African American Museum to Be Built on Mall

By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 30, 2006; 5:42 PM

The new National Museum of African American History and Culture should be built on the Mall near the Washington Monument, the Smithsonian's Board of Regents decided today.

Congress had instructed the regents to pick among four sites, two on the Mall and two nearby. The location at the southwest corner of 14th Street Northwest and Constitution Avenue had drawn widespread support.

"We believe we have picked the best possible site for this museum," said Roger W. Sant, chairman of the regents' executive committee. At an afternoon news conference, announcing the selection, Sant said the location rose above the others because of its "cleanliness," beauty and iconic placement.

The five-acre site has belonged to the government since 1791 and was endorsed by both the major plans for downtown Washington, the L'Enfant Plan of 1791 and the McMillian Plan of 1901, as an suitable place for a building. It was considered as a location for the State Department and the World War II memorial.

No permanent structure has ever been built there but the site is familiar as an assembly point and the placement of a snack bar.

The plans must also be approved by a number of influential planning agencies. Then a fund-raising drive will be launched to help pay for the museum, which will be part of the Smithsonian and is estimated to cost between $300 million to $400 million. The last new museum added to the Mall was the National Museum of the American Indian, which opened in 2004.

In discussion about the African American museum, supporters said its proximity to the National Museum of American History would be a plus, and even suggested some underground connection between the two. Others also liked the proximity because of the reinforcement of the dialogue that African American history is a significant component of American History. Walter E. Massey, another regent and the president of Morehouse College, reinforced this view yesterday. "We see it in the mainstream of American history," said Massey.

A place on the Mall resonated with Lonnie G. Bunch, the founding director of the museum. "I am delighted that this museum---which is the product of the vision, creativity, and hopes of many people and many generations---finally has a home. We are honored to have a site on the National Mall: a site that will allow this museum to become a place that encourages millions of Americans to remember . . . and to revel in the richness of African American history and culture."

In a series of consultations about the site, the Commission on Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission did not support this site. The National Coalition to Save Our Mall opposes any new construction on the Mall. Smithsonian officials said today they plan to start consultations with the government approval agencies immediately.

The Presidential Commission, appointed by President Bush, that did the feasibility study on the museum, supported it. The mayor's office supported it with reservations.

The site's drawbacks include heavy congestion in the area. Its closeness to the Washington Monument also raises security questions.

It is two blocks from the Federal Triangle Metro station and a short walk from the Smithsonian Metro station.

The site provides a vista looking to both ends of the Mall and up and down the broad span of 14th Street. It is only 800 feet from the Washington Monument and a short walk from the White House, two primary destinations for tourists and school groups.

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