Big Changes, Renovations in Plan

By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 5, 2009

The latest vision of the Mall calls for removing the Capitol Reflecting Pool and the existing Sylvan Theater, according to a planning document unveiled this week by the National Park Service.

The D.C. War Memorial and its surrounding landscape would be restored, along with the dramatic, but weathered, sculpture of the Grant Memorial, near the reflecting pool and the west front of the U.S. Capitol.

The reflecting pool could be replaced with another water feature as part of the plan; a multipurpose entertainment facility would be built on the site of the Sylvan Theater, south of the Washington Monument.

There also would be more restrooms.

These and other changes are envisioned in the Park Service's "preliminary preferred alternative," the latest chapter of a Mall plan that has been evolving for more than a year. It was posted on a Park Service Web site -- -- this week for public comment.

Public meetings on the plan are scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday and noon to 2 p.m. March 14. The meetings will be at the Old Post Office, 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Room 107.

The final version of the plan is not expected to be formulated for another year.

The "preferred alternative" is part of the Park Service's planning for what is officially called the National Mall & Memorial Parks, a complex that is chronically underfunded and overused and that in January hosted an estimated 3 million people during President Obama's inauguration week.

Park officials have said the inauguration throng "obliterated" the surface grass on the Mall, although the root systems might have survived beneath the frozen ground. Only spring will tell whether the trampled grass returns.

The Mall serves as the nation's "premier civic space," as Susan Spain, the Mall plan project executive, puts it. As such, it is used for protests, celebrations, festivals, commemorations, inaugurations and other events, and its popularity takes a heavy physical toll.

In addition, there are insufficient restrooms; the Park Service has none east of 14th Street. And what restrooms exist are old and decrepit. The various lakes and reflecting pools are often filled with dirty, uncirculated water.

Some Mall structures, such as the open-air Sylvan Theater and the old stone Lockkeeper's House, at 17th Street and Constitution Avenue NW, look shabby. And the Jefferson Memorial seawall has sunk six to nine inches into the Tidal Basin in the past 3 1/2 years. There is almost $400 million in deferred maintenance.

The Park Service is weighing an array of changes designed to address many of these issues long-term. The Jefferson Memorial seawall is a more immediate problem and will be addressed with funding in the near future, the Park Service says.

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