tv Pierre L Enfant and Washington D.C. CSPAN April 4, 2015 12:46am-2:15am EDT
>> thank you for being here. it's a pleasure. thank you for the smithsonian and, in particular, and, of course, even the david logan foundation for underwriting the series, the making of the federal series. part of this series as rebecca mentioned, you have a chance to encounter that history through the eyes of historian don hawkins and pamela scott. all of those people are instrumental in my own research. i'm friends with all of them. very good friends with don hawkins.
i think it's a pretty rare opportunity. so i do encourage that. i want's a pleasure to be here and have a clans to talk about his plan for washington, d.c. i want to bookend my talk with two brief readings from grand avenues. one at the start of my talk from the very start of the book and one at the end from the very end of the book. i'm going to read and sort of edit the version. after the entire talk, i'd be happy to answer any questions that you might have. it's march of 1791 and, by this time, is known as peter lamfant. or more customarily, much more
to his liking. that's what he wanted to be called. he was a revolutionary war veteran. and they called each other by their titles. it gets things moving. and it's sort of a snapshot of who he was at that moment. this moe mentous point in time, you're going to -- thank you for coming out in the cold and the rain tonight. you're going to hear that this is sort of a similar kind of meet meteorological situation. so we can have a little bit of sympathy for him. so i'm going to start with a bit of reading from the book and then move forward to talk about lamfant and this plan. the book begins wednesday, march 9th, 1791.
the architect hadn't waited for another. eager to get to the bank and begin what promised to be the culminating work of a lifetime. the major was alone. he was unmarried. without family in the united states. if there had been any romantic ties in new york city, they had been cut. his father, once an accomplished painter for the court of louis xv had died years later. sheltered by the king's soldiers
from the strikes, protests and bread riots proliferating elsewhere in the city. the french revolution was gaining steam, but lamfant wasn't dwelling on the troubles in his homeland. that is where his sights and thoughts remained. it would also require that he maintain the approval of the nation's most eminent leader, george washington.
28d be his destiny and his due. he carried a letter from secretary of state, thomas jefferson. approved by the president gave lamfant the task of surveying the area along the potomac river between rock creek and the mouth of the eastern branch more than three miles to the southeast, in order that some section of that ground might be transformed into a new and permanent seat of dwovt for the united states. >> the project gist wasn't ambitious. it was unpres debited. the capitol of a new world empire was to be set down in a quiet, sparsely inhabited territory of hills for us. farms and wetlands. it had to be planned by only one man. but jefferson's letter didn't ask him to create a plan for the capitol.
lamfant had every expectation that his would be the hand holding the pencil, his the mind shaping the streets shares and monumental spaces and his, the name most choesly associated with its realization. it was a deed in need of a fertile and tireless communization. the spring was shipping up to be dower and difficult. the streets were quieter than usual, thanks to the chill and rain.
the wound would also become a badge of honor he would invoke again and again when he felt his adopted country had turned its back on him. lamfant passed homes attorneys, offices and dried goods, watch makers and furniture stores until he reached his destination just a few store fronts from the lapping waters of the potomac. the entire operation was better known as sutters.
lamfant was 36 years old in march, 1791. and, aside from any lingering ache in his leg, in good physical health. et's one of the many blunt ironies of the major's life story that no authenticated image of him exists outside of a single small silhouette made around 1785. contemporary observers never quite agree on a physical description. with a prominent nose who at
least on the period before, usually presented an elegant appearance and cared himself as a gentleman. but those who crossed professional paths were unanimous as a talker. convinced he was the only person who could do that work so well. he certainly wasn't the kind of man that others might prefer that he wait until morning to begin. he had no reason to be anything but after fab. it turned out he knew nothing of the architect's needs. lamfant was quickly able to establish his bona fides, but the mix up was vexing. how had jefferson's, washington's second on matters regarding the federal city failed to prepare the mayor of georgetown for this moment. lamfant knew that the surveyor had also taken room and was already four weeks into the
arduous work of setting off the ten by ten mile square that was to contain the new seat of government. workers had to be hired and paid. the most advanced training in europe, lamfant had left paris. over the next six years he risen to the rank of major. and finally to captain. the list of men he befriended and depressed along the way including many of the most famous soldiers and politicians of his time. still, all of that was only a prelude.
