Looking back at the long path the idea of an African American museum has taken since it was authorized by Congress in 1929, Wilkins says the Mall proper was always cited as a location for the museum. In both the L'Enfant Plan and the McMillan Plan a building was designated for that 15th Street site on the Mall. It was once even a destination for the State Department. "For anyone to say it would destroy the Mall by placing a museum at that site is folly," he argues, and points out that interviews with potential donors show decreased interest in the museum as the location gets further and further from the Mall.
The Park Service opposes the 15th Street location, but Lindstrom of the Fine Arts Commission says he likes it. Ideally, he says, the museum should be part of an extension of the American History territory. "It is American history," he says. A stand-alone structure would fit on the corner of the plot, with plenty of room left over. "Right now there is a kiosk for the Washington Monument refreshments. Sometimes it looks like the site of the National Portapotty Convention. NPS objects to me characterizing it that way, but that square is underutilized," he says.
Location, Location, Location
With space running out, planners are attempting to divert new memorials and monuments to sites far from the Mall.
The Banneker Overlook has its fans. The National Park Service, which has jurisdiction over the land, prefers it for the museum. It is a hefty eight-minute walk down 10th Street SW from the Smithsonian Castle, into the hypermodern stone terrain of L'Enfant Plaza, stuck out over a plethora of railroad tracks and freeway. Its core is only a little over two-thirds of an acre. However, a building project could include the hillside and perhaps extend over Maine Avenue toward the fish markets, pushing the footprint up to 10 acres.
Despite its current dreariness, the site has a panoramic view.
That park, said Blumenthal, "has one of the most spectacular views in the city because it is high. On a good day you can see to Alexandria and take in the Washington Channel and the Jefferson Memorial." Lindstrom thinks it has possibilities, if all the adjoining property is used. Feldman, of the National Coalition to Save Our Mall, also favors the Banneker site and says the planners and project supporters just have to think differently about the ceremonial core of the city. She says there is plenty of space, but people have to use it wisely. "The Mall is a living symbol. It is not finished, but we can think more broadly about how it can grow," she says. For example, she endorsed the adding of a Martin Luther King Jr. quote to the Lincoln Memorial to show the historical continuity between the two centuries.
One of the unknown factors, says Blumenthal, is what will make some of the new suggested areas acceptable. Will they be viewed as ripe for development by sponsors of memorials and museums, who would therefore be willing to be pioneers in an untested area? The downtown Penn Quarter and Gallery Place are crowded with new attractions. Some museums are doing well, such as the International Spy Museum, and others are faltering, such as the City Museum. "People will say 'I want to be there,' " when an area becomes desirable, says Blumenthal. "If you have a no-build zone, then clearly you have to say where you can build," she says.
So will the Indian Museum ever get company? Rep. Lewis says it should, and that history should be the guiding hand, not just planners' dreams. "In the past few years, we have witnessed the building of the Holocaust Museum and the Native American museum. Although I support these museums, it is my belief that no other group in America has suffered longer under such a vicious and evil system of oppression than African Americans -- over 300 years of slavery and years of Jim Crow laws," he says.
The Mall, like those stories yet to be told on the Mall, may not be finished.