Posts Tagged ‘President’s Council on Pennsylvania Avenue’

Pershing Park

Pershing Park

On this bike ride I went to Pershing Park. Located at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), the park is in the heart of downtown D.C., directly in front of the historic Willard Hotel and just a block or so sourtheast of The White House.  The small park serves as a memorial dedicated to and named after General John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing.

Pershing is the only person to be promoted in his own lifetime to the highest rank ever held in the United States Army – General of the Armies – a capacity in which he served during World War I.  In fact, since the rank had never before been achieved, there was no prescribed insignia and Pershing had to design his own for his uniform.  Later, a retroactive Congressional edict passed in 1976 promoted George Washington to the same rank but with higher seniority. Pershing holds the disctinction of holding the first United States officer service number (O-1).  He was regarded as a mentor by the generation of American generals who led the United States Army in Europe during World War II, including George C. Marshall, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Omar N. Bradley, and George S. Patton.

Pershing got the nickname “Black Jack” while serving as an instructor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Because of his strictness and rigidity, Pershing was unpopular with the cadets, who took to calling him “Nigger Jack” because of his service with the 10th Cavalry Regiment, a now famous unit formed as a segregated African-American unit and one of the original “Buffalo Soldier” regiments. Over time, the epithet was softened to “Black Jack,” and although the intent remained hostile the nickname stuck with him for the rest of his life.

The site was occupied by a variety of 19th-century structures until circa 1930, when the federal government demolished the entire block. Legislation officially designating the plot as a Pershing Square subsequently was adopted by Congress later that year. How to develop the square proved controversial, however, as different groups offered competing proposals for memorials to Pershing.

In November 1963, the President’s Council on Pennsylvania Avenue proposed a master plan for the redevelopment of Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to the U.S. Capitol Building. The plan proposed constructing a National Plaza which would have required the demolition of the Pershing Square, the Willard Hotel north of the square, and the two blocks of buildings and street east of these tracts. During this time, all plans for Pershing Park were suspended until such time as the Pennsylvania Avenue master plan could be finalized.

In the end, National Plaza was never constructed. Instead, a much smaller Freedom Plaza was built which did not require the demolition of the area which would become Pershing Park.  The memorial statue was created by architect Wallace Harrison, and the design of the park was finalized in the 1970s by M. Paul Friedberg and Partners.  The multi-level park was constructed simultaneously with Freedom Plaza from 1979 to 1981, and was finally opened to the public on May 14, 1981.

Today, Pershing Park contains a statue of Black Jack Pershing, as well as a flower beds, amphitheatre-style seating oriented around the park’s plaza, a waterfall and fountain, and  a pond which turns into an ice skating rink during the winter.  The park also contains a small structure that houses a café, restrooms and changing area for skating.  Enjoyed year round by those who have discovered it, the park is still unknown by many, especially tourists.

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OldPostOfficePavilion01

The Old Post Office Pavilion

Located approximately halfway between The White House and the U.S. Capitol Building, at 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), is the Old Post Office Pavilion, an historic building of the Federal government.  Also known as the Old Post Office and Clock Tower, the Romanesque Revival style building is an iconic structure and one of the most recognized buildings in D.C.  Built between 1892 to 1899, upon its completion it was used as the U.S. Post Office Department Headquarters and the city’s main post office until 1914.  It has been used primarily as an office building since then.

At 315 feet tall, the Old Post Office’s clock tower ranks third in height among the buildings in the national capital city, behind the nearby Washington Monument and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. From an observation deck at the 270-foot level, the tower offers incredible panoramic views of D.C. and the surrounding area. Beneath the observation deck is the tower clock, which is now more than a century old. Below that, on the tenth floor, are the Bells of Congress. These bells are replicas of those at London’s Westminster Abbey, and were a gift from England during the U.S. Bicentennial celebration in 1976, commemorating friendship between the nations.  They are rung at the opening and closing of Congress and for national holidays.

At times the building has had a precarious existence, and came close to being torn down on more than one occasion.  It has also undergone a number of changes and renovations over the years.  In the 1920’s the building was nearly demolished during the construction of the Federal Triangle complex.  In 1964, the President’s Council on Pennsylvania Avenue recommended the demolition of all but the clock tower.  The recommendation was subsequently approved by Congress. But as a result, local citizens banded together, and with the help of advocates in Congress, were able to convince Congress to reverse its decision.  Helping to ensure its future, the building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.  It is also a contributing property to the Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site.  Despite this, it again faced demise when it was nearly torn down in the 1970s to make way for completion of massive Federal Triangle development project.  However, it was once again spared.

Major renovations to the building occurred in 1976 and 1983, with the last renovation resulting in the addition of a food court and retail space on the ground level, and private and government office space in the upper levels. At that time, this mixed-use approach garnered national attention as a innovative approach to historic preservation.  Most recently, in 1991, an addition was added to the structure which contained more retail space.  However, the biggest change to the Old Post Office Pavilion is yet to come.  At the beginning of this year the food court and stores were closed down.  And earlier this month the remaining offices in the building and the clock tower closed.  This was done to begin the next chapter in the building’s life.

In 2013, the U. S. General Services Administration leased the property for the next 60 years to Donald Trump.  The Trump Organization said it would develop the property into a 250-plus room luxury hotel, to be named Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C.  Along with the hotel, the development is slated to include an upscale spa, art gallery, café, bar, three high-end restaurants, a fitness center, library, lounge with fountain, several luxury retail shops, and a large-scale meeting and banquet facility.  The company also pledged to create a small museum dedicated to the history of the building, and to maintain the Bells of Congress and the building’s historic exterior.  The National Park Service will retain control over the clock tower and observation deck and it will keep them open to the public for tours.

It is hoped that the building’s next incarnation will help spark an economic renaissance in D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood.  But much like the history of the Old Post Office Pavilion itself, only time will tell.

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