here the greatest would be fulfilled. the next day he wroez to an unfortunate site. the rain through which he sloged the night before had not lessened. jefferson required visibility. the ability to find high ground and grasp the rise and fall of hundreds and even thou sands of acres of land. given the conditions, he might have been forgiven for staying inside and catch up. but he'd waited years for this opportunity and was passed ready to begin. retrieved his horse and rode off into the rain.
the plan as it exists now, it's a big, brown smudge with a sliegtly darker brown smudge dominating the middle of it. it's impossible to read with the eye. you can catch bits and pieces of it. it took microscopes and lasers for us to pull this out of it. it took an enormous amount of excavation to get this out of it. when lamfant finished the plan when it created this document, it didn't have all of this sort of wonderful, sepia shading. it was a boring, off wiet white with a lot of black lines and a few little splotches in the mirror of water color. this is an image done by dawn hawkens who some of you signed up to see it.
don hawkens has spent a good part of his life to reclaiming not only this plan but in an article i wrote for the washington post several years ago for the post magazine i outlined his efforts of this. the district as it actually existed. it evokes kind of the age of plan. it also makes clear the lines of the plan in a way if we were to try toe look at the actual existing plan. today, we wouldn't be able to do. and this is what i want to talk about today this drawing. and two essential facts about this drawing. go hand-in-hand.1cyñt
>> and you know my book, at some point, i call lamfant a genius. we always argue about what that term means, does it get overused. but the pieces of that description is the enormous speed with which he worked. the enormous speed from which with which he went from sort of zero to sixty. from a blank landscape to this. and this isn't just a skach. this is a rigorous exploration of the possibility of this made into a physical form. the second essential fact about this drawing is that we recognize it today, which is given that he worked on it for five months given that he left the project after 11 months. given that almost nothing on
this plan was put into place not just in the next decade after its creation, but in the next six, seven decades after its creation. the fact that you and i, we can all sit in here and place ours on it, and place the capitol, and place the white house, the fact that we recognize these avenues, those of you who have lived in dchlt c. for quite a while, i know there's many of you here recognize that the streets on this plan bend if places that ha don't bend in your experience that when we visit the lincoln memorial, we're out in the middle of what this plan says is the potomac river. right there. that when we visit the jefferson -- well, same thing. but we recognize it. this piece of -- this work of art made in five months has endured for two centuries.
this is in fact the great accomplishment. the thing without which he would only be faintly remembered. there's many misconceptions about lamfant and this plan of odc. and one of those misconceptions, as lamfant was trained as as came over to america as an engineer, he was not. hechs an artist trained at the royal academy of painting and cull sculpture in paris. he was a 22-year-old attached to the group partly because of family connections because every young man of any sort of connection to the court of louis xv wanted to get to america is the classic example and sort of achieve a glory for france in the war against brilt tan that hay had been unable to achieve for several decades prior to this time.
and when they need the sketches of fortification or a sketch of the landscape or existing town, he would very quickly and very accurately and very well. he was an artist. does it mean to talk as a city plan of a work of art? in the book's final page i described the drawing as the first great artistic achievement that could be truly called american. i'm not the first one to say that.
i'm echoing a judgment 40 years before when it was called the first work of international importance that was produced in and for america. i'm in the english faculty. and to dig into this notion as a work of art and lamfant as an artist i'm going to borrow two definitions of art from the italian novelist and writer umberto ego. in one description rngs he calls the novel a machine for generating interpretation.
