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Each time I head down to the Mall, I end up with a shoeful of pebbles and red eyes from dirt blowing in my eyes. I’ve also seen pebbles get caught in dog’s paws and provide an unnecessarily rough ride for people with disabilities. Why not just pave ’em?
People love the pebbled walkways, says National Parks Service Communications Officer Bill Line, who adds that pebbles are far more aesthetically pleasing than “unsightly” concrete sidewalks.
“I’ve been [a National Parks Service communications officer] for five years and I’ve heard numerous verbal compliments about how much people like the pebbled walkways,” he says, and in that time he has never encountered a request for pavement.
To change the look of the Mall by paving over the walkways would be committing blasphemy, he says.
“The reason we don’t pave the walkways is the same reason why we don’t go to the Black Hills and get rid of Teddy Roosevelt’s mustache or Abe Lincoln’s beard,” he adds.
Despite Line’s allegiance to the pebbled walkways, they’ve only been in place since 1975, when the National Parks Service laid them down in preparation for bicentennial celebrations.
In fact, the Mall didn’t begin to take its current shape until 1902, when the McMillan Commission, a Senate committee tasked with improving the “the entire park system of the District of Columbia,” submitted a report calling for the government to transform the Mall into a grand avenue in line with planner Pierre L’Enfant’s never-realized plans for the District. The Commission’s plan called for a European-style broad grass carpet running the entire length of the Mall grounds, bordered on each side by four rows of American elm trees, with public buildings bordering the whole.
Before that, the Mall had a sordid past as the military used the grounds for bivouacking and parading troops, slaughtering cattle, and producing arms. Later, the Mall was used as railroad depot, with tracks running north to south across the Mall.
Despite recent changes—including the addition of the National Museum of the American Indian and plans to add the National Museum of African-American History and Culture—Line says, “There are no pleas, no move afoot, and no discussion to pave the walkways.”
Every Monday, the ‘Huh?’ Bub takes your questions. Got one?