Have the grounds D.C.’s gigantic obelisk ever struck you as a wasted opportunity? Now’s your chance to come up with a better idea: An open competition for new ways to use that gigantic, sweeping plain. An independent group of academics and architects, sponsored by a handful of universities and associations, will proctor the contest, awarding the winners with an unspecified amount of cash. “The American people” will cast their votes for the final design.
In taking on the Washington Monument, the project’s masterminds are placing themselves in a long tradition. The McMillan Commission wrestled with the problem back in 1902:
At present the immediate surroundings of the Monument are so inadequate as to cause the beholder near at hand to lose that very sense of grandeur which it inspires when seen from a distance; and the lack of harmonious relationship between it and the great structures with which it comes into juxtaposition disturbs one’s sense of fitness. No portion of the task set before the Commission has required more study and extended consideration than has the solution of the problem of devising an appropriate setting for the Monument; and the treatment here proposed is the one which seems best adapted to enhance the value of the Monument itself…
The space south of the Monument is to be devoted to the people as a place of recreation—the Washington Common it might be called. Here should be constructed a great stadium arranged for athletic contests of all kinds and for the display of fireworks on festal occasions. Ball grounds and tennis courts, open-air gymnasiums for youths, and sand piles and swings for children, all should be provided, as they are now furnished in the progressive cities of this country. The tidal basin should have the most ample facilities for boating and for wading and swimming in summer, as well as for skating in winter. To this end boat pavilions, locker houses, and extensive bath houses should be constructed with all the conveniences known to the best-equipped institutions of like character. The positive dearth of means of innocent enjoyment for one’s leisure hours is remarkable in Washington, the one city in this country where people have the most leisure.
Bath houses indeed!
Now, there’s nothing on the horizon to suggest that the winner’s design would actually be implemented. Dwight Eisenhower and Martin Luther King are monopolizing planning and construction at the moment. And actually, the grounds were extensively updated only five years ago, with security-minded retrofits designed by the Olin Partnership. No matter: The Competition plans to “go beyond that project to the larger question of potential future use of the grounds,” and teach the young folk about George Washington in the process.
Our question: Is moving it allowed?