Myths in Stone: Religious Dimensions of Washington, D.C.

By Jeffrey F. Meyer | Go to book overview

REFLECTIONS
From the White House
tothe Jefferson Memorial

I begin my walk of the second axis in Lafayette Square, just across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House on its northern side (see Figure 13). Back in the spring of 1790, the land rose gradually from the banks of the Potomac to this general site, which L'Enfant had chosen for the “President's Palace. ” Washington was not completely happy with the location and moved it a bit west to the exact spot it occupies today.

I want to see the vista that L'Enfant chose for the second-most-important building in the city. But without an invitation to the second floor of the White House, I think it will be impossible. Then I hit upon an idea. There are a few tall buildings on the north side of Lafayette Square, and I walk into the lobby of one of them, the Hay-Adams Hotel, asking at the desk if it is possible to go up to the roof. It is not, says the concierge. Then, “Of course if you talk with hotel security… but it probably won't do any good. ” I ask the desk to call security. A Mr. Haines appears immediately, and I explain what I want to do. He is surprisingly agreeable, warning me that he must first let White House security know that someone will be on the roof of the Hay-Adams with a camera.

We take the elevator to the rooftop, and voila!, there is just the spectacular view I expected. Although L'Enfant made this axial vista shorter than that from the Capitol, it meets the Potomac just where the river turns south. He has made use of what landscape architects call “borrowed scenery. ” I see security agents moving about on the roof of the White House (one of them, alerted by Mr. Haines, is looking at me with large binoculars). Just east of the axis is the Washington Monument. Across the tidal basin I can see the Jefferson Memorial, and beyond that the stretch of the Potomac flowing south toward Alexandria and the Chesapeake Bay. I am sure that L'Enfant was aware of all of these picturesque advantages as he analyzed the topography of his future city.

I return to ground level and Lafayette Square. Here, from his home on

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