FEBRUARY 13, 1987--CITY PAPER, Washington D.C.



ON FEBRUARY 1, THE U.S. PARK POLICE descended on Lafayette Park and vigorously demolished a 7-foot-high igloo that had been constructed there by the park's resident protestors. The problem with the igloo was that it violated recent park regulations designed to protect the White House, as well as to maintain the park's beauty and dignity. Nothing more than four feet high is allowed there anymore, the theory being that a big enough structure would not only be ugly, but that it could hide anything from a sniper to a Howitzer.

Nonplussed, Lafayette Park's denizens continued shaping ice bricks with a milk carton, to rebuild their igloo, and the police continued, with equal determination, to tear it down. This went on for several days, presumably stopping only because the construction materials finally melted.

A good place from which to watch this appealing drama would have been the terrace atop Metropolitan Square, Oliver Carr's giant office building on 15th Street which is not seven but 130 feet high, and which looms over the White House, in the words of one reporter, "like a sniper's nest." (CP, Oct. 18,1985)

The laughable irony of maintaining an igloo watch in the shadow of Metropolitan Square may have been lost on the Post, which did report the story as a comedy, but it probably wasn't lost on the Secret Service, which was against Metropolitan Square from the beginning, and which tried to tell an unresponsive bureaucracy that the project should never have been built.

In 1979, when the City Council actually gave developer Carr a waiver that allowed him to build 35 feet (or five igloos) higher than the 95-foot height limit allowed, the Secret Service objected. In a letter to the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), the body charged with protecting the federal interest here, the Secret Service charged that a 130-foot private, uncontrolled building would "adversely effect the overall security of the White House Complex, and seriously interfere with our ability to provide protection to the President and his family." The Secret Service also expressed concern about White House privacy.

That protest never came before NCPC's commissioners, even though the NCPC staff was highly critical of Metropolitan Square (as were Interior Dept. officials, who screamed that D.C. had no right to raise height limits adjacent to the White House). NCPC was at that time chaired by David Childs, the architect of Metropolitan Square. Its vice-chairman was James O. Gibson, a D.C. planning official working on behalf of the city to help Carr complete the project as planned.

In the end, the council passed the waiver without a public hearing, Carr built his project, and the president took to greeting foreign heads of state at the East Portico from behind a protective screen; protective, to be sure, against snowballs.


February 13, 1987