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)

Winning Entry to the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Competition by John Russell Pope, 1925

In 1920, just one year after Theodore Roosevelt died and 11 years after he left the White House, Congress authorized the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association to construct a monument on the southern banks of the Tidal Basin. John Russell Pope proposed a 200-foot tall fountain, surrounded by concentric pools and bracketed by two curving colonnades in 1925. “In a way, it is the conceptual opposite of what is there now,” says Moeller.

Today, the Jefferson Memorial, also designed by Pope, occupies the very same site. As opposed to an open plaza, the memorial is a solid, neoclassical structure that breaks the line of sight from the White House to the Potomac River.

So, how did this happen? Well, many people thought that it was too soon after Teddy Roosevelt’s death to create a memorial to him. In 1931, the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association purchased the 88.5-acre Analostan Island in the Potomac River and turned it into a public park instead, in keeping with Roosevelt’s avid support for the natural environment. (A statue of the president, stones with some of his quotations and two smaller fountains were erected on the island in the 1960s.) Soon thereafter, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt pushed for the memorial to Thomas Jefferson on the Tidal Basin.


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