it's a main thing that continues to, itself, make things. the longer these arguments go on, the more difficult it is to the intents of the creator to. we apply to d.c. all of the time but with one with which are disciplined. how much allegiance do we owe the artists' intentions in a reading of work. this is the argument that happens. how much do we pay attention to what the artist wanted and what we're getting out of it. at what point, if any, does the importance of the artist intention begin to recede and be replaced by other concerns.
these are tantalizing questions. this manuscript has been subject to an incredibly wide range of readings. some brilliant. some useful. some wishful. and some maddening. as the city has been shaped and reshaped over time. it's a work of expression. and, as a product of expression, it requires the artist to be articulate in whatever form the medium requires. and this is where lamfan provides an especially interesting case as we seek to
tease out the meanings in his plan. because he was, at the same time enormously articulate and enormously inarticulate. this was not a country of artists, at that time. however, in the language of words, especially the english language, of lamfant faced an enormous challenge when he failed to meet often spectacularly. anybody who's done research papers in the manuscript division in the library of congress. and they're very tough going. not just because of the attempt to read the handwriting, but because of the work involved in putting together his syntax and his grammar.
this is it. we've got the final one, so that's good. but when we attempt to trace out the development of the federal city of the way lamfant worked on it, what he was doing we can't rely on drawings, even though everyone involved in this project would have been relying on his drawings, at least as their first place to go. they had to go to his writing. a series along of memorandums. most written to george washington during his 11 months on the project. probably at washington's behest. and a nearly end less collection of memorials written after 1800 to various bodies of congress,
airing his grievances regarding his shoddy treatment at the hand of the city commissioners demanding what he felt was other over to payment for his services. many with his 34e moral yals and closer to his death, which was quite sad. but the struggle with the language paradoxical, for 30 years, his message as they would say in media, his message stayed on point. expressing a set of rationales so convincingly, so consistently, that the readers left a little doubt about what did and didn't make up his vision of the federal city. even when his mind seemed to be letting go.
each time, bearing a summary of his thinking. we still have those. the first conversation took place in georgetown, march 28th 1791 less than three weeks after he arrived on site. the text contains about the european baroake tradition of city planning, if only implicitly as he outlined the real grand and truly beautiful. and he declared an enemy of the tiresome and insipid grid plan
a transformation into the great central avenue called pennsylvania. the way an entire chronology of development would form around those elements. and this is a remarkable document, once you sort of work through the writing of the work of building and populating the city, he wrote, should be begun at points e kwee distant as possible from the center. when he first got to georgetown jefferson's instructions were to
look overall in this tir rerritory. about 6,000 acres. jefferson's instructions were to find a place to build a city. and to sort of think, well not turn this into a city but find a place within this to build a city. up here, georgetown was -- there's a few little ones. finding what we could consider today to be neighborhoods. and one of the most sort of amazing things in the history of this, at the very first meeting actually, lamfant said to washington and wrote to washington rather than place a city in a single location here, let's make all of this the city.
but let's not stop there. if you notice something fascinating about the plan and it's a little hard to see on this version the way down, that it's my only thing that i request, is these roads, you know, there's up here in this connecticut, washington avenue. the roads all sort of fade out into the rest of the plan into the rest of the district. you can see dotted lines here. dot, dot, dot. all of these major avenues heading off into the rest of the district. so this is what we'll start with. he says we're going to fill the district. 10 by 10, 100 square miles. we're going to file it with a million people. and this is at a time when the city itself, paris and london this is at a time when the georgetown, with about 3500 was on a list of the top 25 largest cities in america. and so to say this, to say we want to take something like paris and london but make it
bigger. was in the strictist definition of the word, insane. but what's most interesting about this is washington's reaction. there is no doubt that either of them would have been horrified and would have run off to talk together and figure out a way to stop lamfant from doing this. they didn't believe in it. what's most interesting about this is washington said proceed. that really without preparation for this, washington said okay. and there's a lot of discussion still to be had in future books and articles. this's a lot of discussion to be said about not only washington's role in this, because it was vital. we haver[pjñ an image and a
well-deserved image of thomas jefferson being engaged in architecture. go to mt. vernon, as i'm sure many of you have, go to mt. vernon, understand that as this is lamfant's vision so too, is mt. vernon's vision. think about how concerned he was not only with a house and all the little tricks he played in the house to make it look bigger than it was. to thick about george washington doing that. to think about not only that and the arrangement to the river. and you start seeing wav wa that's been very much undersold as a planner. he certainly did not have the breadth or understanding and the knowledge that jefferson did.
