White House face lift would make cars, reporters disappear


Park Service plans to keep unsightly things underground

By Paul Bedard

The National Park Service's 20-year master plan for the White House proposes closing surrounding roads, building underground parking lots and booting the press out to make it safer and more attractive to visitors and the first family.

The huge project, the product if a closely held $2.9 million study would redesign the 3-square-mile area stretching from Lafayette Square to the Ellipse.

"The plan will protect the site while making site operations over the next 20 years smoother and more efficient, according to a Park Service planning document provided to The Washington Times.

There is no price on the plan, which is to be made public this month. Administration officials estimated it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to complete.

Project director Ann Bowman Smith said in an interview that the final draft will be presented in December and that groundbreaking could be as early as mid-1997.

She said the plan is the brainchild of the Park Service and several other agencies, including the White House and the Secret Service. But Mrs. Smith said President Clinton isn't calling the shots.

"It has to do with serving the presidency, not a specific president," she said.

White House and media groups have voiced opposition to elements of the project, such as the plan to transfer the press from West Wing office to the Old Executive Office Building or a bunker adjacent to the White House.

This one's probably not going to go anywhere soon," White House spokesman Michael McCurry said.

The Park Service plan lists options in redesigning the area bordered by H Street, Constitution Avenue, and 15th and 17th streets NW. It includes the White House, Lafayette Square, Sherman Park, the Ist Division Monument and the Ellipse.

Among the options are:
*Closing Pennsylvanla Avenue between 15th and 17th streets to traffic and building a traffic tunnel under the road.

*Closing all streets in the Ellipse

*Closing West Executive Avenue between the White House and the Old Executive Office Building. It now is used for parking.

*Halting deliveries to all White House gates. Instead, trucks would be sent to new loading areas, and a network of tunnels would be built to connect the warehouses to the White House.

*Building loading docks and parking lots underground south of the Treasury Department and the Old Executive Office Building on the edge of the Ellipse.

*Building a visitors center underground near the Commerce Department.

Mrs. Smith said all elements of the Park Service plan are subject to change. She said each proposed change includes about three options.

James McDaniel, associate regional director of the Park Service, said elements of an ongoing Treasury Department review of White House security will be buiit into the final draft of the "Comprehensive Design Plan for the White House."

That review was prompted by the shots fired at the White House by a man standing on a Pennsylvania Avenue sidewalk and the crash of a small aircraft on the South Lawn.

Mr. McDaniel said the Park Service in 1989 began to work on a plan to handle tourism, security and access at the White House over 20 years.

This is the fifth time a comprehensive plan for the White House grounds has been written to deal with those matters.

The Park Service has been studying ways to make the White House more attractive. As a result, all construction would be done underground, Mrs. Smith said.

The Park Service also has been looking at ways to create more space in the West Wing. To do that, the press would be removed from that area and transferred to either the Old Executive Office Building or a new bunker under the closed West Executive Avenue.

But at a meeting yesterday with the Park Service, the White House Correspondents Association got the Park Service to consider leaving the media where they are.

"It's bureaucracy run amok," said Kenneth Walsh, president of the association and White House correspondent for U.S. News & World Report. Mr. Walsh said he told Mr. McDaniel: "The press corps would never stand for this.

Don't you know what kind of assault this would be?"

White House officials also object to moving the press. "I hate this" one official said.

First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton once suggested that the press be removed from the White House and the area turned into staff office space, but the idea was dropped after the media protested.

Much of the focus of the Park Service plan is on handling the 1.25 million tourists who visit the White House yearly. It calls for easing traffic, making it easier for tourists to get tickets to the White House and beginning the tour at the grand north entrance on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Mrs. Smith said she hopes the plan gets a fair hearing. But she conceded that "everyone recognizes that the federal dollars are not available as they used to be."

Mr. McDaniel said private funding will be considered.


The National Park Senrice yesterday presented its comprehensive plan for the White House grounds. Some options under consideration:
1 Bar cars and trucks (not pedestrians) from Pennsylvania Avenue between 15th and 17th streets NW and build a tunnel for vehicles to use.

2 Bar cars and trucks (not pedestrians) from E Street between 15th and 17th streets NW and build a tunnel for vehicles to use.

3 Close all roads between Constitution and Pennsylvania avenues and 15th and 17th streets, but not those roads.

4 Move the White House press office from its current position in the West Wing to a bunker beneath the West Executive Avenue.

5 Build an undergrouna parking lot and delivery dock at the corner of 15th and E streets.

6 Build an underground parking lot and delivery dock at the corner of 17th and E streets.

7 Build an underground visitors center and parking lot east of the Ellipse.