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Built On A Swamp and Other Myths of D.C.

The new history of Washington's Metro system by George Mason University professor Zachary Schrag attempts to disprove one of the great myths of this region, the widespread belief that Metro does not go to Georgetown because the snooty residents of that neighborhood lobbied hard against a train that would bring riffraff into their part of town.

Schrag's evidence isn't impressing many folks who recall that there was indeed vocal opposition to routing Metrorail through Georgetown, and some of those residents are speaking out on themail, the excellent District newsletter (relevant posts about halfway down.)

The debate prompted Matthew Gilmore, moderator of the equally superb H-DC listserv on Washington history, to put out a call for other such myths about the city. He offered these:

*Built on a swamp (discussed several years ago on H-DC)

*plan reconstructed out of Banneker's memory after L'Enfant was fired

*plan copied after Versailles (Don Hawkins' recently lectured at the
National Building Museum on this)

*circles and avenues for military purposes/crowd control (also been
discussed on H-DC)

*No J Street to slight John Jay, or Thomas Jefferson, or....

*Residents stopped a Metro stop from being constructed in Georgetown

Reader Don Hawkins offered this myth:

Another myth has it that Andrew Jackson located the Treasury Building in order to obstruct the views to and from the Capitol. He is said to have stuck his walking stick in the ground and said "Build it here." That never happened, and construction on the new building started at the other end, so it didn't obstruct the view until long after Jackson had died.

Other myths? Add them right here....

By Marc Fisher |  April 5, 2006; 7:29 AM ET
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Comments

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No building can be higher than the Washington Monument.

Posted by: Alex | April 5, 2006 11:53 AM

Actually, the myth is about the Capitol, not the monument. Building height is a function of the "adjacent" street (in quotes because the adjacent street does not always have to be adjacent to the actual building) with a city-wide limit of 130 feet (except for parts of Penn Ave).

Posted by: TMD | April 5, 2006 12:05 PM

Really, DC was not built on a swamp? What about Foggy Bottom? I always thought that's where the name came from

Posted by: abc25 | April 5, 2006 12:39 PM

Myth: There was a time when the white citizens of DC wanted to live as neighbors with blacks: Wanted their children to go to the same schools as their white children: Wanted to go to the same churches as blacks because the pasters and priest were men of God and demanded that his mostly white congregation pray together as one human race: Whites and blacks were shoulder to shoulder marching to protest the awful education that public schools offered to mostly black students.

Fact: When the white citizens arrived and moved into blacks neighborhoods, buying up homes and fixing them up and they become 4 times as much as they purchased, blacks wanted to meet and be friends with their new neighbors, however white citizens didn't and moved forward to create laws and legislation to force blacks out, by raising taxes on homes etc.

Fact: Racism in DC still lives and sadly it's gotten worse. Blacks are starting to react to whites as whites reacted to blacks and honestly I am greatly offended that these "educated" white citizens are that stupid in not wanting to unite as Americans at this time and age.

Posted by: Frankey | April 5, 2006 12:39 PM

Not sure how widespread it is, but when I came through DC on a trip in high school our tour guide gave us an interesting explaination for the sudden change in the stone color on the Washington Monument. During the 1980's, a group protesting the federal government handling of the AIDS crisis unrolled a giant condom over the monument. Unfortunately, the material caused the stone to discolor. The guide also fed us the myth about traffic circles being used to slow the march of an invading army.

Posted by: Chris | April 5, 2006 12:43 PM

The change in color of the Monument is because construction was halted during the Civil War. When the war was over, the quarry where the stone had been mined no longer existed so they had to go to anothe one. This second quarry's stone did not quite match in color.

Posted by: mwalkerg | April 5, 2006 12:45 PM

The condom myth concerning the Washington Monument might have had some basis in the fact that the Monument was completely enclosed in cloth-covered scaffolding for a while during the 1990s for renovation purposes. It was quite a dramatic sight, especially lit from within at night. A famous archtect designed the scaffolding. Of course, this was after Chris's high-school visit, so the myth at that time probably had most of its basis in homophobia. There were some major AIDS protests on the Mall during the 1980s, as well as displays of the AIDS Memorial Quilt.

