See separate entries for major contributing features including the Field House, Golf Course, Miniature Golf Course, Potomac Railroad Bridge, Swimming Pool, and U.S. Engineer’s Storehouse
West Potomac Park (Reservation 332): West Potomac Park is one of the nation’s most important designed landscapes, with several defining features that can be directly attributed to Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., one of the most famous American landscape architect of all time. The park contains the nation’s foremost collection of commemorative structures, which together represent the definitive history of 20th-century American memorialization. A number of its landscape features, including the Tidal Basin cherry trees and rows of elms flanking the Reflecting Pool, have become symbols of Washington, D.C., as have the landscapes associated with the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. The park has also become a continued venue for significant national social gatherings and demonstrations. In particular, the Lincoln Memorial has become an icon in the civil rights movement, best known as the location of such defining moments as Marian Anderson’s 1939 Easter Sunday Concert, and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech in 1963. The nation’s annual Fourth of July celebration centers on the park and the adjacent National Mall. Newer contributing features of West Potomac Park include Constitution Gardens (1976), 56 Signers Memorial (1981), Vietnam Veterans Memorial (1982), Vietnam Women’s Memorial (1993), Korean War Veterans Memorial (1995), and Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (1994-97).
See separate entries for major contributing features including the District of Columbia World War I Memorial, John Ericsson Monument, Japanese Cherry Trees and Statuary, Jefferson Memorial and Grounds, John Paul Jones Monument, Kutz Bridge and Independence Avenue Extension, Lincoln Memorial and Grounds, Lockkeeper’s House, Number Four Fountain (George Mason Memorial), and Tidal Basin.
DC Inventory: November 8, 1964 (Joint Committee on Landmarks)
National Register: November 30, 1973 (revised November 11, 2001)
HABS DC-692 and 693