Our Grand Avenue

Historic Landscape Initiative

Emmet statue barely visible at night

Restore Mass Ave has pushed to have the National Park Service (NPS) illuminate the fine bronze figure of Irish patriot Robert Emmet. The statue is the focus of an important park at Mass Ave, 24th and S Streets. The park is a venue for daytime visitors and events, often by the Embassy of Ireland which is nearby. But, though NPS workers fixed the old lights in September, the statue is barely visible at night.   For more, see our December blog post.

Spot the statue? Emmet is hard to see at 5:30 pm.   RMA Photo

Sheridan Rose Park installed at last

On a Grand Avenue travelers are to enjoy a series of unfolding and harmonious views. But around Sheridan Circle, for decades, the median islands that separate traffic lanes were  neglected, unsightly District land, aka eyesores.

In restoring urban landscape, we find two steps ahead mean one step back. We’ve tried to plant and sustain landscape in these three  strips since 2007. The islands remained scraggly messes, though we called the Department of Public Works to get them mowed. We got the city foresters to plant three new zelkova trees in the north strip along R Street in 2007. Progress. The trees did well thanks to the  Embassy Circle Guest House and the Philippines Residence on R Street. More progress.  Intrepid Board members planted knockout roses in the tiny median triangle to the east, and some test roses on the west triangle.

Not so great. The roses in the west triangle fared poorly. Treekeepers, the Egyptian Residence staff and Chapel Valley landscapers toiled. But the soil was bad, for one thing.

Sheridan Circle, Egyptian Ambassador's Residence, Embasy Circle Guest House, Grand Avenue landscape

New Rose Park west of Sheridan Circle, installed by Terra-DC in November.

In November we made a giant stride: in the big west triangle the soil was replaced and 30 new rose bushes planted.  Also planted: a curbside border of low japanese hollies and a carpet of vinca. The installation was done by our tireless Treekeeper Lauren Patten and Terra-DC , which also watered it in.

The Sheridan Rose Park should burst with red blooms and delight travelers next spring.  RMA plans to sustain it with a  watering tank-trailer we need for this and other sites. To avoid setbacks to this and other landscape, please visit Donate. Thank you!

Sheridan Circle to get original linden species

We’re delighted that the National Park Service has changed the type of linden to be planted in the ring of 16 trees that form the monumental landscape of Sheridan Circle.  The American linden (Tilia americana) has a majestic form and can grow 50-80′ tall. This was the tree planted in 1904, in double rows along Mass Ave  sidewalks and making the ring around the dome-shaped park of the Circle and central raised statue.

In our slide show, watch these amazing giant lindens grow — and die off. The NPS has been replacing them with little-leaf linden (T. cordata) which are shorter and bunchier. You can see the difference in our slideshow and by viewing trees there today.  Now the NPS  decided to plant only the original species henceforth.

The Circle, designed and landscaped in the early 20th century, is a unique example of City Beautiful urban design and landscape. The ring of tall trees form living ‘pillars’ around the perfect dome of the lawn. The design recalls the Pantheon in Rome and the (later) Jefferson Memorial.

Restore Mass Ave’s core work is choosing tree species and sites to revive the experience of the original Grand Avenue here. Our Sheridan Circle Restoration Project is working with the National Mall & Memorial Parks (NAMA) division of NPS on restoring this neglected yet outstanding example.

Besides improving the trees, our Sheridan Circle Restoration Project envisages improving the fountains, focal plantings, and lighting the outstanding statue of General Philip Sheridan.  Tree Project chief is RMA Board member Robert Nevitt . Mass Ave resident and historian Bobbie Brewster is the overall Sheridan Circle Restoration Project Director.

Norway Embassy trees & views preserved

Thousands of people who every day drive, bike or bus through the intersection of Mass Ave and 34th Street, will continue to benefit from the huge historic trees by the Norway Embassy, thanks to a DC committee vote in December.

Royal Norwegian Embassy, Apostolic Nunciature, US Naval Observatory, DCMR "parking"

Historic landscape vistas at Mass Ave & 34 Street: Embassy of Norway and Vatican Embassy

The DC Public Space Committee denied by a 3 to 1 vote a proposed 6′ high security fence in front of the Embassy of Norway, at 3401 Mass Ave, Dec 17, 2015. PSC members said the embassy had not made its case that the fence would make the building more secure.   Before the vote, Restore Mass Ave testified that trenching for the fence could hurt the old and new trees in the public land on this corner, and obstruct one of city’s most impressive Grand Avenue vistas. The Urban Forestry Administration also voiced concern about the fence’s impact on the trees.

RMA President Deborah Shapley also noted that six other huge linden trees across 34th Street, in front the Apostolic Nunciature (Vatican Embassy), at 3339 Mass Ave, had been spared from possible root damage when a fence proposal for that site was withdrawn last spring.  For detail please see our Tree Care Blog post.

Emmet Park: Statue and big cedar can coexist

Statues and evergreens can co-exist, Restore Mass Ave argued in objecting to a National Park Service plan to take down a giant deodar cedar tree next to a noted sculpture on Mass Ave.

Emmet Park is the triangle of public land bounded by Mass Ave, 24th and S Streets. It features a bronze statue of Robert Emmet, the Irish patriot, in a woodsy setting with laurel bushes and a bench.  The federal land inside this triangle is NPS Reservation 302. NPS plans to take down the cedar – to make the statue more visible and to stop alleged dripping of sap on the statue – and other landscape changes.

To make the Emmet statue more visible, we said: Activate the lights NPS has there already!  We also proposed new shade trees for corner of the park at 24th and S Streets. See our proposal on our PDFs page: Restore Mass Ave filing on NPS plan for Reservation 302.

For our press release see In the News. NPS project documents are at Rehabilitation of Landscaping at U.S. Reservation 302.  The slideshow above shows trees RMA has planted on the perimeter of this site which is city land: a black gum, which turns flame-orange in fall, and a cherry which continues the row of pink blooms up 24th Street and makes the bench more inviting for park visitors.

A Grand Avenue Revival quick-read

Below are some slides about our new book, A Grand Avenue Revival: Massachusetts Avenue Landscape History & Design Guide. RMA President Deborah Shapley gave the full 15-minute presentation to guests at the launch party hosted by the Historical Society of Washington, D.C., on December 6, 2014.

What do we mean by the “historic landscape” of Mass Ave?

Below is the presentation to the Office of Foreign Missions, US Department of State, given on March 5 2014 by Restore Mass Ave President Deborah Shapley. She explained what changes are needed – from trees to flagpole placement – for Embassy Row to be the leading example of the “grand avenues” that once graced many US cities.

Click here for the briefing.

1st page of briefing cropped