Posted by: Scott | April 5, 2006 1:11 PM

Myth: The capstone of the Washington Monument reads "Laus Deo" ("Praise Be to God") as part of a religious inscription throughout the monument and the immediate area (L'Enfant designed the Mall area in the shape of a cross, there other religious inscriptions on stones throughout the monument, etc.). The inscriptions do exist, but they were contributed by groups from across the United States and there is no evidence that L'Enfant designed a cross on the Mall with religious overtones in mind. Further, the capstone, which no one can see in its spot atop the monument, does have other inscriptions commemorating the construction of the monument and a commission that helped build it.

Posted by: velvetjones | April 5, 2006 1:13 PM

Myth: Politicians are fair and just and follow their own rules. Just look at the pics of Jim Graham's illegal parking (in the District newsletter link) while he crusades against illegal parkers!

Posted by: surlychick | April 5, 2006 1:23 PM

I dunno, Frankey, I've been living here a long time, and I've never heard that one before. White folks just love Black people? News to me.
Although, to be fair, it's not the new neighbors raising taxes, it's the city. I've never heard anybody at all say "Oh, good, my taxes just went up."
Most of the new people on my block (in Shaw) are young, professional, and white. Most are "liberal" by any normal definition. They seldom even use their front doors because they park in the back, off the street. They don't have time or interest in middle-aged, or old, working class neighbors, who they never meet anyway. They don't care what the Howard Theater was like 50 years ago.

Posted by: Chazz | April 5, 2006 1:27 PM

Hmm. I seem to remember that some guy named Achenbach wrote a book about George Washington and his "Grand Idea" for the Potomac River as a economic artery between the breadbasket of the US of A and the coast as this country was forming.

There's quite a bit in the middle of the book about the circumstances of Washington DC being located where it is and why.

Marc, I'm sure you could hit that guy up for some input if it's needed...

bc

Posted by: bc | April 5, 2006 1:38 PM

Fact: You're one in a million.

Fact: When you increase the value of your home you increase the tax on your home. Hello, basic math theory. Yes, the gov't raises but based on the property value.

Fact: You're playing the blind in this racism thing...typical. Take off the blinders and get out of just the shaw area where everything is so picture perfect.

Myth: You never marched to save any black kids education.

Fact: When white citizens march "our government" both local and federal tend to listen more than they would if it were a "group of blacks" who are looked at as a threat more than a group of concern for their cause.

Fact: Again, you have proven the stupidity of white citizens.

Posted by: Frankey to Chazz | April 5, 2006 1:43 PM

Fact: You're one in a million.

Fact: When you increase the value of your home you increase the tax on your home. Hello, basic math theory. Yes, the gov't raises but based on the property value.

Fact: You're playing the blind in this racism thing...typical. Take off the blinders and get out of just the shaw area where everything is so picture perfect.

Myth: You never marched to save any black kids education.

Fact: When white citizens march "our government" both local and federal tend to listen more than they would if it were a "group of blacks" who are looked at as a threat more than a group of concern for their cause.

Fact: Again, you have proven the stupidity of white citizens.

Posted by: Frankey to Chazz | April 5, 2006 1:44 PM

Fact: Just for mention I've marched with White ciitzens in anti-abortion, breast cancer, birth defects etc., marches here in DC.

Fact: When trying to get some of those same white citizens to march along with me regarding better education for black children, my phone did not ring.

Fact: I have no hatred in my heart, but I do hold disappointment as a born and bred American with a huge history in this country.

Posted by: Frankey | April 5, 2006 1:48 PM

Myth: BC only posts on the boodle
Fact: BC is actually a clevely designed computer algorithim designed in the Achenmatrix!

Posted by: edward | April 5, 2006 1:55 PM

I have a friend who was a tour guide for some time. He used to tell really dull groups that the color change was from the Great Flood of 1872. Not once did anyone question him. (Note: If there was a great flood, the water would have to have been about 150 feet)

Posted by: Washington Monument | April 5, 2006 1:58 PM

Myth: In the Lincoln Memorial when standing between the last two columns to Lincoln's immediate right you can observe the facial profile of Robert E. Lee carved into Lincoln's hairline behind his right ear ... allegedly done by a starving, Depression-era sculptor who was a Confederate sympathizer but needed the money for food.

Although I'd add that there definitely looks to be a facial profile of a bearded man (if inadvertant) back there.

