Looking Back at the Joint Committee on Landmarks: A Selection of Sites
In 1978, the DC Council passed the Historic Landmark and Historic District Protection Act. This law established the current process of design review and historic designation, with landmarks and districts designated by the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) and added to the DC Inventory of Historic Sites. However, Washington, DC has a rich historic preservation tradition that predates this law.
In 1950, the Old Georgetown Act was passed by the US Congress. This law created the District's first historic district. To this day, projects in the Georgetown Historic District are reviewed by the Old Georgetown Board, in conjunction with the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts - as opposed to the HPRB, which reviews projects in DC's other historic districts.
As historic preservation activism grew, both locally and nationally, a major turning point occurred in 1964. That year, the Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission created the Joint Committee on Landmarks (JCL). The JCL was ordered to "compile and maintain a current inventory of significant landmarks in the District of Columbia and on Federal property in the remainder of the National Capital Region." Additionally, the JCL acted in an advisory capacity and would "serve as the District of Columbia's professional review committee to review all nominations to the National Register
of Historic Places]."
While largely honorary, the list, which eventually comprised over 300 historic landmarks and districts, was DC's first official inventory of historic structures and places. Many of these landmarks have since been added to the National Register, and some are also National Historic Landmarks. The list is also unique in that it ranks landmarks by their level of "importance" and "value," from the highest (Category I Landmarks) to the lowest (Category III Landmarks). For example, less than 30 landmarks were listed as Category I. This classification included many of the District's most famous historic sites, including the White House and Rock Creek Park.
Looking back at this inventory – over 50 years later – it is obvious that the list is not representative of the District's diverse history, culture, and architecture. The JCL focused on high-style architecture, and a limited number of historic events and figures. It is also limited in its geographic representation, as many of the sites are in the "Monumental Core" surrounding the National Mall, and in Georgetown. Today, the field of historic preservation strives to be more inclusive of underrepresented individuals and communities. There are many important historic narratives that would not have been considered by the JCL in 1964. Thankfully, many properties and their stories are now being formally recognized and designated, and the DC Preservation League is actively involved in this effort.
Nonetheless, this inventory was established at a time when historic preservation was growing in importance, and laid the groundwork for future historic preservation efforts in the District. This tour includes some of the landmarks considered significant by the JCL in the 1960s and 1970s.
For a comprehensive list of JCL sites, please see the below link or search "joint committee on landmarks" on this website.