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 Oklahoma City.

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, officials said.

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 operations division.

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 of 1812.

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 officers.

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