What looks from a distance like a mushroom farm has sprouted atop L'Enfant Plaza's south building -- one of the first and most visible structures seen by motorists crossing the 14th Street bridge from Virginia -- and it has drawn critical attention from the chief administrator of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, a guardian of Washington's esthetic character.
The seeming mushroom farm is a cluster of at least seven starkly white satellite dishes that, in Metro Scene's view, has added clutter to the pleasing appearance of the L'Enfant Plaza development as basically designed by architect I.M. Pei when the plaza became part of the Southwest urban renewal project in the 1960s.
Such dishes abound in Washington and other cities. The Washington Post, in fact, uses them for communication among its three plants, but none is in a highly visible location.
L'Enfant Plaza's satellite dishes were installed by the Communications Satellite Corp., known as Comsat, which has its headquarters there. A Comsat spokesman said the dishes conform with all District and federal regulations, including those of the city's renewal organization, the D.C. Redevelopment Land Agency. He said consideration is being given to painting the dishes an earth tone to come close to the pinkish shade of the plaza buildings.
On Thursday, Charles Atherton, secretary of the fine arts commission, was on the Maine Avenue waterfront. He said he saw the dishes and was aghast. He said he will suggest to the commission at its March meeting that it might want to seek the right to review the installation of dishes at highly visible locations such as the plaza.
Steven Sher, executive secretary of the D.C. Zoning Commission, said that body has held hearings into possible regulations on satellite dish installations. But, because of a legal technicality, they could not apply to the Southwest urban renewal area.