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Whose View Is It Anyway: Preserving The Point

Quick: Where can you find the best view of Washington?

If you're on the left side of an airplane weaving its way down the Potomac, you're in for a lovely, if fleeting, look at the capital. And the old Robert E. Lee mansion in Arlington National Cemetery certainly offers a majestic view of the monuments across the river. The roof of the Hay-Adams Hotel has its fans, and of course there's nothing quite like the scene from atop the Washington Monument.

But for my money -- hey, I'm turning into Larry King here -- the best view of the city can be had from The Point, the piece of parkland that juts out high above the Anacostia River on the grounds of St. Elizabeths Hospital in Southeast.

Good luck getting in to see it, however. Until not that long ago, you could walk or drive onto the hospital grounds, pull up to The Point, and take in the stunning panorama over lunch on a bench that was perfectly positioned to give you the most gorgeous view. But homeland security hysteria has stolen The Point from the people, and the D.C. Preservation League, just out with its annual list of Most Endangered Places in Washington, has done well to put The Point and the hospital grounds front and center in its warning of what we are about to lose.

"This National Historic Landmark would remain closed to the public behind a double security barrier with limited or no access to The Point," the league writes. The federal government's plan to put 6.3 million square feet of offices and other facilities on the site "would destroy the historic significance of the campus." The feds' response to community outcry about losing access to this spectacular piece of parkland has been to propose a viewing platform 50 feet below the plateau where you get the best view.

The preservation league greets this measly offer like this: "So this will take an A+ view and take it to what, a C-?"

Security hysteria has stolen too much already from the city's residents and from tourists. The current headquarters of the Homeland Security department, near American University in upper Northwest, has no big security buffer; it's a well-protected Naval facility hard by the university and NBC's Washington studios, as well as a big apartment building. And everyone gets along just fine. So why does Homeland Security need to cordon off the entire St. E's campus? If they really need that kind of seclusion, there's plenty of federal land in Beltsville, Laurel or Arlington that could be used for that purpose.

Save The Point! Let people see the St. E's campus and think about how our attitudes toward the mentally ill have changed over the decades. Check out the extraordinary architecture of the original hospital buildings, the sense of grace and repose that was intended, as well as the neglect that followed in reality. And let people savor that view, so we can see the openness that was such an essential part of the plan for this city--and that is so very much in danger today.

(Tomorrow on the big blog: A look at some of the Preservation League's other ideas about what to save in Washington.)

By Marc Fisher |  June 5, 2007; 7:31 AM ET
Previous: The Shooter Prevails: Protecting Seung-Hui Cho's Privacy | Next: Preservation Overkill: Fighting for What's Already Lost


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Let people see the St. E's campus and think about how our attitudes toward "the" mentally ill have changed over the decades.

Apparently insufficiently. "The" mentally ill, indeed! Our attitudes toward mental illnesses have changed some, mental institutions like St. Elizabeth's have not, which is why we have closed so many.

The simple metaphor "the" can tell us so much. ( If you did not recognize it, it is the drunk Mel Gibson's, "the" Jews. Do you now see it? You do.)Harold A. Maio
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Posted by: HAROLDAMAIO | June 5, 2007 9:21 AM

The best view I have every seen of DC was in my rear view mirror.

Posted by: SoMD | June 5, 2007 9:40 AM

Thanks for posting this Marc. Another great view of the city is from the new Air Force Memorial near the Pentagon.

Posted by: Shawn | June 5, 2007 9:56 AM

There is sad irony here. St E's, before the Feds defunded it and turned thousands of institutionalized and incompetent people into homeless incompetent people, used to provide real and necessary services to the Washington area. Now it will apparently become the security bollard and jersey barrier strewn new home of the politicized Franken-agency that contributes much to the mental distress of the area.

Thanks for the "Code Orange" alert, Marc. This is apiece with the reviled DC trend of allowing a public asset to deteriorate to the point where the public no longer values it, and it can be disposed of.

Posted by: Mark | June 5, 2007 10:59 AM

The sad part about all this paranoia by DHS and other federal secruty agencies is the fact that you and I and all other Americans stand a significantly higher chance of death or injury from common criminal activity or highway accident than we ever will from a terrorist act.

Unfortunately, in our paranoia we ignore this fact, and spend precious dollars and resources on creating barriers that will not protect the average citizen on iota.

Instead we should be refunding all the state and local law enforcement programs that can help to reduce crime that DO affect average Americans that were defunded.

Posted by: kthhken | June 5, 2007 11:22 AM

"The best view I have every seen of DC was in my rear view mirror."

Posted by: SoMD | June 5, 2007 09:40 AM

Then why do you read the Post and a columnist who writes so heavily on the local DC scene? Read the Bugtussle Gazette instead, rube.

Posted by: I Heart DC | June 5, 2007 11:39 AM

My ex-wife did part of her residency in Pyschiatry at St. Elizabeth's and we used to play softball on the doctors' team not far from the point. I fondly remember watching the fireworks from there one 4th of July.

There were a number of assets from the Federal Government that at one time were scheduled to be ceded to the DC government, including Bolling AFB and the Macmillan Reservoir and pumping stations. Now that's all been tabled in the face of this home-land security hysteria.

Is it possible that cooler heads will prevail in some future administration, or could it be that the best thing that could happen for the current administration and all those who got us into the Iraq war would be some catastrophic breach of security, justifying all this homeland security paranoia and validating their agenda?

Posted by: I'm just Sayin'... | June 5, 2007 11:45 AM

Heart DC - seconded. I hate people that take cheap shots at DC. It's not a perfect city, but it's a wonderful city, with very active in the community people, and it's been getting better and more beautiful with every passing year. It's also unique: name another city with as many actual victorian houses, great restaurants and great places to live (no buildings over 140 feet) DC's Size in the US? You can't.

