The Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation, faced with monumental opposition, has temporarily withdrawn its plans to build an 11-story-high memorial arch for the U.S. Navy at Pennsylvania Avenue and Eighth Street NW.
The National Capital Planning Commission, which has the authority to approve or cancel the project, had been scheduled to consider the arch at its meeting tomorrow. PADC withdrew the plan from the agenda after the planning commission staff and the national committee on landmarks strongly condemned the proposal.
But the PADC is still committed to having a major arch on Pennsylvania Avenue and hopes to work out a compromise that will save the project.
In fact, PADC actually has been working on a model for an even larger arch than the one unveiled last month, project manager Ronald Eichner said yesterday.
The bigger arch, which Eichner said would be bulkier and taller than the 114-foot structure first proposed, was being designed in response to suggestions by the Fine Arts Commission, which approved the concept of the memorial last month. Fine Arts Chairman J. Carter Brown said then that the original design looked a little scrawny and needed some of the "marvelous chunkiness" of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and other notable triumphal arches.
Meanwhile, the proposed arch--which also would act as a huge band shell for outdoor Navy Band concerts--has been condemned by both the Joint Committee on Landmarks and the heads of two Smithsonian Institution museums, as well as the NCPC staff.
The landmarks committee criticized the arch last week as a "grandiose architectural expression" that would overwhelm nearby historic buildings and the plaza planned at Pennsylvania Avenue and Eighth Street.
The proposed $4 million structure, to be built with private funds by a Navy foundation, would straddle Eighth Street NW. The street would be turned into a pedestrian mall between the National Archives and the old Patent Office Building.
"It may not be possible to successfully combine a band shell with a memorial arch . . . and would be impossible to do so here . . . The two ideas are fundamentally incompatible," the landmarks committee concluded.
The planning commission staff recommends a smaller-scale Navy memorial that does not interrupt the Eighth Street vista. Its report to the commission concludes that "placing a triumphal Roman arch . . . across the dead end of a street within 55 feet, and at an oblique angle to, the nation's main processional avenue is inappropriate."
Furthermore, the report says, "a memorial arch and a bandshell appear incompatible both architecturally and functionally."
Harry Lowe, acting director of the National Museum of American Art, in a letter delivered to the NCPC yesterday, calls the arch "a grotesque travesty. It will pervert L'Enfant's noble plan" for Pennsylvania Avenue and "obliterate a magnificent vista of one of the city's finest classical buildings," he said.
PADC spokesman Eichner said, "We disagree with the comments of the Joint Committee and NCPC staff and plan to meet with them to see if we can change their minds. We've gone pretty far down the road with this idea.
"Fine Arts has approved it and this is the first time anyone has said there's anything wrong with it," he added. "I don't think we're alone in thinking the concept is right for this location. If the commission doesn't approve it, well, then, it's back to the drawing boards."
Eichner said he hopes a compromise can be reached before the planning commission's meeting in May.