By next spring, the Providence Hospital site, a neighborhood eyesore on Capitol Hill for 13 years, according to Elliott Carroll, executive assistant to the Architect of the Capitol.
The 2.4-acre site, which covers the entire square between 2nd, 3rd, D, and E streets SE, is now covered by a 10-foot mound of earth and rubble left when the old hospital was demolished in 1965. The mound of dirt and debris will be removed before winter, according to Carroll, and planting and seeding will be done next spring.
The planned park was made possible by a $375,000 supplemental appropriation, passed in September after a well-organized lobbying effort by Capitol Hill residents.
According to Phoebe Bannister, an advisory neighborhood commissioner who led the lobbying campaign, the effort began at a meeting of the Coalition of Community Organizations (COCO), a group set up specifically to deal with the Architect of the Capitol.
"The people in the immediate neighbourhood of the site wanted it cleaned up right away," said Bannister. "It was unsightly and dangerous. There was broken glass, and vagrants sat around there at night. A representative of the Architect's Office was there and said there were no funds for the site and that the architect wouldn't request any unless directed by Congress to do so. So we started looking around for the appropriate congressional committee."
Bannister enlisted the interest of the Public Buildings and Grounds Sub-committee of the House Committee on Public Works and Transportation and, in April, took the subcommittee chairman, Rep. Norman Mineta (D-Calif.,) on a tour of the site.
Later that month, Mineta held oversight hearings, chided Architect of the Capitol George White about the condition of the site and directed him to ask for an appropriation to turn it into a green park, which White agreed to do.
Bannister continued to lobby the relevant subcommittees, committees and conference committees, until the $375,000 appropriation was passed intact. It was signed into law last month.
Bannister and other neighbourhood residents had gained some lobbying experience and contacts during the summer of 1977 when they campaigned against a plan to turn the site into a congressional parking lot. The $483,000 appropriation for the parking lot sailed through subcommittees and committees, but was defeated on the House floor when a member raised a point of order: that the legislation authorizing the purchase of the property in 1972 limited its interim use to a green park.
Congress purchased the hospital site for $1.4 million to build the John W. McCormack Page School, a project that may eventually be shelved. The Senate has passed a resolution recommending that the present system of using high school-age pages be abandoned, but the House has not acted on the matter.
When Congress purchased the property in 1972, neighborhood residents, tired of fighting proposals they considered less attractive than the page school, expressed relief.
When the Daughters of Charity, a religious order that operated a tent hospital on the site during the Civil War and later built a hospital there, abandoned the building for a new hospital in 1956, the property was sold to developers Max Bassin, Dominic F. Antonelli Jr., Kingdon Gould and Morton W. Noble. Th developers first tried to build a high-rise apartment house on the property and later, a parking lot, but failed to obtain the necessary zoning changes.
The recently funded green park may be only temporary, however. If Congress decides not to build the page school, it could, through legislation, earmark the site for another building or parking lot or return it to the private sector.
Should Congress relinquish the property, there are several proposals for its use, including subsidized townhouses for the elderly, a Safeway store and a residential and educational center for scholars from the Smithsonian, the Folger Library and the Library of Congress.