Talk:Pennsylvania Avenue (Washington, D.C.)

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Untitled[edit]

Here is a very good article that needs the information sifted out of it and made unplagiarised so it can be included in the page:

[from - http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/today/may23.html]

It appears that this is all a product of the Library of Congress, which as an arm of the Federal Government makes this a public domain work. As such, it can be directly incorporated into the article, though common courtesy requires us to include a note acknowledging the LOC. --Polynova 22:08, 7 Dec 2004 (UTC)
I have now incorporated much of the LOC article into this one. I think the article is the best "street" article in Wikipedia. Take that Broadway and Wall Street! --Polynova 06:13, 8 Dec 2004 (UTC)

"At one time, Pennsylvania Avenue provided an unobstructed view between the White House and the Capitol. The construction of an expansion to the Treasury Building blocked this view . . . "

With all respect, most of this paragraph perpetuates myth and speculation. Outside of the time Washington DC was nothing but pasture and farmland, it was never possible to view the Capitol from the White House or vice versa. The White House is much too small for its site and is, in fact, situated too far to the north to receive the PA Ave axis from the Capitol. This is quite obvious when viewed from the Old Post Office tower; with or without the Treasury, the vista terminates 50 feet or more to the south of the South Portico. According to the eminent White House historian William Seale, George Washington knew that Hoban's small building would be an inadequate focus and so therefore deliberately sited the residence at the intersection of the northern axes of the NY and PA Ave vistas.

While I think this entire paragraph should be omitted, there may be some worth to including it only as an example of the many old wives' tales surrounding the White House (such as the one about how it received its distinctive color and therefore its name because of being painted after the British burned it). —Preceding unsigned comment added by Quarterczar (talkcontribs)

I have to disagree. The Andrew Jackson story may be a myth, but the White House is very clearly along the PA Ave axis as seen in any map of DC or satellite photo. --dm (talk) 19:00, 16 March 2007 (UTC)

Unobstructed View[edit]

Hi, from a satellite image the White House may appear to be on axis but it is not. Please refer to William Seale's magnificent, two-volume work, "The President's House" pp 34-35 which, in turn, refers to L'Enfant's personal papers.

I hope it is OK to quote here in Wikipedia, so here goes:

"The main question was where to place a smaller house in the vast space allotted by L'Enfant. (L'Enfant's) palace had been designed to fit the site precisely. Even with the (2/5s) increase, Hoban's house was swallowed in the area . . . Should this building be centered in the area? It could not be shifted to the east or the west. Should it be set as far north as possible, or as far south?

". . . Washington walked around, calculated, and recalculated . . . At last he made his decision. The north wall of Hoban's house would be carried entirely 'up to the post fixed by Mjr L'Enfant for the center of the North front' of the palace. In other words, the front door would be where L'Enfant had meant his front door to be.

"The President's decision largely withdrew the house from the Pennsylvania Avenue axis to the Capitol, a move that did not rest well at all with the commissioners. Their subtle reference to their doubt in the records suggests that, left to their own devices, they might have framed the house in the view of the Capitol, and thus have gained also a vista from the President's House to the Capitol. The projection of the Blue Room, really more a semicircle than a bow, compensates somewhat by stretching the south facade almost to the edge of this vista . . ."

On pp 207-208, there is also a more specific reference to the view from the Capitol and Andrew Jackson's supposed role in destroying it:

"History has long abused the general for this act, claiming that he blocked the view of the White House from the Capitol, down Pennsylvania Avenue. The truth is, in locating the new Treasury he rescued the White House from a far worse fate, the crowding of its site by an executive complex. He has also taken an unjust beating with regard to the view from the avenue . . . General Washington had personally set the smaller house by Hoban to the north, pulling it to the very edge of the avenue's frame, where it was barely visible . . . Jefferson's sensitivity was understandably offended by the way the White House shrank back wretchedly from the commanding axis, so he cut off what little view there was with a curving driveway and dense plantings.

"In siting the new Treasury building, Jackson really sacrificed nothing, but corrected an old shortcoming by giving Pennsylvania Avenue at last its architectural terminus."

I can send you a picture taken from the top of the Old Post Office tower which clearly shows the White House on Axis with PA Ave on the north but not from the south, even with the projection of the South Portico.

On a different note, I'm curious why you deleted my addition of Blair House to the sites of interest. It's on Pennsylvania Avenue and it certainly is a point of interest. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by Quarterczar (talkcontribs) 23:15, 16 March 2007 (UTC).

I'd like to see the photo because I don't think I'm following you. What does it mean to be on axis from the north but not on the south? The quotes from the book suggest that the White House was not centered, but still visible, in the view from the Capitol. This wouldn't affect the Andrew Jackson story as it suggests he wanted the view of the Capitol blocked. Even if the White House were slightly off the axis, the Capitol would be clearly visible from much of the White House considering the Capitol's height and position on top of a hill.
Removing the Blair House link was accidental. I'll put it back in. --dm (talk) 00:11, 18 March 2007 (UTC)

Hi, PA Ave from the north is not on an axis with PA Ave from the south, nor does it point to the Capitol. This was because L'Enfant's plans for a Presidential Palace were far larger than the WH and the footprint of the palace was most likely square. Thus, NY and PA Aves from the north do not meet at the same apex as NY and PA Aves from the south. (This might be hard to tell from a satellite image because the difference is really only about 50 feet.) Anyway, the site fits L'Enfant's house, not Hoban's. In the pic from the Old Post Office Tower, you can see that if you follow PA Ave south from Georgetown to White House, the WH is smack dab in the right of way. HOWEVER, if you follow PA Ave north from the Capitol, the avenue would skip right past the building, clearly missing the house by 25-50 feet. The only unobstructed view to the Capitol was from the White House grounds in front of the South Portico. Now it may be true that you could see the Capitol from the White House in the first few years of the century but this was only because the trees had not grown and other buildings had not yet been built. So all this to say, there was never a view down Pennsylvania Ave from the windows of the White House. Never. The house was built too far to the north to receive the line of site.

