In Louis W. Minor's front yard, there are patches and neat little rows of colorful bright orange marigolds, white and pink begonias and scarlet sage that the Minors have planted to line the steps leading to their two-story Dutch colonial home in Northeast Washington.
Across the street from Minor's house, in an unnamed triangular-shaped park owned and operated by the District of Columbia, knee-high weeds and grass choke the crepe myrtle bushes and obscure the remains of a bed of yellow lemon lilies planted in the late 1960s when Ladybird Johnson led a campaign to beautify America.
"I don't understand why the park is so run down," Minor said as he walked through the high grass. "When the federal government ran them a few years ago, they did a bang-up job and the park really looked nice - it was a joy to behold."
In the early 1970s, the National Park Service gave the park to the District government, and since that time, Minor said, it has become such an eye-sore that he has had to cut the grass himself sometimes.
From her doorstep, Helen Rainsford, another Woodbridge resident, can see the spot where all the flowers have gone.
They just let the flowers die," Mrs. Rainsford said sadly. "The few plants that are left just have to take care of themselves."
During the 1960s, in a well-funded and publicized drive, Ladybird Johnson launched a beautification program that enlisted the financial support of such society notables as the Astors, the Rockefellers and the Albert D. Laskers.
In ceremonies throughtout the District of Columbia, Mrs. Johnson donned white gloves and with highly polished shovels and spades dedicated beautification projects around the city.
Mrs. Johnson said she believed that beautification should be not only for the monuments and areas around other federal property, but should extend into neighborhoods in all parts of the city.
The park in front of Minor's home was part of that effort and so was the playground at the Buchanan Elementary School, 13th Street and E Streets NE. Built with a $428,000 grant from the Astor Foundation, the Buchanan playground was once featured in landscape architecture magazines.
Like Minor's Park and other beautification projects of the 1960s, the Buchanan playground is now a showcase for neglect. Darwina Neal, horticulturalist with the National Park Service, takes landscape architecture students to the playground to show them that "no matter how well an area is designed, without funds, it can't be maintained and kept attractive."
"Citizens have donated thousands of dollars to help beautify the parks, and the city just lets the projects go," said Nancy Middleton of the now defunct municipal Office of Beautification. "I guess they think God will take care of them."
City officials say they do not have the money now to take care of the parks the way the federal government did, and that donations from private individuals for park improvement programs have dwindled from $1 million in 1968 to nothing today.
The National Park Service will spend about $4.3 million this year to upgrade and beautify the parks in the District under its control such as Rock Creek Park, LaFayette Park and Farragut Square.
While the National Park Service has increased the amount of money spent on area parks since the 1960s, the District is spending less than it did six years ago to maintain approximately 1,200 acres of new parks, playgrounds and beautification projects given to the city by the federal government.
Unlike the federal government's National Park Service, that cares for all federal grounds, there is no one city agency solely responsible for the maintenance of city parks.
That responsibility is fragmented among half a dozen District agencies without adequate maintenance funds or sufficient expertise to maintain more than $1.5 million of park improvements created in the 1960s during Mrs. Johnson's well-publicized beautify-America campaign.
In many years of the city, the flower beds are either overgrown, or simply covered with grass. Little parks, like the one across the street from Minor, sometimes get loss in the shuffle.
For nearly a year, Minor said he attempted, without success, to get the District government to take better care of the little park.
His calls to the mayor's office city agencies were unheeded, he said. Finally, he just cut the grass himself.
"I didn't do it for the praise," Minor said. "I just like my surroundings to be neat and tidy.
"But I don't want the District government to think that civic minded people should have to maintain city parks," he said.
At a recent community meeting, however, Minor was told that the city wanted just that.
Minor said that Douglas N. Schneider, director of the city's Transportation Department, suggested that he get several of his neighbors together to help maintain the park because the city just didn't have the funds to do more than cut the grass and pick up litter.
Minor said that really irked him.
"I'm paying my taxes each year and this man tells me that by corralling my neighbors to do the work that the city should be doing, that's going to lower my taxes." Minor said. "I know that wouldn't lower my taxes at all."
Beside that, Minor said, when the city did cut the grass it was done sporadically and not well at all.
The problem, according to one official, who asked not to be identified is that parks have a low priority in the city government.
Middletan of the old city Beautification Office said, "For 10 years we've tried to get a parks department in this city - we've even petitioned the mayor."
When the District was given the more than 500 neighborhood parks, playgrounds and open areas in the early 1970s, city agencies that had buildings abutting them or had responsibilities near the newly acquired parks got the responsibility to take care of them, Middleton said.
Agencies such as the Department of Human Resources, the Transportation Department, General Services, the D.C. public schools and the police department had to take care of parks and open areas whether they had the equipment, expertise or maintenance equipment, funds or not, she said.
"Many times, the building and grounds manager had the responsibility for those areas," Middleton said. "But more often than not, they were just ignored unless the person had a particular interest in them."
Today most of the parks and open spaces are maintained by the Transportation and Recreation departments. Public schools still have some responsibility for playgrounds and some open areas.
But officials said there is money now only to pick up trash and cut grass.
Schneider said three years ago, the Transportation Department had about $350,000 to maintain more than 300 parks. This year, his maintenance funds were reduced to about $200,000.
According to one city budget official, there had been no appropriated funds to beautify parks in several years and there is no money budgeted for beautification projects year 1978.
After two years of wrestling with the problem, a task force appointed by Mayor Walter E. Washington, still has not come up with a proposal that would result in better care of the city's parks.
The city parks problem is frustating to Hans Johannsen, chief of grounds maintenance of the Transportation Department.
"I don't see how you can maitain something if somebody doesn't give you the money to maintain it," Johannsen said. "Flowers have to be constantly maintained. There is no money for flowers or shrubbery.
Helen Mitchell, of the city's Department of Environmental Services, said the city has to depend on its citizens to help.
She said a new city agency, Citizens United to Remove Blight (CURB), was founded in the demise of the beautification office to assist citizens who want to help maintain neighborhood parks.
"Citizens have to participate in any beautification project because without their participation and input, the work will be in vain. No one will take care of it," Mitchell said.
"Let's face it, if you have a park in your community into it, you're going to take care of it and make sure that it's maintained," she said. "The city has never balked about doing the heavy maintenance - but it is essential to get citizens to participate in the project," she said.
The question becomes how much should citizens have to do. Minor said he should not have to cut the grass of the little park in his neighborhood when the city hires crews, using tax dollars, to do that work.
Johannsen said the overgrown park in Minor's community was an oversight. Minor said he has been trying to get city official to pay better attention to that park for nearly a year.
The day after a Washington Post out reporter called city officials to find out why the park wasn't better maintained, work crews moved the tall weeds and grass. But the flower beds are still barren.