THE SEAT OF GOVERNMENT?
THE SEAT OF GOVERNMENT?
June 12, 1995
Park Service Sifts Ideas for Pennsylvania Avenue
a Marble Sofa
By Stephen C. Fehr Washington Post Staff Writer
Come sit a spell on the national sofa.
It's no ordinary couch. In James Allegro's mind, the 300 foot
marble-slab "national sofa" would decorate Lafayette Square
across from the White House. And would sit in front of it--a
giant-screen model showing the president and his family inside
the mansion an a soda of their own, answering questions awl
chatting with folks in the park.
"This is only one approach that says, 'Hey, let's use
technology to bring the president closer to us,' " said Allegro,
one of two local architects who submitted the idea to the
National Park Service.
Brainstorms such as that are among the hundreds of suggestions
the Park Service has been considering for the closed two block
section of Pennsylvania Avenue NW in front of the White House.
This month, the agency is scheduled to release five proposed
Futures for the avenue there. It will borrow heavily from the
recommendations of a panel of 13 nationally known architects and
planners and, to a lesser extent, 600 private citizens
Some of the public's visions include a shelter and a free clinic
for the homeless. Others envision the area honoring the 50
states, immigrants, Native Americans and even presidential pets
through the years. A memorial for Nobel Prize winners or the
victims of the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building was
proposed. One person wanted a presidential wax museum.
"Actually, it's been fun," said James I. McDaniel, the Park
Service's liaison to the White House. "this is a unique process
that may not take place in any other country."
Few people have been more dogged about drawing attention to
their idea than Allegro, 33, and Doug Michels, 52. Michels's best
known work is Cadillac Ranch, a monument of 10 Cadillacs
standing fins-up in the sand near Amarillo, Texas. So it's
natural to wonder whether the national sofa is to be taken
Yes and no.
The scheme was hatched one afternoon when Allegro and Michels
were talking about the Park Service's solicitation for proposals.
They were impressed by the site's potential for interaction
between the president and the people.
"Oh, you mean like a giant sofa in front?" Michels said to
"Yeah, a monument to couch potatoes," Allegro said.
They started sketching, eventually settling on a long seat of
curved marble fronted by a carpet of grass and pool of water. The
40-by-80 foot television screen would rise out of the ground for
presidential conversations, with microphones and cameras nearby
for the people in Lafayette Square and throughout the White House
for the First Family. Allegro and Michels peg the cost at $20 million. There would be no giant marble channel clicker--or mute
"The sofa is sort of an American icon--a disarming, friendly
social setting," said Michels, whose own living room lacks one.
"You wouldn't be forced to ask serious Questions as [at] a town
meeting. Americans aren't that serious all the time. They like to
sit on the sofa and hang out."
But who would decide who gets to hang out and speak: "I'd have
to defer that to the sofa management committee," Michels replied.
McDaniel doubts that the final design for Pennsylvania Avenue
will include a national sofa, although he offered to "keep
listening and talking to them. Park Service officials plan to
make their selection by January. The cost and construction
schedule have not been determined.
Outside the White House yesterday, tourists were intrigued by
the Possibilities of sitting couchside in the park. "It's very La
La Land," said Adele Dick, of Huntington Beach, Calif., about 35
miles south of the real La La Land. Her 11- and 9-year old sons
were interested, too, although they seemed disappointed that no
video games would be available when the president wasn't talking.
"I'm not political," emphasized her older son, Michael. "But it
would give people a chance to speak their mind."
Kathie Mittman, who was visiting from Portervilie, Calif.. liked
the idea. "I don't know if you should write this down, but the
president is not aware of what the average person is thinking,"
she said. "Maybe this would help some of that dialogue. It would
have to be open to anyone, though. He couldn't select who would
Michels and Allegro intend to continue pushing their proposal
even if the Park Service shoots it down.
President Clinton, "a national sofa kind of guy, would love the
opportunity, Michels said.
So would his presumed opponent in November, Sen. Robert J. Dole,
even if talking to President Dole "would be like visiting your
And Ross Perot!
"He'd talk so much the screen Probably would never be down. And
we'd be sorry we ever came up with the idea."
Pennsylvania Ave. Closure || Peace Park