the congressional delegation would move to that square. and they're -- he takes pages to outline this. they would move to that square and around them naturally, would grow an infrastructure of attached goods, money, people, buildings. and there would be a natural incentive to build it up and build it up well creating a beautiful set of villages distributed throughout this plan because would massachusetts want their intercity village to be inferior to north carolinas or, you know, no.
at this point he forgrounded the relationship to the city of the potomac river to the eastern branch. and this is an insight that lamfant repeats for a purpose. an idea that lamfant repeats over and over and other again in his writings. that has been lost today. we celebrate that connection to the river. we spent a lot of time with them.
>> in 1791, 23 you were to climb up and you were to look westward, the potomac river would be 50 pnt of your view. this is where the washington monument sits a little off there. right next to it. there's a stone. i'm sure some of you have seen this. there's a lovely stone marker that is as big as a terrier that sits right a little bigger than that that markings right where
today if you squint. [ laughter ] >> in some ways, what's more interesting is a relationship of the potomac river to the white house. and it's a really important for us to understand. and we have to cast our minds back and think in 1791, that little phrase there, it's president's house. this is very important before washington's fail mousz decision not to run for a third term.
there's no doubt that in anyone's mind the position would be washington's until he died. and everyone expected washington to live a long, and unusually healthy life. there's no doubt in anybody's mind that we were talking decades of washington's presidency. only washington himself who knew the history of the early deaths among the men in his family from various elements felt otherwise. he was not sure he was going to live that long. but the rest of america was. of america was. the two contending names for several months for this city in the heart of district of columbia were washington and the second choice was washingtonopolis. you have here then in 1791 know with of term limits. this house was synonymous with the presidential seat of george
washington. it was not synonymous with a place that would change occupants every four to eight years. i don't have larger map of the region. i know question do this. we watch the vista here we go westward. if we watch here, let's talk about what's right here. let's talk about alexandria which is what washington surveyed when he was 17. it's what he considered to be his hometown. just down the bend right about here straight down we have mount vernon which was the place he loved more than any other place in the world. he loved washington, d.c. but he loved mount vernon more. the view down the potomac river
was a personal view. it was in some ways, not in every way, but some ways l'enfant's gift to washington. a personal view expressed in the location. a public view westward expressed in the capital, and this l'enfant never stopped talking about for 40 years of his writing. he did not talk at all, i'm going to get some myths and conceptions in a bit here. he did not talk at all about placing branches of government in constitutional constitutional equilibium.
this was the location for the supreme court. the federal judiciary. there's no sense there's a sense of the drama of the topography. where could a vista be achieved. washington believed this more than anyone else. he wrote a great book called the main idea. it's mostly about washington's relationship with the potomoac. he's viewed as sensitive and unemotional. he was mooning over the potomac river, was in love with that river in a charged emotion until way and washington, george
washington believed in his heart and his bones that goods would come from the chesapeake bay. they would be off loaded here sometimes or come up to georgetown. this is canal. we would get those here and we would go and some of you have been, again, great falls. they would go up the potomac river and they would meet various rivers and were over west virginia to where through technology they hasn't quite yet been invented but surely razz right around the corner would meet up with the ohio river. they would eventually meet up with the mississippi river. see an old canal's expression of this. the potomac river that this was the onramp right here and here to the great westward highway of
goods, people and capital heading out west. that dream lasted until well into the 19th century until the erie canal was built and then that was it. this in no way was every possible, but washington believed it. he believed it. it's not only going to be the political capital of america. fwlooifed was to be all eded eded believed this was to be all of those things, the political engine, the social engine of america. this was also the front door if you're coming from europe. knock knock, washington, d.c. and then the continent. they believed all of this.
