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)

Proposed Executive Mansion on Meridian Hill by Paul J. Pelz, 1898

In the late 1800s, Mary Foote Henderson, wife of a former Missouri senator, was intent on elevating the status of her neighborhood. A formidable businesswoman, she developed a dozen or so mansions along 16th Street, Washington’s first Embassy Row. Diplomats, as neighbors, were one thing. But, ultimately, she wanted the president to live across the street from her.

In 1898, architect Paul J. Pelz, whom Henderson hired, designed an executive mansion of Versailles-like proportions for Meridian Hill, north of the White House. Had it been built, the opulent residence would have changed the presidency. “How could it not?” says Moeller. “Buildings have an impact on how we behave. We don’t know what the details of the interior would have been like, but it would have been a place where it would be hard to be humble.”

Congress nixed Henderson’s plan in the bud. In 1910, the government purchased the land, and four years later, the Interior Department asked landscape architect George Burnap to design a park. Horace Peaslee, another landscape architect, put his polishing touches on Burnap’s drawings, and construction began. Meridian Hill (or Malcolm X) Park has been managed by the National Park Service since 1933.


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