For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
September 8, 2003
Mrs. Bush Announces Pennsylvania Avenue Improvements
Welcome to the White House - the People's House. Today, I'm glad to announce two improvements that we hope will inspire many to discover and rediscover America's home and our nation's capital. After years of planning, Pennsylvania Avenue will once again provide an inviting place for visitors. Barriers will be replaced with towering elms - and benches along the open walkways will make welcome spots to enjoy the historic scenery of Washington, DC.
A renewed Pennsylvania Avenue will be the perfect pathway to the White House which, I'm glad to announce, is once again open for public tours. Fall is a wonderful time to visit our nation's capital. The trees in Lafayette Park are ablaze with red and gold. The Jefferson monument glows in the setting sun. Theaters come to life and art galleries burst with colors of the season.
I'm especially pleased to make this announcement during a week that has great significance for our country. Two years ago, America experienced unimaginable tragedy and loss. We learned the meaning of hatred, but we also learned the promise of peace. By reopening the White House and redesigning Pennsylvania Avenue, we show the world that democracy and freedom prevail.
I commend every member of the design team for helping to enhance our capital city. I know the process hasn't been easy. Former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, "If you don't have 40 years to spare, don't get involved in urban renewal." Given his love of Pennsylvania Avenue, I believe his wife Elizabeth would agree that he would be proud of your conviction and your efforts. Thank you for being here, Mrs. Moynihan. I'm pleased that the Commission dedicated its conference room to the memory of the Senator's commitment to urban renewal.
The design plan and the process of consensus that has brought us here are what America is all about - diverse ideas, heartfelt passion, and debate. Thank you, Delegate Norton and Mayor Williams for your leadership in making Washington a strong and vibrant community. For many, Washington is a great place to visit - but you make it a great place to call home. Thanks to Congressman Petry for your support of this project.
Thanks to John (Cogbill) for leading the Commission. You can now heave a well-deserved sigh of relief and pass the reins to Mary (Peters). Mary, there's much work ahead and we know you can handle the challenge. Thanks also to Dick Friedman for seeing this project through from the very beginning. And thanks to Michael Van Valkenburgh for his creative work - and for staying true to Pierre L'Enfant's vision of a grand avenue.
It was L'Enfant who looked upon a stretch of swamp in 1791 and imagined a city worthy of great ideals and great leaders. Pennsylvania Avenue would be his "Grand Avenue," and he hoped to line it with institutions that would "...be attractive to the learned and afford diversion to the idle." But the Avenue didn't quite start out that way. In fact, it barely started out at all.
Given your experience in urban planning, you'll appreciate that it took nearly four years for construction to begin. Many, including those who lived along the stretch of road, didn't think it would ever be built. Commissioners wrote to inform resident Daniel Burnes that they could not be held responsible for ruining his crops if he continued to plant seeds in the middle of the street.
When it opened in 1796, the street was more of a mud-filled bog than a grand avenue. President Jefferson planted poplar trees to add some color, but citizens chopped them down for firewood.
When the government officially moved to its new location in 1800, Washington hardly looked like a seat of power. But the dramatic changes that have occurred on Pennsylvania Avenue are a reflection of the modernization of America. Invention and industry allowed for major renovations. Cobblestones were installed in 1845 - wooden blocks in '71 - and asphalt and brick in 1874.
In 1842, oil lamps were lit and for seven years this was the only lighted street in the city - even if the lamps burned for only four hours. Oil was replaced by gas light which burned only when there was no moon. And electric streetlights were installed in the late 1880s, even before President Harrison could turn a light on in the White House.
The evolution of Pennsylvania Avenue is a mirror of the development of a government and of a nation. Progress made on the Avenue reflects the growth of industry, economy, and democracy.
No other roadway in America has borne witness to more than two centuries of history. Every President since Jefferson has traveled the Avenue from the Capitol to the White House on inauguration day - including Andrew Jackson, who galloped on horseback in 1829.
Old Hickory threw a huge party at the White House for his pioneer friends, who littered the silk upholstery with drink and remnants of a fourteen hundred-pound wheel of cheese.
There have been somber times on the Avenue as well, including funeral processions for four presidents who died in office. Heroes of flight, space and three wars have been welcomed home here - and freedom of speech has been exercised by suffragists and civil rights leaders. The events and people that have shaped our history have been celebrated right here.
Given their proximity and love of this historic street, many presidents and first ladies have been committed to preserving Pennsylvania Avenue. President Kennedy created the Council on Pennsylvania Avenue to restore this famous roadway - while Jackie Kennedy worked with John Carl Warnecke to save the historic homes on Lafayette Square. I know you remember those days fondly, Mr. Warnecke. After Kennedy's death, Jackie asked President Johnson to work with the commission to fulfill her husband's dream. It was one of the first things he did.
Lady Bird Johnson also planted flowers along the Avenue and tulips in Pershing Park. She worked to preserve native grasses and wildflowers and promote their use in planned landscapes. She said, "Flowers in the city are like lipstick on a woman - it just makes you look better to have a little color."
We are fortunate to live in a country with so much color and so many open spaces for families to enjoy. One beautiful place they'll be able to enjoy for years to come is Pennsylvania Avenue.
This historic thoroughfare has always been a connector - connecting the White House and the Capitol, and all three branches of Government. The Avenue also connects Americans with history. Our history is rooted in the landmarks and parks that border this famous street - and when people are able to explore and discover these treasures, history comes to life.
The mission of President Kennedy's Council on Pennsylvania Avenue was to make the street "lively, friendly and inviting, as well as dignified and impressive." Today, we take another step in fulfilling this vision and we mark another milestone on America's Main Street.
And now I'd like to introduce John Cogbill, chairman of the National Capital Planning Commission who has been instrumental in helping us achieve this latest milestone.