A Roadblock for Reagan

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 5, 2005

A Republican congressman from South Texas has proposed renaming 16th Street NW as Ronald Reagan Boulevard.

Rep. Henry Bonilla, co-chairman of the 2000 and 2004 Republican national conventions, quietly introduced the 106-word resolution before Congress adjourned for summer recess July 28.

As word has spread in the nation's capital, neighborhood Web logs in the overwhelmingly Democratic city have crackled with disbelief, and elected D.C. leaders yesterday joined in protest. The Republican chairman of a key House committee also criticized the idea.

"Regardless of your political affiliation, most people agree that Ronald Reagan was an American icon," Bonilla, a former TV news broadcaster elected in 1992, said in a written statement yesterday. "He was a president of national significance and for that reason he deserves an honor in the nation's capital."

Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) objected, saying that renaming the historic north-south route that leads to the White House would mar the elegant street plan laid out by French engineer Pierre L'Enfant in 1791 -- and cost the city $1 million to alter maps and signs.

"It's been a long time since I've heard of a plan that made so little sense," Williams said. "Changing the unique and beautifully mapped street system in Washington would mean undoing . . . a design that has inspired millions of people from around the world."

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee with jurisdiction over Bonilla's legislation, called it "ridiculous" and said he would put it in the "appropriate file," according to a report on radio station WTOP's Web site that was distributed by Davis aides.

Davis noted that Congress has renamed Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and dedicated the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center on Pennsylvania Avenue NW. "If Congressman Bonilla wants to name anything else, he has to look at his own district in San Antonio," Davis said.

Washington's streets are laid out in a traditional grid, with broad diagonal avenues radiating from circles and squares. Generally, the avenues are named after the states; east-west streets are named after the letters of the alphabet; and north-south streets are numbered.

In 1986, Congress renamed a portion of 15th Street SW by the National Holocaust Museum after Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who rescued tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews during World War II.

"Ronald Reagan, a conservative who respected tradition, might well have understood that the real significance of 16th Street is that it has given the White House its historic address, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue," said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the District's nonvoting House member.

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