WASHINGTON – The National Park Service solicited the public for ideas this week on ways to make the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House more beautiful and secure.
In open houses Tuesday and Wednesday, the park service asked visitors what should be done with the 80-feet-wide section of Pennsylvania Avenue between 15th and 17th streets that was closed to traffic in May, following the Oklahoma City bombing.
“The public sees this as an enormous opportunity,” said Susan Spain, National Park Service design team leader for the project. “It’s an opportunity to go back and look at what George Washington was thinking when he laid out a city that was meant to symbolize democracy.”
Spain said most of the people who filled out questionnaires and suggestion boards or allowed themselves to be interviewed seemed to want “a very traditional and educational focus. They want a quiet area so that they can think about the importance of the White House, and they emphatically do not want any commercial space.”
Comments left on the boards and interviews with visitors confirmed Spain’s summary.
“The area should be a national showcase to Washington, D.C.,” wrote one visitor. “It should be what the Golden Gate Bridge is to San Francisco or what the Empire State building is to New York.”
Another visitor wrote, “It should be a tribute to the people of America … not just a tribute to one person, a political figure or an event.”
Hy Guli, a retired South Brunswick, N.J., resident, told a reporter he would like to see the space “made into a well- landscaped lawn that would give people a chance to see the White House with less interference.”
The park service is also sending out questionnaires and consulting with universities and others via the Internet, in an effort to figure out the best use of the area.
“”We’re trying to get as many different ideas as we can so that our ultimate resolution reflects the public’s feelings,” said Chris Schillizi, a visiting planner for the National Park Service.
The park service will consolidate the information and a panel of 12-14 of the nation’s top design architects will review it the second week of December. The architects will then have about a year to develop proposals. Construction is expected to begin in January 1997, Spain said.
The park service has asked that any potential designs be non-intrusive, timeless, respectful of past buildings and traditions, accessible to pedestrians, and dignify the importance of the area.
Pennsylvania Avenue was closed to vehicular traffic because of security concerns following the April 19 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Following the road closing, a security review task force determined that allowing cars to drive down the street posed too great a risk.
If a truck with a bomb were to drive down that street, there was the potential for serious damage to the White House, said Jay Max Bond Jr., a New York architect who served on the task force.
An 18-year-old Catonsville, Md., resident who dropped by the White House Visitor Center Wednesday agreed with the decision.
“Closing the road to traffic was the proper decision because you’ve got to protect the president,” said Charles Lund. “It’s a matter of national security.”
Pennsylvania Avenue is not the only public area being redesigned to promote greater security. In New York City, the World Trade Center will undergo a variety of alterations designed to increase the safety of the building, following a February 1993 bombing. “The issues in situations like these are always the same,” said Steven Davis, lead architect working on the World Trade Center project. “We have to try to balance the public’s right to access with the security concerns.” -30-