Posted by: GEK | April 5, 2006 2:56 PM

It's the new white homeowners who are unfriendly? Not in Columbia Heights. I (young, white, definitely liberal) spend lots of time on my front porch, having a beer, winding down after work, and NOT ONE of the other residents on my street has introduced themselves.

They're not shy, though. No one hesitates to announce their presense in the neighborhood by screaming down the street at their friends at all hours, letting their carpool driver lean on the horn for 20 minutes, or letting their dog bark incessantly, or throwing trash in my front yard. If I have to have my neighbors-- or at least their noise-- in my life all the other hours of the day, can't you at least come say hello, tell me your name, learn mine...?

How am I at fault here? For wanting to own a home? Honestly. Explain it to me.

Posted by: NewNeighbor | April 5, 2006 3:07 PM

Myth: Marion Berry could be relected Mayor again.

Fact: Marion Berry could be relected Mayor again.

bc

PS edward, I do drop in on Raw Fisher occasionally. And I'm not logical enough to be a computer algorithm.

Posted by: bc | April 5, 2006 3:21 PM

Interesting how a forum on myths gets turned into a debate on racism... I'm just curious, if any rich person moved in and fixed up the property would you not like them as well, or only the white ones? Racism is a real issue, but this may not be the place to bring it.

Myth: I was told that there are a few bodies in the momunment from when it was being built and workers died?

Myth: The hills on the white house lawn are really missile silos

Myth: Bush didn't know there were no WMD in Iraq. Whoops, now I went and did it.

Posted by: RaceIssues | April 5, 2006 3:35 PM

Myth: Lincoln's hands in the monument say something in sign language (an homage to Lincoln starting Gaulludet)

Fact: The artist claims it was only accidental.

I learned that (both myth and fact) recently, but now can't remember where... Was it a Fisher column?

Posted by: Jimmy from DC | April 5, 2006 3:40 PM


Frankely and Chazz,

Two bitter liberals arguing with one another to see who is Smarter and more CARING. It warms my cold conservative heart to see you two morons arguing over who is the bigger victim. hahaha.

Myth: Whites drove blacks out of DC.

Fact: Blacks run DC and always have. Black leadership sold its soul to big government wealthfare ideology years ago creating a permanent underclass of racially aggrevied losers. You've only yourself and your brotherman black politicians to blame for not being able to compete in a market economy. Remember the Mayor "that goddamn b*tch set me up." Yeah so I do. Guess what Frankley your whole black population thinks that way. That's why you lost your neighborhoods. You did it to yourselves.

Sorry pal, that's life. Its a competitive world and poor DC blacks lost out, because they didn't try. No one has a right to live in a non competitive bubble like they did for SO long.

Posted by: Brick | April 5, 2006 3:42 PM

Fact: The phrase "dumb as a Brick" can really offend someone now.

Myth: The Monument represents Male power.

Posted by: John | April 5, 2006 4:40 PM

Thank you for confirming the stupidity of white citizens and trying the reverse racism game, but i care not to debate with people like yourself due to uncaring selfish attitude.

Ok, cold republican,don't ask for sympathy when the one angry black person blows your brain out due to being uncared for and under educated and needs to feed his/her habit or feed his or her family.

It's people like you that make people like me really start to hate the white citizens of this city, it's sad but I am totally withdrawing my liberalism and becoming more of an independent for reality of life, which you confuse with "thats the way life is" statement.

Again, a well educated white citizen being stupid and uncaring and you expect us to accept you, never.

Take care and good bye.

Posted by: Frankey to Brick | April 5, 2006 4:52 PM

Frankey,

You attitude, outlook and comments are completely absurd. You claim all white citizens are stupid. You blame whites for improving their homes to increase property values so that taxes will increase and then drive out black people. You are prejudice, ignorant and an embarassment to our race. You are part of the problem not the solution.

Posted by: Flynn | April 5, 2006 5:15 PM

So Why is there no J street (If its not a slight to John Jay)?

Why do we have circles? Circles are used for Military purposes, but in this case I always assumed they were to have less complicated intersections and you can have a statue.

Wasn't the city planned by L'Enfant then he was fired for being a pompous jerk. Then they used his design but simplified it. banneker was involved as was Ellicot. What am I missing?

What is H-DC?

Posted by: Rich | April 5, 2006 5:23 PM

And does anyone know what the D.C. flag symbolizes? Are the two red stripes the Potomac and Anacostia? What are the stars for? Why red on white?