If you need yet more proof, let me know where to email the pic from the Old Post Office Tower.

Thanks for your time.

I was confused because I think of PA Ave as an east-west street, not north-south. You may be right about sight lines but it's not obvious from any photos or maps I've seen. Could you upload the picture and post it on this talk page? Details on how to do this can be found at Wikipedia:Uploading images. I'd rather not give out my e-mail address. --dm (talk) 16:21, 19 March 2007 (UTC)


PA Ave
PA Ave


Hi, I'm sorry for causing the confusion. I didn't mean that PA Ave runs north or south. When I say "N" or "S", I am only referring to the various vantage points of the avenue. i.e. Pennsylvania Avenue from the north refers to the stretch that runs NW from the White House to Georgetown. Conversely "south" runs SE and refers to the leg linking the WH to the Capitol.

Attached is a pic of Pennsylvania Ave taken from the Old Post Office tower by me on April 6, 2006. In the first, I have added a thick red line to show the line of sight from the US Capitol which shows clearly that the WH is too far to the north to receive this axis. Whereas the WH is directly in the line of sight from PA Ave to north (the northwest leg which goes to Georgetown). I have added a thin red line to the second picture to show this.

PA Ave from the north and NY Ave from the north (running NE from the WH to the old Carnegie Library) do not share the same apex as from the south. The reason for this is that L'Enfant intended the focus of each apex to be the north and south facades (respectively) of his much larger presidential palace. Remember that L'Enfant's genius was not only in creating a magnificent, baroque city, but in the creation of axes and foci. (At the risk of confusing things further, I'd like to point out an example of what L'Enfant intended for his palace. You can tell in the picture you have uploaded of PA Ave to the Capitol that the Capitol dome is not the focus of the avenue. The portico in front of the dome is the focus) Knowing that the house was much too small for its site and because they believed the city would grow to the north, George Washington selected and James Hoban built the White House at a location to receive the northern lines of sight.

All of this to say that there was never a time when there was an unobstructed view from the White House to the Capitol up Pennsylvania Ave. It would be an accurate statement to say that before the Treasury was built, there was an unobstructed view of the Capitol up PA Ave from the grounds to the south of the White House, but not from the house itself.

I've enjoyed this discussion and hope you have, too. I think it is obvious we both love this city and, I hope, we can both still learn something about it.

Thanks for uploading the photo. I'm not sure that it is conclusive though. Keep in mind that the block of PA Ave west of Freedom Plaza is at a different angle from the rest of PA Ave and not a direct continuation of it. This block is also about half the width of the rest of PA Ave. Also, the buildings on the north side of this block are built very close to the street. Any buildings at the time would likely have been set back more. I just don't see enough of the relevant street to determine it one way or another. --dm (talk) 12:50, 20 March 2007 (UTC)

I guess I'm at a loss. I've provided examples showing that the original commissioners who built the White House said there was no view possible down PA Ave; William Seale says that there is no view possible and, by extension the White House historical association doesn't think so. I guess this is the big problem with Wikipedia. Its your article. Best of luck to you.

It seems that there has been more than enough evidence posted about the view. From the photographs, it's clear that the line of sight does not actually touch the White House. Danalon 13:47, 29 March 2007 (UTC)

Some nice research by quarterczar above but his/her speculation and conclusions are simply not supportable, particularly his/her unsubstantiated assertion that "from a satellite image the White House may appear to be on axis but it is not." Imagery confirms that indeed before the Treasury Building, there was clearly a view of the Capitol itself from at the very least the SW-most window of the main block of the White House (the West Wing was not added until 1901) Another confirmation can be gained by plotting the axis from the SW corner of the main White House block to the Capitol down Pa. Ave., then standing on that asix in front of the Willard Hotel near the Treasury building on Pa. Ave.; you'll get a nice view of the Capitol just as on the Panoramio photo there in Google Earth.....incontrovertible evidence. And quarterczar's main "evidence" above, the "President's decision...." and "History has long...." paragraphs, if read carefully, actually support the clearly visible fact on imagery that, though the White House was smaller than originally planned and no longer centered on the Pa. Ave. axis, the SW part of the White House and, at that time, probably most of the south facade had clear views of The Capitol.DLinth (talk) 04:05, 11 December 2008 (UTC)

Merging District of Columbia Route 4[edit]

This article should be merged here because it is very short and can be efficiently described in the history section. Dough4872 (talk) 18:53, 22 April 2009 (UTC)

  • I'd support the merge. The routing of DC 4 is redundant to PA Avenue and there probably isn't much history behind DC 4 beyond its assignment and removal. As stated by nom, the short history can be adequately covered in the existing history section. – TMF 05:57, 3 May 2009 (UTC)

Renewal under Kennedy[edit]

I just heard a brief comment on NBC News that when President Kennedy travelled from the Capitol to the White House, he was distressed to see how rundown the neighborhood had become and then appointed Daniel Patrick Moynihan to work on renewal. It would be helpful if this article made some mention of this. --Regensturm23 (talk) 20:55, 21 January 2013 (UTC)