National Association of Olmsted Parks on proposed development of McMillan
Posted by: ``kirbyvining`` kirbyvining @ yahoo.com
Tue May 1, 2012 12:15 pm (PDT)
The Washington, D.C., office of the National Association of Olmsted
Parks (NAOP) recently provided a letter to D.C. City Council Chairman
Brown concerning the historical importance of McMillan Park and
recommendations for maintaining or preserving key aspects of that
history. The NAOP letter is as follows.
March 21, 2012
The Hon. Kwame Brown, Chair
District of Columbia City Council
John A. Wilson Building
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20004
Dear Chair Brown,
On behalf of the National Association for Olmsted Parks (NAOP), I am
writing to express our concern about plans for development of the
historic 25-acre McMillan Reservoir Park.
The creation of McMillan Reservoir Park in 1905 represented significant
20th century advancement in the implementation of the Senate Park
Commission`s plan, also known as the McMillan Plan of 1901-1902.
Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., a 20th-century landscape architect,
environmental planner and seminal figure in American city planning, was
the main force in the McMillan Commission`s planning and
implementation of parks in the District of Columbia. The McMillan
Commission`s effort sparked a renaissance of Washington, D.C.,
reviving L`Enfant`s concept of the National Mall, revalidating
Frederick Law Olmsted Sr.`s design for the U.S. Capitol Grounds, and
calling for an ``Emerald Necklace`` of parks, open space and
recreation facilities encircling the city.
The McMillan Plan proposed that the reservoir ``be made an important
supplement to the park system,`` as indeed it was, serving as part of
an eastern complement to Rock Creek Park on the west side of the city.
The McMillan Sand Filtration Reservoir Park was a resourceful solution
to two major civic needs: clean and safe drinking water and a
recreational park. During this era in the late 19th and early 20th
century when municipalities sought to reduce the prevalence of
infectious typhoid fever, a number of reservoirs and treatment
facilities were created. The McMillan Reservoir was not only the largest
slow sand filtration plant in the country, but almost certainly the only
one co-designed as a park.
The District of Columbia has an outstanding opportunity to take
advantage of this unique site by promoting it as a recreation and
heritage tourism destination.
Central Park in New York and Cal Anderson Park in Seattle are two
well-known landscapes designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. and the
Olmsted Brothers, respectively, where reservoirs and parks were
Shortly after the creation of McMillan Reservoir Park, the Denver Water
Administration built the Kassler Filtration Plan, the first slow sand
filtration plant west of the Mississippi. In 1985, it ceased operations
and was turned into the Kassler Education Center, with many of the
plant`s historical structures preserved. The Thorne Ecological
Institute, a science and nature education organization serving children
and adults operates at the Kassler Education Center.
McMillan Reservoir Park presents an equally worthy opportunity for
recreation, education and heritage tourism for these reasons:
§ It is an integral part of the McMillan Plan of Washington and the
City Beautiful movement.
§ It is a park designed by the founding firm of landscape
architecture in the U.S.
§ It was designated as a memorial park to Senator McMillan, the
Chair of the Park Improvement Commission.
§ It is a District of Columbia Historic District and is also
eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
§ It is an outstanding example of water treatment engineering, named
an American Water Landmark by the American Water Works Association.
§ TThe filtration complex provided clean, safe water to
Washingtonians for eighty years and for more than half that time the
site provided a significant amount of parkland and open space for
enjoyment and recreation.
We have the opportunity to revive the site for the 21st century, taking
a cue from the thinkers behind the McMillan Plan, who were not only
visionary but practical, integrating infrastructure with beautification
for the residents of and visitors to Washington:
Washington is growing very rapidly… its parks, like its public
buildings, are not to be considered merely in reference to its resident
population, but in relation to the millions of citizens from far and
near who come to Washington expecting… not merely what is considered
`good enough,` but the very best that is to be had. <#_ftn1>
The site`s design and construction was the product of a historic
collaboration of leading 20th century civil engineers, urban planners,
artists and architects including Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., the
principal planner and landscape architect of this unique site. Allen
Hazen, the engineer of the filtration plant, worked on the Panama Canal
and Chicago Exposition. Herbert Allen, the sculptor of the memorial
fountain, also created bronze doors for the Library of Congress; some of
his sculptures are held by the National Gallery of Art.
Capitalizing on its location on a topographic rise with views of the
Capitol and the Washington Monument, Olmsted Jr. designed a series of
plantings including rows of hawthorn trees and hedges, cork trees in the
service courts, evergreens around the reservoir and ground cover plants
on slopes and the filtration beds. Olmsted advised Allen Hazen on the
aesthetic aspects of the siting of water works and spent a significant
amount of time onsite supervising grading and planting.
Although Olmsted planned an active recreation program with gym, track,
pool and fields, these were never built. However, for several decades,
residents used the carriageways, walkways, played ball on the east and
north ends of the property and rested and chatted on benches.
After the property was transferred from federal ownership to the
District of Columbia, the Council designated it as park, recreation and
open space, but later changed its designation to allow mixed-use
development. An unfortunate consequence of that decision was the
city`s removal of the remaining Olmsted landscape elements.
Development of this site and removal of the sand filtration structures
—rather than preservation and rehabilitation—would result in the
permanent loss of a significant public park space that was originally
set aside by the McMillan Plan.
As an advocacy organization, NAOP is very interested in this issue.
Established in 1980, the National Association for Olmsted Parks advances
Olmsted principles and the legacy of irreplaceable parks and landscapes
that revitalize communities and enrich people`s lives. It is the only
national organization solely dedicated to preserving the Olmsted legacy
by providing the advocacy, research and outreach needed to protect,
restore and maintain these exemplary parks and landscapes, particularly
in urban areas.
We strongly believe that the District of Columbia has the responsibility
to preserve this historic landscape and make it available to current and
future generations of residents and visitors.
We ask that the District of Columbia:
* Recognize that the highest and best use of this nationally significant site is as a public park and potential educational/ cultural facility to serve the needs and interests of the surrounding community and visitors.
* Reaffirm the vision of the Senate Park Commission`s plan.
* Follow due process and insist that all measures afforded under Section 106 of the Historic Preservation Act and the transfer of title from the federal government to the District in 1987 are upheld.
* Preserve the historic masonry structures of the sand filtration complex.
* Rehabilitate the historic landscape design and restore the McMillan Fountain.
* Fully realize the potential for active recreation opportunities as originally envisioned by Olmsted.
We urge you to carefully consider the District`s development plans for McMillan Reservoir Park.
The Honorable Vincent Gray
Councilmember Tommy Wells
Harriet Tregoning, Director of Office of Planning
Catherine V. Buell, Chair, Historic Preservation Review Board
David Maloney, State Historic Preservation Officer
Steve Calcott, Senior Preservation Planner
Friends of McMillan Park
Rebecca Miller, Executive Director, D.C. Preservation League
George Clark, Chairman, Committee of 100 on the Federal City
Robert Nieweg, The National Trust for Historic Preservation