Unbuilt Washington DC: A Republic’s Monuments

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We took a look at unbuilt Moscow the other day and dieselpunks are probably aware of the fantastical architectural visions Adolf Hitler had. (If not, the short version is he wanted to turn Berlin into a neoclassical paradise for 20-feet-tall Aryans.)

But did you know there were some wild ideas for Washington DC as well? Let’s take a look at some of the buildings that were proposed for America’s capital through the ages!

Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial by John Russell Pope
Lincoln Memorial by John Russell Pope

The Lincoln Memorial would have looked very different if John Russell Pope had had his way. The architect of Washington DC’s National Archives and Records Administration building, Jefferson Memorial and West Building of the National Gallery of Art proposed this pyramid to honor America’s sixteenth president.

Mother’s Memorial

Mother's Memorial by Joseph W. Geddes
Mother’s Memorial by Joseph W. Geddes

There was never much chance this would have been built. A Mother’s Memorial was advocated by the Woman’s Universal Alliance, a now-defunct women’s rights group founded in 1922 by the wife of a rich DC lawyer. The building was supposed to “proclaim the debt each mortal owes to the woman who risked her own life to give life.” It was supposed to be built near the Naval Observatory but the organization never raised the funds it needed.

Memorial Bridge

Memorial Bridge by Paul J. Pelz
Memorial Bridge by Paul J. Pelz

The German-born architect Paul J. Pelz clearly drew on his European heritage with this proposal for Washington’s Memorial Bridge. At the time, the bridge — which connects the city with Arlington National Cemetery — was conceived as a memorial to Civil War General and President Ulysses S. Grant.

Executive Mansion

Executive Mansion by Paul J. Pelz
Executive Mansion by Paul J. Pelz

In the early 1900s, as the United States Government grew, plans were made for a larger presidential mansion north of the existing White House, on Meridian Hill.

Two plans were made, one by the aforementioned Pelz in 1898, shown here, and another by Franklin W. Smith in 1900. Both envisioned palatial mansions that in hindsight seem more becoming of a European monarchy than the young American republic.

Predictably, Congress — which has authority over federal building — rejected both schemes out of hand.

Library of Congress

Library of Congress by Alexander Rice Esty
Library of Congress by Alexander Rice Esty

The Library of Congress’ main Thomas Jefferson Buliding was John L. Smithmeyer and Paul J. Pelz — whom we’ve met before. The two won a competition in 1873. Construction was delayed by Congress until 1886.

An alternative design, by Alexander Rice Esty, shown here, would have added a Gothic building to the capital’s skyline.

Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial

Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial by Marcel Breuer and Herbert Beckhard
Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial by Marcel Breuer and Herbert Beckhard

For a monument in honor of America’s World War II president, Marcel Breuer and Herbert Beckhard proposed this Modernist design in the 1960s. The site that ended up being build still had some Modernist influences. It was designed by landscape architect Lawrence Halprin.

National Cultural Center

National Cultural Center by Edward Durell Stone
National Cultural Center by Edward Durell Stone

Edward Durell Stone proposed this design for a National Cultural Center on the Potomac River in 1959. The center was renamed after John F. Kennedy in 1964, a year after his assassination. Stone designed the final version which ended up more boxy than this initial idea.

Crystal Heights

Crystal Heights by Frank Lloyd Wright
Crystal Heights by Frank Lloyd Wright

Crystal Heights was a proposed apartment and shopping complex designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the renowned Prairie School architect. It was supposed to have been built near Dupont Circle on what was at the time, in 1940, one of the largest remaining undeveloped tracts in the capital. Washington’s zoning laws, however, forbade towers rising above 110 feet and nothing came of the plan.

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