Posted by: Rich | April 5, 2006 5:24 PM

We can't even discuss myths and or facts about the city without the Frankies of the world screwing everything up.

Posted by: Ugh | April 5, 2006 5:27 PM


Truth hurts doesn't it Frankey. The world doesn't owe you anything and you're mad about it. What a shocker. The world will never change so I guess you've 2 choices. Grow up and take responsibility like a man or whine about statistics and social discrepancies. I'm sure you'll choose the later.

That's okay run off to your loser black leaders, they'll make you feel better about your anger towards whitey. Hey, say hi to Cynthia McKinney while you're there and Mayor Barry and all the rest who played that game.

Posted by: Brick | April 5, 2006 5:28 PM

Not really a myth (or is it), but one interesting fact is that what is now Arlington County was originally supposed to be part of DC. If you look at a map of DC and Arlington it forms a diamond. The planners later decided not to split the city with the potomac.

Posted by: Sam | April 5, 2006 5:28 PM


No J street because there is no J in the Roman alphabet.

Posted by: Brick | April 5, 2006 5:29 PM

Arlington was originally part of D.C. The land for D.C. was donated by Maryland and Virginia, but Alexandria didn't financially benefit from the arrangement. As a result they they asked the Virginia leglislature to let them become a part of VA. This happened in I believe 1848. This was also because there was a slave market in Alexnadria and the people wanted to continue to sell slaves, while northern Congressman wanted to end the sale of slaves in D.C. They finally succeeded in the compromise of 1850 when they banned the slave trade in D.C.

Posted by: Rich | April 5, 2006 5:33 PM

What about the secret escape tunnels from the White House? Those are classics made all the more believable because they seem like a good idea.

Posted by: Sam | April 5, 2006 6:09 PM

I'm a young (28), African-American, male who is about to purchase a home in an emerging part of the city (Navy Yard). People should know that its not just whites who are moving into the city, improving neighborhoods. People are People. We are all the same. We want to live in good neighborhoods, have nice salaries so we can enjoy our free time. People (black and white) moving into the city, aren't doing it to push anyone out. People simply want the "urban experience". Think Manhattan. Also, the real problem is classcism, not racism. People in the lower class just have it a lot harder. The lower class needs to take the "I'm gonna improve my life MYSELF" attitude, and not expect anyone to help them out, because the truth is... No one can help you escape poverty. Its not fair, but its how life is.

Posted by: Navy Yard | April 5, 2006 6:15 PM

I love that we still have a country where people can say and do what they wish, regardless of race, color, creed, or internet connection.

every story has at least two sides; it just sucks that like a die (singular for dice), they never see the other side.

Posted by: mr jones | April 5, 2006 6:18 PM

Rich:

I heard that the DC flag is based on the Washington family crest, which was three red stars above two horizontal red stripes.

We once had friends visiting from Quebec who wanted to know why DC has a birthday cake on its license plate...

Posted by: Amy | April 5, 2006 6:20 PM

Sam, there is in fact a tunnel that connects the White House to the Treasury building, I am pretty sure.

Posted by: David | April 5, 2006 7:17 PM

It is truly sad to see so many racist people. So many ignorant people on one website. Anyone who requires evidence that racism is not limited to any one race need only read this page. Thank you Flynn for being the only intelligent voice on the page.

Posted by: Andrew | April 5, 2006 8:57 PM

Navy Yard - Thanks for some common sense. I grew up here and am happy to see reinvestment in our old city streets. It is cool.

By the way - Love the tunnels from the White House myth. That one always came up as kids.

I thought Arlington went back to VA as a result of the Civil War. An earlier writer said it was from DC Law banning Slave Trade. I wonder since I was taught the former in school.

Posted by: brenda | April 5, 2006 8:57 PM

I know a woman who was on the MNCPPC when Metro was planned and she swears that it bypasses Georgetown because the residents raised such a huge stink that the planners decided to go up Connecticut until VanNess and then jog over to Tenley. So what is a "myth" about that?

