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National Mall

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National Mall

The National Mall is an open-area national park in downtown Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States. The National Park Service (NPS) administers the National Mall, which is part of its National Mall and Memorial Parks unit.[2] The term National Mall commonly includes areas that are officially part of West Potomac Park and Constitution Gardens to the west, and often is taken to refer to the entire area between the Lincoln Memorial and the United States Capitol, with the Washington Monument providing a division slightly west of the center.[3] The National Mall receives approximately 24 million visitors each year.[4]

In his 1791 plan for the future city of Washington, D.C., Pierre (Peter) Charles L’Enfant envisioned a garden-lined "grand avenue" approximately 1 mile (1.6 km) in length and 400 feet (120 m) wide, in an area that would lie between the Capitol building and an equestrian statue of George Washington to be placed directly south of the White House (see L’Enfant Plan).[5][6][7] The National Mall occupies the site of this planned "grand avenue", which was never constructed. The Washington Monument stands near the planned site of its namesake’s equestrian statue. Mathew Carey’s 1802 map is reported to be the first to name the area as "The Mall".[8]

During the early 1850s, architect and horticulturist Andrew Jackson Downing designed a landscape plan for the Mall.[6][8] Over the next half century, federal agencies developed several naturalistic parks within the Mall in accordance with Downing’s plan.[6][8] Two such areas were Henry Park and Seaton Park.[9] In addition, railroad tracks crossed the Mall on 6th Street, west of the Capitol.[6] Near the tracks, a large market (Central Market) and a railroad station rose on the north side of the Mall. Greenhouses belonging to the U.S. Botanic Garden appeared near the east end of the Mall.[8]

In 1901 the McMillan Commission’s plan, which was partially inspired by the City Beautiful Movement and which purportedly extended L’Enfant’s plan, called for a radical redesign of the Mall that would replace its greenhouses, gardens, trees, and commercial/industrial facilities with an open space.[6][8][10] The plan differed from L’Enfant’s by replacing the 400 feet (120 m) wide "grand avenue" with a 300 feet (91 m) wide vista containing a long and broad expanse of grass. Four rows of American elm (Ulmus americana) trees planted fifty feet apart between two paths or streets would line each side of the vista. Buildings housing cultural and educational institutions constructed in the Beaux-Arts style would line each outer path or street, on the opposite side of the path or street from the elms.[6][8][10][11][12]

In subsequent years, the vision of the McMillan plan was generally followed with the planting of American elms and the layout of four boulevards down the Mall, two on either side of a wide lawn.[11][13][14] In accordance with a plan that it completed in 1976, the NPS converted the two innermost boulevards (Washington and Adams Drives) into gravel walking paths.[11] The two outermost boulevards (Jefferson Drive Southwest (SW) and Madison Drive Northwest (NW)) remain paved and open to vehicular traffic.[11]

In 1918 contractors for the United States Navy’s Bureau of Yards and Docks constructed the "Main Navy" and "Munitions" Buildings along nearly a third of a mile of the south side of Constitution Avenue (then known as B Street), from 17th Street NW to 21st Street NW.[15][16][17] Although the Navy intended the buildings to provide temporary quarters for the United States military during World War I, the reinforced concrete structures remained in place until 1970.[15][16] Much of the buildings’ area then became Constitution Gardens, which was dedicated in 1976.[16][18]

On October 15, 1966, the National Mall was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[19] In 1981, the NPS prepared a National Register nomination form that documented the Mall’s historical significance.[5] More recently, the 108th United States Congress enacted the Commemorative Works Clarification and Revision Act of 2003, which prohibits the siting of new commemorative works and visitor centers in a designated reserve area within the cross-axis of the Mall.[3][20]
Dimensions
2010 aerial view of the Mall facing west
See also: Geography of Washington, D.C.

Between the Capitol steps and the Lincoln Memorial, the Mall spans 1.9 miles (3.0 km).
Between the Capitol steps and the Washington Monument, the Mall spans 1.2 miles (1.8 km).
Between the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial, the Mall covers 309.2 acres (125.13 ha).
Between Constitution Avenue NW and Independence Avenue SW at 7th Street, the width of the Mall is 1,586 feet (483 m).
Between Madison Drive NW and Jefferson Drive SW at 7th Street, the width of the Mall’s open space is 656 feet (200 m).
Between the innermost rows of trees near 7th Street, the width of the Mall’s vista is 300 feet (91 m).

Boundaries of the National Mall

In 1981, the NPS defined the official boundaries of the National Mall (National Mall proper) as Constitution and Pennsylvania Avenues on the north, 1st Street NW on the east, Independence and Maryland Avenues on the south, and 14th Street NW on the west, with the exception of the section of land bordered by Jefferson Drive on the north, Independence Avenue on the south, and by 12th and 14th Streets respectively on the east and west, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture administers and which contains the Jamie L. Whitten Building (U.S. Department of Agriculture Administration Building).[5][21]

In 2011, the 112th United States Congress enacted the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act, 2012, which transferred to the Architect of the Capitol the NPS "property which is bounded on the north by Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest, on the east by First Street Northwest and First Street Southwest, on the south by Maryland Avenue Southwest, and on the west by Third Street Southwest and Third Street Northwest".[22] This Act relocated the official eastern boundary of the Mall from 1st Street NW and SW to 3rd Street NW and SW, removing Union Square (the area containing the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial and the Capitol Reflecting Pool) from NPS jurisdiction.[23]

People often consider areas outside of the Mall’s official boundaries to be part of the Mall.[3]
Purposes of the National Mall
The Capitol and National Mall facing east from the top of the Washington Monument in 2011.

The National Park Service states that the purposes of the National Mall are to:

Provide a monumental, dignified, and symbolic setting for the governmental structures, museums and national memorials as first delineated by the L’Enfant plan and further outlined in the McMillan plan.
Maintain and provide for the use of the National Mall with its public promenades as a completed work of civic art, a designed historic landscape providing extraordinary vistas to symbols of the nation.
Maintain National Mall commemorative works (memorials, monuments, statues, sites, gardens) that honor presidential legacies, distinguished public figures, ideas, events, and military and civilian sacrifices and contributions.
Forever retain the West Potomac Park section of the National Mall as a public park for recreation and enjoyment of the people.
Maintain the National Mall in the heart of the nation’s capital as a stage for national events and a preeminent national civic space for public gatherings because it is here that the constitutional rights of speech and peaceful assembly find their fullest expression.
Maintain the National Mall as an area free of commercial advertising while retaining the ability to recognize sponsors.[3]

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