he went to philadelphia and presented the man to washington jefferson and madison. reenforced by elaborate written references. you can see some of them here. the reference is carefully handwritten. the plan the work of art made is now finished. newspapers around the country republished this. they couldn't get this plan. they were operating with print press. it was very difficult to make a wood cut that would fit and print in a newspaper and so
almost all newspapers around the country and the states said forget it. we just won't include the drawing. we'll reprint all this text. ironically most americans were first exposed to l'enfant's work as a written text and not a drawing. for l'enfant the drawing was far more important than the written text. again, for the first quarter of the 19th century all the way up to his death in 1825, his memorial to congress faithfully reiterated all these ideas. this consistency across so many decades freezes focus closely on what he never said. with that much writing the absences speak loudly. what he never said in present day assumptions about the city that range from incident to
deeply entrenched and damaging misconceptions. certain misconceptions are dismissed easily enough. nearly 35 years writing on the federal city he never discussed embedding symbols of the plan. he never talk and about creating in any way talked about creating a versailles in america. that's a good question to ask marty muller. they spent a lot of time going over the versailles. he never spoke of an inside out impetus for the city's design. he never spoke about a core as we still keep talking about it today.
he never spoke about core in the neighborhood that played second fiddle to the city's federal reservations. it's important to understand the federal government in 1791. it was unfathomable. thomas jefferson didn't like alexander hamilton at all. one of the things he couldn't stand about hamilton was the ostentation of the department of the treasury that they had an entire, i think more than one but an entire townhouse, the department of treasury filled with rooms and with records and cabinets, this room and that room and jefferson kept all the records of secretary state in a desk of the department of state.
return to the original question, what degree of allegiance do we owe him, begging the question, we know only the answer must lay somewhere between none and total. in 1900 when the american institute of architects decided to the meeting to solving the planning problems this is the mcmillan commission story in a paragraph. it was guest speaker rick olmstead, son of the famous landscape architecture who suggested the best way to reclaim the city's beauty was to strip away the past 110 years in order to revisit the own plan. that declaration was the first step on the way to the mcmillan plant that created the core of the city. as we experienced today but you may have heard in the last and if you come to the next one but even the work of the mcmillan
commission was not a return to l'enfant but a reinvention owning as much to the chicago's fair as it did to the original planner's vision. if we do want to be originalists and grant l'enfant the loudest say we're not supplied with any answers. we're confronted with a set of complicated questions. those questions revolve around the character and livelihood of the city's neighborhoods. access accessibility and security. they circle back to the importance of the potomac river
and the possibility of great vistas from the capital and white house. this is to them. places we look out from rather than look at. in all of the work on -- all the decisions made about washington, d.c. in the wake of 9/11, the one that dismayed most people who have studied this, was the closing of the west plaza of the capital. get an idea of what happened on that very first day.
a million times he said ah-ha. those questions remain about what are we looking, can we look out from the city as much as look at. it's the open and ongoing nature of these questions that best defines d.c. doing as much as any kind of power concentrated in the city to make washington unique meaningful and worthy of our thought and attention. it is unlike any other place in the world in terms of origin in terms of its meaning. just in terms of its shape.
it doesn't really look like. it's a little bit like rome and bits of paris but it's unique in so many ways. in 1791 there was none of this to think about. he took five months to recreate this document. he would get up in the morning and he would ride and ride and ride. he would ride around the side. a lot of what he wrote about what he was doing indicated he would ride until dark, until dusk.
