The McMillan Plan
As the city approached its centennial; there was a call to develop a comprehensive park system for the city. As early as 1898, a committee was formed to meet with President William McKinley to propose the erection of a monument to commemorate the centennial of the city. A joint committee formed by Congress held its first meeting in February 1900 with Senator James McMillan of Michigan as chairman, and Charles Moore as secretary. At the same time, plans were put forward for the development of a Mall which would include the newly reclaimed Potomac Flats. As the bureaucracy planned for the centennial, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) joined the fray. AIA leaders envisioned the nation's capital as the perfect place for the group to express the ideals of the City Beautiful movement promoted by the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The architect of this pivotal fair designed Beaux Arts Classical architecture in a grand and ordered civic space.
When the Senate Commission was formed in 1901 to explore and plan the design of the city, the project then encompassed the historic core. The illustrious committee was comprised of Daniel Burnham, a visionary of the World's Columbian Exposition, as well as landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., architect Charles F.McKim, and sculptor Augustus St. Gardens.
Foremost in the minds of these men was the amazing foresight and genius of Pierre L'Enfant. The committee lamented the fragmented Mall marred by a railroad station and focused upon restoring it to the uninterrupted greensward envisioned by L'Enfant. In total, the forward-looking plans made by the McMillan Commission called for: re-landscaping the ceremonial core, consisting of the Capitol Grounds and Mall, including new extensions west and south of the Washington Monument; consolidating city railways and alleviating at-grade crossings; clearing slums; designing a coordinated municipal office complex in the triangle formed by Pennsylvanian Avenue, 15th Street, and the Mall, and establishing a comprehensive recreation and park system that would preserve the ring of Civil War fortifications around the city.
To protect the new goals introduced by the McMillan study, the AIA appealed to President Theodore Roosevelt to form a fine arts commission. Established by Congress in 1910 during the Taft Administration, the Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) was created as a consulting organization to the government on the design of bridges, parks, paintings, and other artistic matters; an executive order later that year added the design review of all public buildings.
Influenced by the designs of several European cities and 18th century gardens such as France's Palace of Versailles, the plan of Washington, DC was symbolic and innovative for the new nation. Only limited changes were made to the historic city-bounded by Florida Avenue on the north and the waterways on the east, west and south-until after the Civil War. The foremost manipulation of L’Enfant plan began in the 19th century, and was codified in 1901 when the McMillan Commission directed urban improvements that resulted in the most elegant example of City Beautiful tenets in the nation. L’Enfant plan was magnified and expanded during the early decades of the 20th century with the reclamation of land for waterfront parks, parkways, an improved Mall and new monuments and vistas. Two hundred years since its design, the integrity of the plan of Washington is largely unimpaired-boasting a legal enforced height restriction, landscaped parks, wide avenues, and open space allowing intended vistas. Constant vigilance is needed by the agencies responsible for design review, it their charge to continue the vision of L'Enfant.