Posted by: DCAustinite | June 5, 2007 11:51 AM

I Heart DC, SoMD probably only comes to DC for a paycheck. The hick obviously isn't educated enough to appreciate the museums, culture, and arts that DC has to offer. Once the clock strikes five, she has to hurry home to her white-bred bubble.

Posted by: WB | June 5, 2007 12:31 PM

SoMD, enjoy your Fuddruckers, Costco, and Chuck-E-Cheese. Suburban life is so fullfilling, isn't it?

Posted by: Karl | June 5, 2007 3:39 PM

I actually prefer the Fuddruckers that is in Chinatown...or maybe I'm thinking of the Hooters or the Ruby Tuesday or the Legal Seafood or Clydes. There are so many great places to eat after I finish up my shopping at Bed Bath and Beyond!

Posted by: U Street | June 5, 2007 4:22 PM

Really? I'm trying to envision the grounds of a closed mental institution in southeast and I just can't seem to imagine it's a place I'd go to for a relaxing picnic.

Posted by: ugh | June 5, 2007 5:27 PM

Dya think a few hundred jobs for SE DC might make up for losing the view? Maybe? 6.3 million sq. ft. of office space holds a lot of workers. Prolly pay quite a few private school tuitions, too.

Posted by: RL | June 5, 2007 6:09 PM

Last I checked, the DC job market was pretty hot. My guess is that any forthcoming justification meant to appeal to locals will be based on tax revenue, not jobs. I'll also hazard a guess that most of those jobs, like most of all CBD and local fed jobs, will go to MD and VA and so not be taxed here. But I do suppose the feds might deign to allow locals to sweep up after them. What's that pay, nowadays? Enough for "private school tuition"?

Posted by: Mark | June 5, 2007 7:54 PM

For a picture of the view published in the Post about a year ago, go to

Posted by: Kalorama | June 5, 2007 8:21 PM

Thanks for the link, Kalorama. The story that goes with the pictures is worth a look, too. See also the Wikipedia entry at: (insert_http_)://'s_Hospital

Posted by: Mark | June 5, 2007 9:27 PM

This is indeed a travesty. And for no good reason. The Feds are really doing a number on the charm and assets of the city, and it's not increasing security in the slightest.

As for Fuddruckers, you'uns can mock them all you want, but the food is hot, it's reasonably tasty, and generally served without surly attitude or hour long delay. That's a lot more than I can say for a lot of DC restaurants. And this from a DC resident...

And Costco.... sure, it ain't pretty. But you get really good deals there, and again without the surly and rude attitude I so often get in DC. And their selection is considerably larger than nearly any store I can think of in DC.

As for the jobs at Homeland Security, they aren't going to DC residents, by and large. I'm not saying that they should. I'm just saying that the considerable majority of those jobs will be for VA and MD residents. And VA and MD will get the income taxes.

I'm not saying them building there is bad. I'm just saying maybe they should scale it back a bit and at least pretend to care about the beauty of this stunning piece of land.

Posted by: Hillman | June 5, 2007 10:23 PM

What about the Howard Theater?

Posted by: CEEAF | June 6, 2007 11:23 AM

I Heart DC: At least we read down here. FYI Marc, we don't have a problem building libraries, and we use them too. That could be why the test scores for the public schools dust the DC scores in Mathematics, Science, and English. I don't have the web URL for the "Bugtussle Gazette". Maybe you could post it for all of us to enjoy.

DCAustinite: It is correctly referred to as "Victorian", not "victorian". The design relates to the era of Queen Victoria, and as such, should be capitalized. There's that education difference thing again.

WB: Never worked in DC, although I worked a contract that required us to commute via Metro to the IRS building for a few meetings. I did put in a year at Reston and five years at Crystal City, but never had an office in DC. My wife was born in Forestville and moved to Southern Maryland as a pre-teen. She (and her parents) never regretted the move.

Karl: "Fuddruckers, Costco, and Chuck-E-Cheese" don't exist down here. What we do have are the finest Chesapeake Bay seafood restaurants in the mid-Atlantic. Just don't ask for the names because I'm not telling. I can say I can still get a bushel of male #1 Blue crabs right off the boat for $75. Enjoy paying twice that in DC. Also FYI Karl - "it is spelled "fulfilling", not "fullfilling". There's that darn education difference thing again.

Posted by: SoMD | June 6, 2007 2:31 PM

I can tell from the posts that DC is a beautiful and beloved place. Is there something in the water that makes folks in the DC area cranky? Please come visit us in Texas (Fort Worth and Austin are my favorite cities) to see the country from a more relaxed and friendly perspective. Take a deep breath, sit back, relax, and enjoy the view. Plenty of beautiful places that no one is currently trying to build over. Lots of great food (seafood on the coast, TexMex, steaks, and BBQ everywhere, gourmet in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Austin and Fort Worth), great wine, and great beer. (anybody up for a Shiner?)

P.S. I couldn't find the spell check or the grammar check on this site, so I hope I have met the minimum literacy requirements to post.

Posted by: John in Fort Worth TX | June 6, 2007 6:12 PM

John in Fort Worth, oh, don't fret about SoMD. This person often posts meaningless entrys on blogs. I truly thought this person was a woman because he writes like a woman. My bad.

I'm sure that parts of Texas are very pleasant. Some of the people that I've met from Texas leaves a lot to be desired, but these things happen. I must disagree about the bbq though. Kansas is much better. Take care!

Posted by: WB | June 6, 2007 7:47 PM

OMG! I just consulted Mr. Merriam and Mr. Webster and discovered that I spelled ENTRIES incorrectly. May the spelling gods of the swamp forgive me.

Posted by: you know who...... | June 6, 2007 8:41 PM

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