The Monuments That Were Never Built

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

(Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY)

Proposal for “Housing on the Avenue,” by Hugh Newell Jacobsen, 1974

In Pierre L’Enfant’s original plan for Washington, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House was a grand thoroughfare. But by the mid-20th century, the area had become rundown and dangerous. President John F. Kennedy took initiative and created a commission to look into ways to improve the corridor. From that, came the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation, which revived the area in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. In 1974, the public/private partnership asked local architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen to draft a housing complex for the avenue.

Jacobsen’s conceit looked like a typical office building from the street level. But in its core, the building was an amphitheater of more than 1,500 townhouses. The tiered setting, reminiscent of an Italian hill town, had underground parking, shops and restaurants on the ground floor, offices above and then the apartments.

While other building proposals bundled into the 1974 plan for Pennsylvania Avenue were implemented, Jacobsen’s housing complex was not. “Things changed as attitudes changed,” says Moeller. Today, Market Square—two, curved, neoclassical residential buildings on the avenue—instead form a great arch around the Navy Memorial.


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