The Georgetown Metropolitan

The Lost Plans to Destroy Georgetown

Advertisements

A little over two years ago, GM came across an image in the archives of the Library of Congress that was a bit alarming. It was a map of a proposed “Francis Scott Key Boulevard” which would run from the Key Bridge down M St. to Pennsylvania Ave. This is the image:

As you can see, this plan would call for a large traffic circle where Key Bridge meets M St. M St. would be replaced by a grand boulevard interspersed with three different medians. All of Georgetown from N St. south would, apparently, be destroyed.

There have been a variety of plans floated that would call for the construction of highways through downtown DC. Thankfully most of them were stopped. But none of those plans called for anything like this for Georgetown. (Most simply used the Whitehurst Freeway, which would have been attached to an expressway to the west that would cross the Potomac at a new Three Sisters Bridge and link up to the GW Parkway near Spout Run.)

So GM had no idea where this Francis Scott Key Boulevard came from or whether it was ever a real plan. Recently, however, Alex Block found references to the plan in an old book published by the Commission of Fine Arts. The book is Bridges and the City of Washington, published in 1974. Here is the page describing the plan:

This is crazy. The author seems to be suggesting that the plans were part of the original plans for the bridge. Moreover they apparently called for the construction of a gigantic opera house at Pennsylvania and M?!

Here’s a version of the proposal from that book, which is quite similar to the map found by GM above:

The caption for the drawing suggests that it was circa 1925. That’s just two years after Key Bridge was built, and several decades before any of the crazy highway plans emerged. If anything, this proposal was straight out of the City Beautiful movement that reshaped much of central DC in the early 20th century.

Look at how much of central Georgetown would be obliterated for this plan:

Maybe this would have produced a new beautiful mini-National Mall, but it definitely would have destroyed almost half of all commercial Georgetown. This would not have been a remote problem for the City Beautiful proponents. Just look at what Federal Triangle looked like before they got their hands on it:

It’s unclear whether this proposal ever got further than a few sketches, but it’s good it never came to pass. At least when the highway builders came to call, they had the sense to build the Whitehurst around Georgetown rather than barrel right through the heart of it.

Advertisements

Advertisements