15th TO 17th STREETS

This concerns jurisdiction over Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. between 15th and 17th Streets. The matter of ownership of the street was addressed in a separate paper which indicated that title is in the United States of America.

Jurisdiction over the Avenue is fragmented because some of the jurisdiction is under the District of Columbia and some is under the Federal government. defining the basis of hte respective jurisdictional control is not as clear as the matter of title to the land upon which the Avenue is situated.

Reference is directed to the attached sketch for focusing on the jurisdictional fragmentation. This shows the curb lines of the Aenue exclusive of any curb cuts along the south side. The 90 foot dimension as shown onPennsylvania Avenue from 15th Street to Madison Place and from Jackson Place to 17th Street is the record width according to the metes and bounds description defining the original Appropriation Number One. The Appropriation encompassed the area south of H Street and enclusive of Squares 167 and 221 and exclusive of Jackson Place, Madison Place and a 90 foot sidth of Pennsylvania fronting on these squares.

The sketch shows the south curb line of the pavement as lying within Appropriation Number One. It also shows the segment ofthe Avenue between Madison and Jackson Places as falling within the Appropriation.

According to information on file in the Public Space Maintenance Administration of Department of Public Works, jurisdiction by the District of Columbia is exercised over all of the Avenue except for the sidewalk on the south side and the sidewalk between Madison and Jackson Places on the north side.

The records are unclear onthe basis for this fragmentation. The oldest measurement sheet in these records for pavement work dated December 9, 1879 seems to verify the curb line locations as they presently exist and it states that the pavement work was to be charged to "appropriations for improvements and roadway repairs." One of the pavement history cards indicates that the coal tar pavement that was laid from 15th and 17th Streets in 1871 "went to plieces very rapidly and was frequently repaired." The earliest indication I found of the Avenue being open between Madison and Jackson Places is based upon an 1858 lithograph by Thomas Sinclair which shows Clark Mill's equestrian statute of Andrew Jackson. This is a view looking south toward the White House and it shows a roadway, a sidewalk onthe south side and an iron fence separating the sidewalk from the White House grounds as it is at present. A gas lamp is also shown. The only traffic shown inthe lithograph are pedestrians and a lone horse rider inthe street.


Exclusive of these 90 foot wide segments, that portion of the Avenue located within the bounds of Appropriation Number One is not a street in agreement with the plan of the city. A review of L'Enfant's plan, Ellicott's plan, Dermott's map of the squares andthe King Plats all clearly substantiate this determination. Consequently District of Columbia jurisdiction over certain portions of the Avenue within Appropriation Number One is not based upon the Act of 1802 incorporating the City of Washington as are the portions within the 90 foot wide segments.

The record is unclear as to how or when the District obtained jurisdiction over that part of the street pavement lying within Reservation Number One together with the sidewalk on the north side adjacent to Lafayette Square. The street distribution cards on file inthe Public Space Records of Department of Public Works show this as under D.C. jurisdiction. There is no record in the Office of the Surveyor as to any old plat or document addressing this area. It is most likely that some kind of understanding was reached many years ago that jurisdiction over the Avenue exclusive of the sidewalk onthe south side would be under D.C. jurisdiction to the same extent as over the 90 foot wide segments.

Not until May 2, 1932 (47 Stat. 161 and D.C. Code sec. 8-111) did the Congress provide a general procedure and authority for the transfer of jurisdiction between "Federal and District authorities administering properties within the District of Columbia owned byt he United States or by the said District." This is the provision under which transfers must be effected in the absence of some other specific legislation by the Congress.

The procedure under this general transfer authority is for a plat to be prepared by the Office of the Surveyor for recording the transfer action. No such plat exists ointhe Office as to any transfer of jurisdiction over Pennsylvania Avenue from 15th to 17th Streets.

This discussion should not terminate however without reference to a letter of September 3, 1983 from the Regional Director National Capital Region to the Acting Director, D.C. Department of Transportation regarding sidewalks along the perimeter of Lafayette Park. The Park Service requested concurrence as to it taking over the administration of "the perimeter sidewalks as an integral part of the park, providing full maintenance and other necessary services." By signature of B.J. O'Donnell concurrence was geven for the D.C. Department of Transportation in that matter. In view of the statutory requirements pertaining to transfer of jurisdiction, Mr. O'Donnell's ocncurrence is only a de facto transfer of jurisdiction.


In 1852 a series of maps of the "District of Columbia and the City of Washington" was printed by A. Boyd Hamilton by order of the House of Representatives of the United States. The fold-out map clearly shows a street between 15th and 17th Streets, but it is unnamed. Only Squares 167 and 221, Lafayette Square, and the President's House, are named. The lithograph of Jackson thus validates the existence of the "Avenue" separating the White House and Lafayette Square.

The earliest indication of paving a street inthe City of Washington occurred in January 1832 wherein "the House cautiously appointed a committee to inquire into the expediency of making provision by act of Congress, or otherwise for the repair and improvement of the street in Washington City, called the Pennsylvania Avenue, from the President's House tothe Capitol, onthe McAdam plan or other permanent manner" (pg.70 The Avenue ofthe Presidents by Mary Cable, 1969, Houghton Mifflin Company). Ms. Cable also states on page 68 that, "Since the appropriation of 1803, Congress had rejected every proposal for the upkeep ofPennsylvania Avenue. Most congressmen thought the City should take care of its own streets, ignoring the fact that all the streets were federal property."

This 1803 reference date is but a year later than the Act of 1802 incorporating the City of Washington, which in my judgement is the foundation of jurisdictional claim by the District over the original streets. Under Sec. 7 of this Act, the corporation of the City was given "full power and authority" to keep in repair all streets and avenues, and "to pass regulations necessary for the preservation of the same, agreeably to the plan of the city." Several acts subsequent to 1802 affectin the corporation of the City or Washington carried like provisions. Also D.C. Code Sec. 7-101 places under control of the Mayor the streets and alleys "which may be intrusted to the Mayor's charge by the Congress." This also assigns responsibility to the Council to make regulations for keeping the streets and avenues in repair.

Therefore the original streets inthe City of Washington, i.e. those in agreement with the plan ofthe City, have clearly been under jurisdiction of the Districtof Columbia since 1802. Thus the 90 foot wide segments of Pensylvania Avenue form 15th Street to Madison Place and from Jackson Place to 17th Street are now and have been under jurisdictifon of the District of Columbia since 1802. Part of the roadway pavement onthe south side of the limits of Appropriation Number One, as does all of the segments of the Avenue between Mdison and Jackson Palces.


In summary, except for the sidewalk alsong the south side of Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. from 15th to 17th Streets and the de facto transfer of jurisdiction to the National Park Service over the sidewalk adjacent to Lafayette Square, jurisdiction over the remainder of Pennsylvania Avenue lies with the District of Columbia. This is shown in a graphic format on the attached sketch.

May 22, 1985

Ralph B. Sheaffer, P.E.
Acting Surveyor

I CONCUR:_____________________________ June 3, 1985
David L. Kessler, Chief
Permits & Records Division
Public Space Maintenance Administration

Pennsylvania Ave. Closure || Peace Park