31 May 2010

Lost Capitol Hill: Virginia Avenue Park

Pierre L’Enfant’s original plan for the Federal City remains the blueprint for the city to this day, and often when trying to decide how best to proceed with a project, the city’s planners look to that 220 year old document to help guide their decision. As the discussion rages on whether to convert Virginia Avenue Park into Marine housing, it would seem sensible to look back at L’Enfant’s plan in an attempt to resolve this conflict.

Detail of L'Enfant Plan (Library of Congress)

Virginia Avenue Park is located at the intersection of Potomac Avenue (formerly Georgia Avenue) and Virginia Ave, SE. It lies between 9th and 11th Streets SE and is bounded at the top by the freeway and bottom by L Street and Potomac Avenue: L Street goes basically East-West from 10th to 11th Streets, while Potomac goes NE-SW from 9th to 10th streets.

According to the L’Enfant plan, VA and GA avenues were to intersect between 13th and 15th streets, ie, two blocks east of where the intersection actually is. It seems that Georgia Avenue was not built as planned, but rather a few blocks north of its planned location. The intersection is marked “No. 13” in the L’Enfant plan. No further information is given (and in fact, the way it is pictured, the entire area was simply to be open and – presumably – paved) However, looking at other intersections, it would appear that L’Enfant meant for it to look more like Seward Square or Stanton Park than, say, Lincoln Park.

Detail of Keily Map (Library of Congress)

The next question is how the city actually grew around the intersection, and for this information, we must turn to Keily’s great map from 1851. Houses are shown as built around the intersection, while the center remains empty. It does not have Seward Square’s rectangular shape, but otherwise seems to be treated equally.

Today, the basic shape remains the same in spite of the great damage done to the L’Enfant plan by the freeway that now determines the north side of the park, taking the place of Virginia Avenue, which has been removed entirely.

Virginia Avenue Park today (citizensatlas.dc.gov)

It would therefore appear that the appropriate use of this park is as an open area. Whether the traffic goes through the center (as in Seward) or around the edges (see Stanton Park) cannot be said for sure. Certain is only that this intersection was meant as a public open space, and not for any building. Its current proximity to the freeway precludes its use for anything such as L’Enfant planned, but a park with a community garden seems an eminently decent solution to keep it open and public.

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5 responses to “Lost Capitol Hill: Virginia Avenue Park”

  1. JD says:

    More maps showing the site, from 1903, ’05, ’15, and ’21:


  2. Jenni says:

    Here is a link to the facebook page to save the park from development:


  3. Carey says:

    Thank you for the interesting article. I hope this will inspire some of the community to make their voices heard that Capitol Hill needs to keep their vital green spaces. Please take this opportunity to review the plans for taking away the park and community when there are other viable options for constructing the new Marine Barracks.


  4. Nicole says:

    The above link is incorrect. The SAVE Virginia Ave Park facebook page is: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Save-Virginia-Ave-Park/116827151678390

    Please help support us and “Like” our page!

  5. Mike says:

    All interests down there – (future) dog park planners, people with an interest in VA Ave park, Community Garden, businesses (Dog-Ma), homeowners need to come together instead of going this alone. Not sure what group is gonna take the lead but it needs to be together and soon.

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