at dawn he would get up and he would ride. one of the interesting questions about the city that any of the speakers in the series would have their own interesting answer to is how much of this plan was in his head before he arrived. we don't know. he may have come up with every last bit of this before he rode in march or had an idea of a grid broken up by diagonal avenues. we do know the place the squares and the mall and these vistas and the avenues that he rode and rode and he drew and drew and drew and he was given a set of deadlines deadlines.
he said i really like this. i need a complete plan with lots and i need that by august. you'll come to philadelphia and show it to august and myself. his departure from the project has to do with money. it has to do with how he wanted to pay for all this and the way he wanted to pay for it was opposed to george washington commissioners. he wanted to begin with some of the squares in public spaces, the commissioners wanted a pay as you go plan. people by the lots, build on them. more people buy more lots and build on them. they would use the taxes for that or the revenue the fund the roads and major scarequares.
he had a fundamental agreement that blew up to him leaving the project. when he died in 1825, he dies as a charity case in maryland. very sad story in the wake of the mcmillan commission plan when rick says we have to return to his vision. through an amazing set of occurrences his remains are discovered on a former plantation up in prince george's county where he lived the last few years of his life. those remains are discovered. he was buried in the former slave graveyard. the description in washington newspapers was amazing because they described in minute detail pieces of l'enfant they felt
they found. the first true immigrant to lie in state in the capital. across the long bridge. they went to lynx national cemetery. he was buried in front of the what was then called the lee house. if you go there to arlington house, and you turn around it's one of the most amazing views of washington, d.c. you can imagine.
it's a tribute to l'enfant. he's not in the district. he's in virginia. it's also ironic because if you ever tried to visit his grave i don't know, i haven't been there in a little bit but it's on the lawn of lee house just overlooking the jfk flame and you have to illegally kind of step over a ramp and scamper across the grass to it. it's a very interesting place to be. the only thing left here in terms of l'enfant's life that drew a righter narrative is it has this amazing shape to his life when we talk about narrative shapes and arcs. there's a rise from quite humble begins to this city planner in the creation of this. there's a fall to the point that
nobody's exactly sure which remains were his. there's fall and 70 years later it's redemption. we have this book. we have this talk that we're doing. the plan has its own story. i want to end here and i'm happy to take any questions. no spoilers here. in the especially loeg, this is only a page. the book charts the story of his lie but ends by charting the life of this document, which i had the opportunity to view and not everybody does these days. a more emotional experience to
view this plan than it was to go to l'enfant's grave because of the climbing across the ropes. so to has the disappearance of his working papers and drawings. once he was released from the project and left all his working papers and drawings were in his rooms and they disbursed. there are rumors that maybe in your house or hanging on the walls.
his use of precedent his preliminary ideas which he was engaged to sdooindesign and the changes he made. what does remain is a single smudged and tattered drawing. the plan he presented to washington jefferson and madison in august 1791. advertise life has not been happy or healthy. in fact, by the time george washington handed it over to the commissioner's office in 1796, five years after l'enfant washington was already bemoaning two centuries of decentegration.
a common practice of time this could only hasten the shortening. after the civil war the plan was transferred to the newly created office of public buildings and grounds in the basement of capital where according to one report it set loose among the maps. the decision was made to fill in the title flats. the plan was transferred to the u.s. coast survey so a facsimile might be made in the lawsuits. the document was then returned
to its basement room at the capital and 30 more years into the 20th century the pencil lines continued to fade while the ink continued to bleed. you can see a little bit of that there. in 1918 are man named charles more brought the plan to the library of congress where he had become director of the manu scripts division. this was the last time the drawings were altered in any way. it was an extensive study that provided a determination that still exists today.
