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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

Proposed Mothers’ Memorial, by John Geddes, 1922-30

Mothers Memorial
(Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)
On May 12, 1929, Daisy Calhoun, a 65-year-old socialite, mother and founder of the Woman’s Universal Alliance, addressed a crowd at a groundbreaking ceremony for a Mothers’ Memorial in Washington. “The world has memorialized fighters, thinkers, monarchs and prophets, sea kings and generals,” she said. “But as yet no monument to the mother genius had been raised in imperishable stone, beautified by art and sculpture, to proclaim the debt each mortal owes to the woman who risked her own life to give life.”

Of course, a Mothers’ Memorial was never constructed. The U.S. Commission of Fine Arts was not too keen on the idea to begin with, and then the Great Depression, of course, made fundraising difficult. But a few designs for such a monument were considered in the 1920s. Architect Joseph Geddes, in 1925, proposed a massive tower, bearing a resemblance to a skyscraper, with a grand staircase approaching it. Positioned on high ground near the Naval Observatory on Massachusetts Avenue, the memorial would have been a dominant part of the skyline. “It always makes me wonder what this guy’s relationship with his mother was like,” says Moeller.

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