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Urban planner Léon Krier's master plan replaced the green swath of the National Mall with a Venetian-like canal flanked by pyramids and other examples of ancient architecture. (Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY)

The Monuments That Were Never Built

In a new exhibit at the National Building Museum, imagine Washington D.C. as it could have been

Lincoln Memorial Proposal by John Russell Pope, 1912

Lincoln Memorial
(National Archives)
John Russell Pope, who over 20 years later would design the Jefferson Memorial, submitted some rather bizarre proposals for the Lincoln Memorial. In this one, from 1912, a statue of Abraham Lincoln is placed, like a cake topper, on a step pyramid. Why would anyone think to build a pyramid to honor Lincoln? “Arguably why would we build a Greek temple to a man who was born in a log cabin?” says Moeller, of the actual memorial, designed by Henry Bacon and completed in 1922.

Apparently, Pope was not a fan of the site chosen for the Lincoln Memorial in 1913. Some historians believe that he created radical designs in a last-ditch effort to discourage the Lincoln Memorial Commission from using the swampy location, west of the Washington Monument. When he presented his many proposals to the commission, he only briefly touched on his pyramid series before strongly pitching ideas he had for other sites in the city.

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