Two hundred years after Washington planner Pierre L'Enfant designed a broad vista for the area west of the Capitol and almost 100 years after the McMillan Commission swept it clean of intruding buildings, the Mall is filled, according to a report by the groups that approve sites for memorials and monuments.
The Mall is the most visited part of Washington, a monumental expanse where the nation's heroes are honored. But now, after years of debating whether the city's signature green space was getting overcrowded, the Joint Task Force on Memorials has recommended that it be declared a no-build zone.
That concern initially was addressed in 1986 when Congress passed the Commemorative Works Act that limited who or what could be memorialized on the Mall and required applicants to get congressional approval to locate in what was called Area 1. Even with those regulations in place, however, more than a dozen new memorials were approved for the city's most prestigious area.
The Joint Task Force's plan would encourage groups with proposals to select locations in other parts of the District as a way to distribute commemorative works throughout the city.
The proposed no-build zone is called the Reserve and includes the area between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial and between Lafayette Square and the entire Tidal Basin. An area that borders the Reserve is called Section A and is for "memorials of preeminent significance."
What the Joint Task Force calls Area B--the rest of the District--is for "memorials of lasting historical significance."
After a 60-day public comment period that began yesterday, three key review agencies--the National Capital Planning Commission, the Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Memorial Commission--will have to approve the new policy. If approved, it would be effective retroactively to Sept. 8.
The Joint Task Force was drawn from members of the three commissions.
According to Ron Wilson, a spokesman for the National Capital Planning Commission, memorials that already have received the approval of Congress and the three review agencies for sites in the Reserve area and Area A would not be affected by the new policy. Those memorials include the World War II Memorial, the Black Revolutionary War Patriots Memorial, the George Mason Memorial and the U.S. Air Force Memorial. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial has been approved for a location in Area A, but a specific site has not yet been approved, he said.
Wilson said there are 31 memorials in the Reserve and 66 in Area A.
Although the proposed policy would be binding on the three agencies concerned with memorial site and design on federal land, Congress continues to have the power to designate any memorial site it chooses.
Among those groups that would be adversely affected by the proposal is the Disabled American Veterans, which hopes to build a memorial placed prominently on the Mall. The group has just begun the process.
"We are not in favor of a blanket fiat that [says] that an entire corridor of this city is forever off-limits," said the group's executive director, David W. Gorman. "We want to be there and should be there, and we have the right to be there more than anybody else."
Gorman said veterans who "had taken a bullet" during the course of wartime military service were the most deserving of any group to be honored with a memorial on the Mall.
Charles Atherton, executive secretary for the Commission of Fine Arts, said he doubted many memorial groups would be enthusiastic about sites away from the monumental core.
"Everybody wants to be on center stage, and the tour buses include the Mall in their circuit," he said. "On the other side of the coin, we applaud the building of memorials in other parts of the city if people can be convinced to do that."
Atherton added, "We'd like to see some old-fashioned statues and fountains, something that doesn't take up a lot of room as has happened in the last several years.
"We are very open to find out where the general sentiment lies, whether everyone is on the bandwagon and saying it's about time to say no to all those memorials," he said.
The first two of several public meetings on the proposal are scheduled for Sept. 29 from 2 to 4:30 p.m. and from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library at 901 G St. NW, according to the Joint Task Force.
CAPTION: The Mall Crowd (This graphic was not available)
CAPTION: Visitors walk by the Korean War Veterans Memorial on the Mall, which is the most visited area in Washington. A task force has proposed that most future monuments be built elsewhere, so the green space can be preserved.
CAPTION: Tourists look at the several components of the Korean War Veterans Memorial, one of the many monuments in Washington, particularly in and near the Mall.