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
Washington Post Staff Writer

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 trees.

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 grass planted.

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 shut.

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 permanent closure."

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 May.

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.

Pennsylvania Ave. Closure || Peace Park