Posted by: DC native | April 5, 2006 8:58 PM

More kudos to Navy Yard; the truth of the matter is that some white and black people do become friends with each other in "gentrifying" neighborhoods. I've discovered that many people who think everyone is unfriendly are the people with the problem. Unfortunately, alot of people, both black and white, are stuck in the past, and distrustful of each other. Their loss; I'm white and often chatted it up with the black people in my part of eastern Shaw--before I moved to Silver Spring because the District got too expensive. Yes, a lot of white people can't afford to live in the District either. I was always impressed with my black neighbors' friendliness, regardless of my race, and I quite frankly would rather live in a blue collar black neighborhood before I would live in a stuck-up, rich white neighborhood. BTW, I DO care about the Howard Theater and can't wait for it to reopen.

This city should be for everyone, white or black, rich or poor, with one requirement: the desire to work hard, respect each other and at least try to understand each other's different perspectives.

Posted by: Chris | April 5, 2006 9:49 PM

Myth: The Redskins predict the outcome of presidential elections. Until 2004, if the Skins won their last home game, the incumbent party's candidate won the election. If they lost, so did the incumbent party. I guess John Kerry really blew it.

Posted by: Jamie | April 5, 2006 10:27 PM

golly.
I'm not even sure where to start.
One little post and I get accused of being white, one-in-a-million (and not in a good way), liberal, blind, and raising property values for doing what we (black people) have always done: keeping it together, despite all the blahblahblah. Oh, and I have been off the block a little bit, thanks for asking.

Racism keeps coming up in every discussion, and will continue to do so, because it's the central contradiction of our society.
Yes, it does suck. I did notice.

Posted by: chazz | April 5, 2006 11:29 PM

Retrocession was a pretty complex issue. It wasn't just about the slave trade (which was abolished in the District in 1850.) For all of the reasons that voting rights activists cite today, there have been burgeoning retrocession movements in various parts of DC throughout its history. In 1846 there were three cities in DC, and the financing of the C&O Canal exacerbated a pre-existing trade rivalry between Georgetown & Alexandria. For many reasons--not all of them illegitimate--Alexandria City felt that it was suffering for its inclusion in the District. Alexandria County (Arlington) was much less enthusiastic about retrocession; but aside from geometric harmony, there didn't seem to be much reason to retain the Virginia portion. And Alexandria City was pro-slavery, so the Tidal & Piedmont Virginians in the General Assembly were happy to welcome back the ceded land.

Posted by: retrocession (1847) | April 6, 2006 12:39 AM

Regarding tunnels, many of the older government buildings do have tunnels connecting to other govt buildings. Even the Regan Building has an underground tunnel connecting it to the Commerce Building. The newer-built tunnels helps workers get to their buildings without having to cross streets full of busy traffic.

Posted by: Worker Bee | April 6, 2006 8:34 AM

I was an intern on the Hill when the subway funding bill was debated and passed, attended a lot of the pre-construction civic meetings thanks to my father's friend Cody Pfanstiel and later, after majoring in city planning, I worked for several of the architectural and engineering firms that designed Metro.

The routing of Metro was based on financial and engineering considerations, not racial ones. Possible routes through Georgetown were ultimately rejected because of engineering problems and the resultant costs, disruption to commuter traffic and potential damage to a historic district - not because of racism. This was the period when the historic preservation movement was gaining momentum - and, if I remember correctly - Georgetown had already been designated an historic district.

I do remember going to civic meetings where those objecting on historic preservation grounds were accused of actually objecting because they were racists. I also remember other meetings where objections were raised to "giving" the rich folks in Georgetown the benefit of the subway. Ultimately, none of those objections mattered. Cost and engineering factors were the determinants.

Posted by: MaggyC | April 6, 2006 12:16 PM

Fact: the circles were built to enable the government to isolate civillian mobs - it was a lesson learned from the French Revolution

Myth: the number of legs and horesman on the statutes in the circles indicates how the person died

Posted by: Mo | April 6, 2006 12:48 PM

Fact: Our friend Frankie is what's colloquially called a troll. And a jackass.

Myth: We have to respond to his threadjacking and jackassery.

So, back to the topic at hand...

Myth? A metro station already exists at Dulles; it's simply closed off, and no track yet exists to take us there.

Maybe Prof. Schrag can help us out with this one.

