Barricades shut avenue, wall off White House
by J. Jennings Moss
U.S. officials yesterday permanently closed down Pennsylvania
Avenue in front of tfie White House aspart of a sweeping security
plan designed to better protect the president.
The dramatic move, complete with imposing concrete barriers
at 17th Street and Madison Place, was designed to thwart the type
of terrorist attack that destroyed the federal building in
But it also will have a profound practical effect tomorrow
morning when downtown workers are forced to find new ways to get
to work. It also could have a psychological effect, further
distancing the president from the American people.
"This closing is necessary because of the changing nature and
scope of the threat of terrorist actions. It should be seen as a
responsible security step necessary to preserve our freedom, not
part of a long-term restriction of our freedom," President
Clinton said in his weekly radio address.
Pedestrians, along with bicyclists and roller skaters, will
still be allowed access to Pennsyvlania Avenue and the morning
Hours of the White House will not be affected by the changes,
Mr. Clinton Friday night signed off a list of 11 security
recommendations given to him Wednesday by Teasury Secretary
Robert Rubin. Officials yesterday disclosed six of the
recommendation," said Secret Service Director Eljay B. Bowron.
The Secret Service, which is part of the Treasury Department, has
the responsibility for protecting the president.
"I've been convinced, based on the information that I've had for
a long time, that Pennsylvania Avenue was going to be closed in
my lifetime. It was really just a question of whether it was
going to close before we had an explosion
or after we had an explosion," Mr. Bowron said.
The Secret Service has been advocating shutting down
Pennsylvania Avenue for at least 10 years, ever since terrorist
bombings against American targets in Beirut forced officials to
beef up security at a number of Washington institutions.
Talk of closinig off the srreet to cars and trucks and making it
accessible only to pedestrians has been percolating at least
since 1963, when first lady Jacqueline Kennedy commissioned a
study on the possibility of turning it into a park.
The Treasury Department commissioned the security review
after Frank Eugene Corder stole a small airplane and crashed it
into the White House grounds Sept. 12, killing Mt Corder but
injuring no one else.
The review took on added importance after Francisco Martin
Duran pulled a semiautomatic rifle out of his trench coat on Oct.
29 and began firing at the front of the White House. No one was
injured, but Duran was found guilty of several charges, including
attempted murder of the president.
Six persons, mostry former senior executive branch and military
officials, served on the review's advisory committee. Officials
briefed Mr. Rubin on the proposed recommendations April 3. Mr.
Rubin said he went into that meeting skeptical but left feeling
there were no other options.
The recommendations were made more than two weeks before the
April 19 bombing in Oklahoma City that killed 167 persons.
However, that tragedy solidified opinion in favor of the
proposals, officials said.
Mr. Clinton said he was "reluctant" to go along with the plan,
but in the end accepted all of the proposals. A senior
administration official said Mr. Clinton particularly was
concerned about a car bomb causing the death of tourists.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Georgia Republican and third in
the line of succession for the presidency, said yesterday he
would not oppose the move.
"The thing that is sad about this is when something bad happens,
it will happen in a way we haven't thought of by people who are
forced to be slightly more creative. And I think what we need to
be doing is investing the resources in good intelligence services
and in good FBI efforts to do counterterrorism," Mr. Gingrich
said on CNN's "Evans and Novak."
A recently retired D.C. police official responsible for
coordinating security along the avenue said the shutdown helps
but fails to alleviate the "major problem."
"If anyone is going to try to do something to the White House,
it's going to be more elaborate than just driving up along the
side of the street," said Melvin Clark, who retired late last
year as commander of the Metropolitan Police Department's special
He said the most serious threat to the White House has always
been from the air. "People walking up to it are not the major
threat it's anyone with air-strike capability" he said.
Brian Reilly contributed to this report.
Since 1800, when John Adams became the flrst president to
occupy the White House, presidential security has evolved.
From 1800-World War II, the public generally had free access to
the White House grounds in the daylight. The war created the need
for visitors to register at gates around the complex.
Thomas Jefferson ordered construction of a high stone wall to
replace the temporary rail fence around the White House grounds.
James Madison stationed troops on the grounds because of the War
James Monroe replaced the stone wall with a curving iron fence
and gates with heavy locks and hired guards.
Andrew Jackson installed a wooden sentry box on the White House
grounds after a man tried to kill him at the Capitol.
John Tyler won congressional passage of a bill creating the
"auxiliary guard" of D.C. police officers.
Franklin Pierce retained a full-time bodyguard, establishing the
two-tier security structure seen today.
Abraham Lincoln had protction for all members of his family when
they left the White House grounds. He was assassinated while a
bodyguard went to a saloon for a drink.
James Garfield was fatally shot as he walked unguarded through
the Baltimore and Potomac Railway Station in Washington.
Grover Cleveland added the Treasury Department's Secret Sefvice,
whith primarily fought counterfeiting, to presidential protection.
William McKinley was fatally wounded in Buffalo, N.Y., despite
having numerous police officers around him.
Theodore Roosevelt intensified security. The Secret Service
assumed full-time responsibility for his safety.
Warren Harding saw Congress establish the White House Police
Force, which had 33 men.
Herbert Hoover saw Congress put the White House Police Force
under the Secret Service.
Franklin Roosavelt had the military help guard the White House
and restricted access during World War II.
Harry Truman faced an assasination attempt while living in Blair
House during White House renovations.
John Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, becoming the only person
killed under the official watch of the Secret Service.
Authorities then increased the number of special agents
protecting the president, expanded intelligence activities and
acquired sophisticated equipment.
Gerold Ford faced two assassination attempts in 17 days in
California. Congress expanded the responsibility of the uniformed
Secret Service and expanded the force to the current 1,200
Ronald Reagan was shot outside the Washington Hilton. Security
around the White House then was tightened. The perimeter later
was surrounded by reinforced posts to prevent car bombs like the
one in Beirut.
Bill Clinton authorized the closure of part of Pennsylvania
Avenue after a small plane crashed onto the White House grounds
and a man fired a rifle at the mansion.
Source: Treasury Department
Pennsylvania Ave. Closure || Peace Park