Dear Mr. Lawler:
In its meeting of 21 June, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed the revised concept design for the project presented as the "John Marshall Memorial Park." While the Commission members again expressed support for the basic form and layout for the proposed redesign of the park, they commented that the large quantity of visual information remains inappropriate for this public landscape and reiterated their concerns stated during the previous review in January 2007 about the use of a park for an extensive system of display panels and interpretive text. They recommended that the design be revised to diminish the visual impact of the glass walls and associated display panels.
Regarding specific design elements in the proposal, the Commission members recommended that the three-sided scroll on top of the constitutional pillar be omitted. They raised questions about the detailing, durability, and maintenance of the glass elements in the park and suggested that a full-size mockup of these elements would assist in determining their suitability. They discouraged a design requiring intensive annual maintenance as proposed and recommended that the use of glass for seating areas be reconsidered, commenting that glass may not be an appropriate seating surface. They also suggested that the concept of lighting the glass elements defining the park's oval form be reconsidered as part of the overall simplification of the design.
In general, the Commission commented that the proposal suggests the conflation of a park with a memorial, and of a memorial with a museum. The extension of didactic elements related specifically to John Marshall throughout the entire park raises questions about the legislative context for this proposal. According to the record provided by the National Park Service, a statue of John Marshall was authorized by public law in 1882, executed by William Wetmore Story in 1884, and located on the west terrace of the U. S. Capitol until 1981. At that time, the sculpture was relocated to the U. S. Supreme Court; the statue included in this proposal is a replica that was created and placed in this park in 1985 by the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation.
The proposed alterations to the park far exceed the scope of the 1882 authorization, which was limited to placing a statue of John Marshall in a public reservation. As proposed, the project would transform the existing park, with its replica statue of Marshall, into a national memorial containing hundreds of linear feet of quotations and display panels. We are not aware of any legislation to treat the entire park as a commemorative work; since the park is located within Area I of the District of Columbia as defined in the Commemorative Works Act, establishing this as a national memorial would require two acts of Congress. The Commission asked that the potential requirement for legislative authorization under the Commemorative Works Act be resolved before the project proceeds any further. However, the Commission continues to recommend treating the park as a landscaped place of public enjoyment without an extensive program of display elements.
The Commission members look forward to the resolution of these issues. As always, the staff is available should additional questions arise.
Thomas E. Luebke, AIA
Joseph M. Lawler
National Park Service, National Capital Region
1100 Ohio Drive, SW
Washington, DC 20242
cc: John Parsons, National Park Service
Carol Johnson, Carol R. Johnson Associates, Inc