Posted by: Caleb | April 6, 2006 12:58 PM

I live in Shaw, and I both talk to my neighbors and have my neighbors talk to me. All my neighbors. The white ones, the black ones, the young ones, the old ones, the rich ones, the poor ones. I will say hello back to anyone who says it to me, and most of the time, I initiate saying hello. My husband and I work to keep our house, yard and neighborhood neat. We attend neighborhood meetings, we support local children as they sell candy, etc. for school groups and other activities. We sit out on the stoop in warm weather because we get that that's how you do it where we live. And by and large, people are great. I love the diversity, I love getting to talk to children and watching their impression of you and your group change. However, it does get a little old to be called a "white b&%$*" as the first insult by anyone who feels offended at anything I do, like obeying traffic laws. Things like racially based name calling needs to stop- and that's on both sides.

Posted by: Suki | April 6, 2006 1:09 PM

Actually, the letter J was added to the alphabet in the middle ages.

re racism - a famous poet once said we see people not as they are but as we are.

Posted by: Cap Girl | April 6, 2006 1:11 PM

Fact: Even the most innocuous blog postings can turn into flame fests.

Fact: "Wealthfare" (sic) is not a government program.

Posted by: OhioStranded | April 6, 2006 1:28 PM

myth: the ratio of females to males in DC is somehow more unfavorable to females than any other american city

Posted by: Andrew | April 6, 2006 1:29 PM

"don't ask for sympathy when the one angry black person blows your brain out"? Whoa, those are pretty angry words! Frankey, please tell me what neighborhood you live in so I can make sure I never step foot in it!

Posted by: Lyn | April 6, 2006 1:33 PM

I've read the the "J" was ommitted because of the way the letters "J" and "I" were written around the period of L'Enfant's design were very similar, and it was simply to avoid confusion (pre "Eye" street?)

Posted by: BM | April 6, 2006 1:38 PM

J and U (or V, depending how you look at it) are the most recent letters, both added in the late 1700s or so. A couple competing dictionaries at the time still disagreed on this -- Webster included separate sections for I and J, and U and V, but others did not. Regardless, it was well after the middle ages.

I would guess that's why there's no J street, but I don't really know.

Also, I didn't think Alexandria County (now Arlington) and Alexandria City were separate until after the whole thing was ceded back to Virginia.

Posted by: kevin | April 6, 2006 1:44 PM

Myth: Frankie actually gives a rat's ass about racial equality.

Posted by: Dan | April 6, 2006 2:16 PM

Actually, it was the war of 1812, when much of the city was burning, that the construction to the Washington Monument stopped.

Posted by: eric | April 6, 2006 2:17 PM

J street does not exist, because at the time of the naming of the streets J and I were often written the same way, hence no J to avoid confusion.

The circles do not exist for military purposes. If you have odd angled streets (avenues) intersecting with a grid, you will inevitably get some very strange angles that would make turns onto main thoroughfares nearly impossible, especially with carriages. The circles are needed to allow tight turns to be made on main thoroughfares. The military benefit may be there, but it is more of a design necessity than anything.

As for Metro, if the stops were really based on racism, then there are certainly other parts of the city that would have thrown their hands up (Friendship, Tenley, anyone?). The reason it doesn't go through Georgetown is largely a function of its proximity to the water and structural concerns about the buildings. Also, where would you put it? The most natural stop would be at Wisconsin and M or down closer to the canal, but both those are impractical due to the historic buildings on Wisconsin and M and the water issues down closer to the canal.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 6, 2006 2:22 PM

Alexandria County was split in 1870, when Alexandria City was formed and left the County. The remaining, rural part of the county was renamed Arlington sometime later.

Someone wrote that the rural parts of Alexandria county opposed retrosession; if I remember correctly the pre-civil war population of what is now Alexandria county was something like 2000 individuals. Interesting, thouugh, in the civil war the popular of what is now Arlington was actually greater than it is now ... imagine the smell. ANd that's not including horses.

Posted by: Charlie | April 6, 2006 2:44 PM

I'm glad those discussing racism decided to put a sock in it. First, as was mentioned, this isn't the place for it. Second, this is what happens when you try to identify yourself/align yourself with one group. Don't bundle all "whites" or all "blacks" together. How dare you! Is that not what started the problem to begin with? Yes, it's hard to look at people as individuals and not as people of one color or the other, but you are CERTAINLY NOT HELPING. Good day...

