Wednesday, May 02, 2012

National Association of Olmsted Parks comments on the proposed McMillan site development

This message was posted at the Historic Washington list at Yahoogroups by Stronghold resident Kirby Vining.

National Association of Olmsted Parks on proposed development of McMillan

Posted by: ``kirbyvining`` kirbyvining @

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.

Kirby Vining

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.[1] <#_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.


Iris Gestram

Executive Director


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


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. In the future, can we have some moderation on comments like this? The vitriol does not lead to productive discussions. Disagree if you must, but be civil.

  3. I received a complaint about the comment made by ``TheCommiss`` on Thursday, May 3, 2012 at 4:000 pm to this post titled ``National Association of Olmsted Parks comments on the proposed McMillan site development`` --– that the Commiss`s comment contained vulgar language. Blogspot does not permit editing of comments. So I have deleted the original post by ``TheCommiss`` and reposted that comment with [feces] substituting the original vulgar words. I also corrected the name of Olmsted, which I incorrectly spelled in my original post.

    Here is the reposted comment by ``TheCommiss`` with the feces substitution:

    Ok Iris Gestram you are full of [feces]. the sand filtration site was never a park the [feces] these people put out is outrageous. What the hell are these people commenting for....because they have only selfish goals their own horns to blow. IT WAS NEVER A PARK! Furthermore if McMillan were alive today and suggested such a thing the people would laugh at him. Spending money to make an industrial site pretty! I think not! DIG MCMILLAN DIG.