it's been through enough. leave it alone. technology catching up to l'enfant's plan less than 20 ounces of paper. m sit encased. sealed off from the outside and breathing in other worldly atmosphere made of pressurized argan gas. the presence of jefferson's very best work encased in its own preservative shell and resting nearby is provocative linking the two collaborators in a way neither could ever have imagined. born in a great rush of activity and inspiration his 1791
manuscript plan is a founding document able to take place beside its more famous written counterparts. his design echoed the design of cities across europe but it was the also great artistic achievement that could be called america. he was impatient and refused to surrender the smallest detail of his grand design. he wanted to be judged by his work and it was all consuming. thanks. [ applause ] questions? >> i read once in an un
undocumented brochure that l'enfant originated the idea to build a national cathedral here in washington. how do you react? >> that's a bit, a bit hard to answer because the answer is yes and the answer is no. the easy way to answer is there's, if you count, 27 squares, i think, on here squares and circles in various public spaces. 14 reserved for the state. the other were reserved for national university. an idea that grew very quickly after that. it was an entire part of this plan that has the health
benefits and fountains. places like london, paris and even philadelphia, disease would spread quickly and this was the era of the enlightenment when people first start to understand that air rather than the move being a bad thing carrying, it was a good thing to prevent the communication of disease. some fountains were known to be there but the national church was one of the, now that doesn't end up where it doesn't end up anywhere on this. it's north of georgetown. the idea for it.
there and back there. >> i have two questions. i'm not assuming he borrowed anything but are there any precedents for pieces of this that he's put together -- >> i'll answer that and i'll take your second question. i'll take your second question after i answer that one. there's a whole cottage industry in that and a good one. he was in -- when you took courses at the royal academy of painting and sculpture you took optics, life drawing, still life drawing. one of the things you studied was city plans. his father was a painter of battle scenes. his father had to paint cities a lot his father was one of his tutors.
it was the height of city planning. when london has burned christopher proposed new plans that -- think about rome. think about the messy, crowded structure infrastructure that's opened up in the 17th century with wide ceremonial vistas. the idea is all over this. the other thing that's important is between his birth in the 1750s and leaving in 1776 he watched all the squares go from build up.
in his lifetime he watched it punch its way westward. you can think of comparing individual squares on this. there's no doubt he was influenced by all of this. this question is to what end is he doing it. your second question real quick. >> how many other people are critically involved in this? >> he was america's essentially chief surveyor. he starts by marking off the
boundary stones. it's his job to establish a center at the capital. after l'enfant is gone slave labor does a lot of work on the capital. it's essentially a small group of assistance and when ever he needed something, a hill to be levelled it was for laborers that would do the work. he had a group of three or four assistants.
>> george washington advised l'enfant he wanted a racetrack built about three blocks west of the white house where the world bank is now. is there any truth to this at all? >> sure. they loved racing. they loved it. they loved to watch anything race in a circle. there was racetrack right about where you're talking about. don hawkins will you can get up to 90 minutes. it exists. you can get him to talk about 90 minutes.
it's a very interesting tale. they asked for that land back. they weren't doing anything with it. it had to do with the fact there were rumblings. virginia wanted nothing to do with that. they wanted their land back. it was something in the middle of the 19th century. we have no plans for it. we don't want to pay for it. it was agreed. why was it a triangle said on the original plan? why was it flipped on its end to
become a diamond. by flipping it on its end the boundaries, by flipping it on its end where does the bottom suddenly reach to. washington made the decision to flip it on its diamond to get part of the district down. if you would just move a square down then it becomes awkward and flip and make it a diamond. the book discusses it. i spent a lot of time thinking about this but also researching this and trying to understand this. jefferson is a complex character. the thing that's most complex about jefferson is that he was probably america's first and
maybe best political actor at avoiding statements when we could see the tide was already moving in his direction. he did not argue for things he fell were going to come to pass. there's no evidence in this, there's a theory that thomas jefferson was actively sabataging l'enfant. you'll understand there's no con concerted campaign. we don't know what he really felt.