Posted by: Emily | April 6, 2006 2:57 PM

The building height restriction was first laid down under the McMillan Commision in the early 1900's. The idea was to keep the broad avenues full of light and to allow for good sightlines of the monuments and important buildings, especially the Capitol and the statue representing Freedom at the top of the Rotunda. They also chose the specific height for symbolic reasons. There is more than a little bit of symbolism in no building in the capitol being higher than the symbol of our Nation.

Posted by: Logan Man | April 6, 2006 3:23 PM

The monument was not in construction, or even envisioned, during the War of 1812.

There is a conceptual metro station at Dulles. From what I've read it is not suitable for use and will not be used by the Silver Line.

Posted by: anon | April 6, 2006 3:24 PM


here is more on the Georgetown metro myth.
The original designers killed a stop because it did not fit into the commuter model they were working from, says "A Great Society Subway." Georgetown was neither a place where lots of people lived, nor where lots worked.

http://dcbubble.blogspot.com/2006/04/more-on-georgetown-metro-myth-that.html

Posted by: dcbubble | April 6, 2006 3:54 PM

I think Eric got it right on most counts, but:

The McMillan plan established heights based on street width, but the height was still low enough to see the Capitol dome above it all. Certain things do get exception, for example the National Cathedral at 301' on top of another hill of 360'[?].

The circles have little to do with the French Revolution if anything. DC was designed before the biggest riots happened, and the actual July revolution met little resistance. Only later, when Baron Hausmann was hired by Napoleon III in the 1850s to gut it, did the Paris we know today with beautiful buildings along wide avenues with traffic circles. In the 1790s, the city was still medieval, so perhaps the planners were just avoiding streets that were small. to prevent barricading, as seen in Les Miserables, which was actually part of the 1831 revolution... It was a rough time for the French.

Posted by: 202in212 | April 6, 2006 4:01 PM

Is G-Town Huanted by ghost?? Just a something I heard.

Posted by: J | April 6, 2006 4:15 PM

Posted by: dc bubble | April 6, 2006 4:20 PM

Frankey, thanks for proving - without a shadow of a doubt - that virulent racism is alive and well today.

Frankey's remarks should remind everyone that, in everything you do, practice tolerance and view everyone on their own merits and abilities, not on their color, or gender, or sexuality, or whatever.

Posted by: Ted to Frankey | April 6, 2006 5:03 PM

Legend has it that Georgetown (the school, not the neighborhood) is haunted by a few ghosts, including a few men who fell while Healy Hall (that very distinctive building with the spire) was being built and a Jesuit who fell from the bell tower while ringing the bells. There have also been some stories about a ghost playing piano in Gaston Hall, but most likely it's students sneaking in through the steam tunnels and secret staircases that criss-cross the campus.

Posted by: 01hoya | April 6, 2006 7:21 PM

I understand the DC flag is based on the Washington family's coat of arms.

I question how DC could get by without traffic circles, since some of our major intersections, eg Dupont, would be 8-way.

In fact, some of the circles at one point did have cannons stationed there.

To those of you fighting and claiming high ground on race, either get over it or get along. All y'all sound stupid.

Posted by: Mark | April 6, 2006 10:07 PM

I was mis-understood, but for those that made negative comments towards me, thank you once again for proving you right.

Name calling doesn't offend me, but your ignorance saddens my heart.

Thank you.

Posted by: Frankey to all | April 7, 2006 12:50 PM

Dear Frankey, your little "game" saddened us. Next time you feel the need to stir things up, do it somewhere else. Get yourself some education and then come back.

Posted by: WB | April 7, 2006 1:05 PM

Big time ignorant...and I have a PHD.

By the way, the game is not me but you.

Posted by: Frankey to WB | April 12, 2006 11:03 AM

The Virginia portions of the District retroceded before the Civil War. The reasons were both economic and political.

Economically, Alexandria and Georgetown were competing ports.

Politically, in the years leading to the Civil War, Virginia was actually quite split on the subject of slavery, and this was reflected in the General Assembly. (Remember, this is before West Virginia came into being.) Because the Alexandria area was pro-slavery, bringing it back into Virginia increased the political representation of the pro-slavery forces in the legislature.

Posted by: AJS | April 12, 2006 1:29 PM

Myth, as told to me by a Washington Monument park ranger--it's the Washington "Monument," not "Memorial," since Geroge Washington wasn't yet dead when construction began.

Posted by: MrMoonPie | September 5, 2006 4:32 PM

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