White House secure as it's going to get
Grass Loses Ground on Pennsylvania
Officials Won't Tear Up Asphalt on Closed Portion
By Stephen C. Fehr
An interim plan to replace the closed part of Pennsylvania
Avenue NW in front of the White House with strips of grass has
been abandoned by federal officials, leaving a park, six-lane
slab of asphalt for an indefinite period.
The 40-foot-wide sections of grass proposed for the middle of
the street were supposed to be sown by now and the unsightly
concrete barriers at 15th and 17th streets NW replaced with
softer-looking beige and grav plznters containing flowers and
The 115 planters are scheduled to be installed the week of April
1. But the National Park Service backed off from planting grass
after architects and planners said the street should not be torn
up until a permanent plan for the area is chosen.
"The architects thought [grass] was too much for the interinl
plan," said James I. McDaniel, the Park Service's liaison to the
White House. "There was a concern that it could be harder to
charlge in the future." if the street already had been dug up and
McDaniel, who said last fall that grass would ease the "asphalt
landing strip" nature of the street, added, "It's definitely a
change from our original goal. At the same time, we have to be
flexible in realizing the National Park Service isn't the only
one who has ideas about what to do.
President Clinton ordered the two-block section of Pennsyvania
closed--as well as State Place and Executive Avenue south of
the White House--after the Oklahoma City bombing last year
because of concerns about the potential damage to the executive
mansion from a truck bomb.
Since then, downtown traffic has been snarled for much of the
day, with a portion of one of the city's major east-west routes
In effect, the city's east and west ends have been sliced apart
from each other, housing concern among several city officials
that commercial development will suffer.
"A company or association with business on Capitol Hill may
decide it is easier to get there from Alexndria instead of
downtown D.C.," said Art Lawson, a D.C. Department of Public
Works official who has looked at the impact of the closing.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) advised against the grass
planting because she hopes the street will be reopened in the
future. D.C. Council member Frank Smith Jr. (D-Ward 1) made the
same case yesterday.
"I don't want them to dig it up for grass," he said I'm looking
forward to the day when it is reopened."
McDaniel said, "The direction we have indicates this is a
Harry G. Robinson III, of Howard University, who headed a panel
of architects advising the Park Service, said yesterday that
federal offidais are considering other ways to improve the
street's appearance, including adding more parters or concrete
vases in front of the White House.
McDaniel said the 115 rectangular and circular planters
containing donated roses, ivy and hollies will result in a fairly
dramatic change from the fortress-like makeshift barriers that
have been in place at either end of the closed street. All the
planters are nearly three feet high, and the largest of them is 7
by 13 feet and weighs 36 tons.
"It will really dress the area up," McDaniel said.
The police cruisers that have been parked at either end of the
closed section will no longer be needed once the planters are in
place and guard booths are erected, probably by the end of
Crews have been digging under the street in recent days to
install telephone, electricity and water lines for the guard
booths and planters.
At each checkpoint, steel barriers will be installed that move
down to allow vehides to go through.
The cost of these measures will be less than $500,000, down from
the initial estimate--with grass--of $700,000 to $1 million. They
were supposed to be in place by last September but have been
mired in procurement and contracting delays. The snowy winter
didn't help either, McDaniel said.
Later this spring, federal officials will propose five options
for a permanent design for Pennsylvania. After public comment,
one of the plans is scheduled to be seleded this summer.
Construction could begin early next year, McDaniel said,
depending on whether Congress approves money for the project. No
final cost estimate has been set, though it coukl be several
million dollars, depending on which of the five plans is chosen.
Federal officials also plan to seek private donations.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Pennsylvania Ave. Closure || Peace Park