that's one of the key reasons. of course, jefferson is followed by several of his political disciples who seem to follow suit. it's not until grant that anybody approaches the city with the fervor that george washington did. it really woke up union leaders with the notion that we can't have a city that's this easily threatened not so much in terms of fortification but in terms of prestige. it's a story of three presidents washington grant and roosevelt. teddy roosevelt was the
champion. mcmillan commission plan would have had a harder go when they first presented the mcmillan commission plan in -- it was over corporate. they had a giant model set up at eye level. eye level. you could look down in mall and it was a mess. they built this model and people stood, this is interesting to me. thousands of people stood in line to look at that. one of the people who came in for a private viewing was teddy roosevelt and he went back out. what's interesting is they can only find two times in all of american history where thousands of people lined up to see plans to renovate a city.
one was in where people lined up to see the mcmillan commission plan and the other is people lined up in lower manhattan to look at the various plans for the renovation. i can't remember if that was a year afterward. i can't remember if those plans were they had competition in the various plans. what was going to happen with the rebuilding of lower manhattan manhattan. i think it was one financial line up. thousands of people lined up to see what might they do again with allower manhattan. the only two times was like mass interest like the point of lining up for a rock concert tickets where people could look at this. that was one of those times. any way. >> yeah. >> i heard a couple of things. one is the back ward l three ryeeory.
i've also heard the white house was placed there because it was closest to georgetown. it was the only real civilization. do you have any sense of that? >> no. the vista was, there's a connection of the two vistas. it's very important. who's at the connection of the two vistas but a statue of george washington. the l theory absolutely. those two vistas over water was designed to meet. the national idea to move westward. in terms of -- what was the second part? >> the white house was really placed towards the west. >> the reason for that is from
the moment this was proposed the land most valuable is around the capital. people started buying up land arn around the capital. people started moving in. this territory was actually viewed as being eventually more valuable without explaining all of it, alexander hamilton believed that east capital could become today's wall street. there's a whole lot of attention. there's no sense they were separated because washington said i don't want congressmen to be able to come over and grab me when ever they want. they need something itched scratched. he said i want to be far enough way way that the visits between congress the legislative and the executive branch have a sense of decorum and ceremony don't happen to frequently.
he did not want to be next door to the legislature which is very interesting. [ inaudible question ] >> i will say what i know. itj do know this. john richardson spoke at the last -- he's written an entire biography of his city control. what happened is the essential thing to understand is 50,000 people in d.c. at the beginning of civil war and pennsylvania was the only paved street. no street lights. no sewers. as the capital came under fire and as lincoln's assassination
is as -- sort of civil war woke people up and in place of what's wrong with us. this place isn't -- this isn't even -- it's not that the city wasn't finished it wasn't even begun. exercising enormous powers of imminent domain it's probably highly illegal exercise of im imminent domain. he puts a man in charge of paving the streets. a mud caked sort of back water. it begins becoming a modern in the sense city. that's grant's contribution to the city. what's interesting about the city -- this is the last thing
that i mention. if you're up in florida, u street. if any of you had a commute that takes you walking in this direction, you get about here. i don't know exactly which street but you get it. r. you see suddenly realize that your cabscalves are killing you because you're walking straight uphill. it was impossible to go from here to here because it was too steep. one of the things that alexander shepherd does is where they would grade a major avenue like 16th. depending on where you are your two-story town home became a three-story town home. probably more disconcerns is
your two-story town home came a one-story. modernizing the city but he also makes it a place that with streets you can travel on and running water finally. it's two wonderful books. there's two or three wonderful books about that that paint a picture that would boggle your mind. that speaks to the neglect not only as a planner but neglect of the city. thanks. thank you. [ applause ]
coming up next, author and architecture historian steve hansen chronicles one of the washington's famous neighborhoods. they wills the story of how and why wealthy couples moved to the area during the guilded age in the 20th century. he's the author of a history of dupont circle, center of high society in the capital. it's just under an hour. >> good