If it had not been for the House District Committee, a six-deck elevated freeway with parking below and an airplane landing strip on top would now be running down Pennsylvania Avenue.
If D.C. Engineer Commissioner William T. Rossell had prevailed. Rock Creek Creek Valley would now be filled in to make "squalid" Georgetown more accessible.
But the most grandiose scheme for "the imporvement and aggrandizement? of the nation's capital was proposed by a Boston businessman named Franklin Webster Smith. He urged Congress to approve construction of an "American Acropolis" - a city-within-the-city consisting entirely of Greek. Egyptian and Roman temples, housing art and history displays. THe seropolis was to be built between the White House and the Potomac.
These and other forgotten plans for Washington are presented by historian Wilcomb E. Washburn and city planner Kathryn Cousins in the current issue of the Journal of the American Institute of Architects. The plans were forgotten. Washburn and Cousins say, because in architect Daniel Burnham's works they failed "to stir men's minds."
Planners are learning, the article says, that grandiose, "big plans can be rather insensitive on the local level, and that is where we all live."
There was much citizen support for the multi-purpose viaduct that engineer Carroll Livingston Riker proposed to build atop Pennsylvania Avenue in 1925. The Bucky Fuller fantasy - a steel arc supporting six shelves or decks - was"to do away with congestion," according to its designer.
Local traffic was to move on th first deck. The two next higher decks were to be devoted to parking - about 2,500 cars per mile. The fourth deck was to be a speedway enabling drivers to get from the Capital to Key Bridge in five minutes. Above that was to be an airplane hanger. And on top of that, airplanes were to land and take off. The avenue beneath all this was for people and streetcars.
Riker had previously designed the most powerful dredging pump of his time, which reduced the cost of the Potomac Park land fill by half. He also engineered the first warehouse refrigerators in the world, Washburn and Cousins tell us.
The "Riker Parking Viaduct" was estimated to cost $2.5 million per mile was to run all the way from the Capital to Key Bridge. The money was to be raised form local businessmen and repaid with parking fees (10 cents per hour on 25 cents a day on a monthly subscription).
The scheme was proclaimed feasible by Gen. George W. Goethals who supervised the construction of the Panama Canal and was anxious to be put in charge of the project. The Fine Arts Commission , apprently unconcerned about airplanes landing on Pennsylvania Avenue thought the viaduct might have "a beautiful decorative effect." And the vice president of Woodward & Lothrop department store, along with the Chamber of Commerce, was all in favor of creating more parking spaces.
A bill to build the monster was introduced in Congress but met a gentle demise in the House District Committee.
The plan to fill in Rock Creek Valley, on the other hand, originated in 1893 with a Senate Resolution.
The Senate wanted the Rock Creek Valley south of Massachusetts Avenue to be level with Georgetown and the western edge of Washington. The valley at the time was gradually being narrowed by the constant dumping of trash over its sides.
The plan to fill it altogether was worked out by Commissioner Rossell. Atop the land fill was to be a wide boulevard flanked by houses.
One of the reasons for the proposal was that the Senate wanted to alleviate Georgetown's "squalid conditions" by providing easier access. Georgetown residents supported the plan because they thought it would raise their property valued.
But despite Georgetown citizen support the Senate Park Commission, which also created the Mall as we know it today, urged that the Rock Creek Valley be turned into a park. It took several years of debate until that view prevailed.
"The American Acropolis" was propsed in 1900 - a first,awkward herald of the "City Beautiful" movement. I inspired largely by the rebuilding of Paris by Napoleon III and Baron Georges Haussmann, the plan, in the words of its author, Franklin Webster Smith, was "sweeping in destruction of squalor and suggested reconstruction in splendor."
Smith, who claimed to have spent 50 years is study, including 19 trips abroad, on his plan, wanted to recreate at actual scale the great architectual buildings of the ancient world, including Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, which just pretends to be ancient.
TO provide an appropriate entrance to his Acropolis. Smith wanted to build several additional avenues leading from Capitol Hill, including a 200 foot wide Centennial Avenue straight down the Mill.
Hebelieved that "Pennsylvania Avenue will ultimately be Haussmanized" and that therefore his ambition should be realized by "a prompt and effective stroke of Napoleonic legislation."
None came forth, despite liberal distribution of a pamphlet and the founding of a National Society for Aggrandizement of Washington." All Smith accomplished was an exhibition of models at 13th Street and New York Avenue called "Halls of the Ancients." Smith, say Washburn and Cousins, "was to die a frustrated man."
"Even those planners whose ideas have been incorporated into the city's fabric - L'Enfant. Downing Burnham, Owings - have often left Washingtonians shaking their heads in despair or digust, say Washburn and Cousins. But despite the city's pitfalls and frustrating array of feuding authorities, it is, for the planner, as Theodore Roosevelt described the presidency, a bully pulpit.!"