Washington DC History Resources

Matthew B. Gilmore

Franklin Square: Park or Parking? Evolution of a Public Space

By Matthew B. Gilmore*

In a milestone moment in DC’s urban development, plans are underway  for a complete refit of Franklin Park — by the District of Columbia, not the National Park Service (NPS). In the Spring of 2019, Congress passed the Federal Lands bill; a provision in the bill allowed the District of Columbia to contract for improvements to parks under National Park Service jurisdiction. The District government chose Franklin Square to be the first to be transformed, given this new opportunity. The District has been constantly frustrated by the inability of the underfunded NPS to adequately maintain its parks in the District.

Map of Franklin Park, circa 1905, published in the Annual Report of the War Department, Volume VII Report of the Chief of Engineers, for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1905. The Office of Public Buildings and Grounds which maintained the park fell under the jurisdiction of the Army Corps of Engineers.

Franklin Square is a very early exception to the L’Enfant and Ellicott design for the city of Washington. (It was not designated as park or public space on the L’Enfant plan). What is now the park was simply originally Square 249, one of the 1,148 squares making up the privately owned, buildable portion of the city. Nearby spaces would become McPherson and Farragut Squares — equally spaced, sited athwart the avenues projecting from the White House (Vermont and Connecticut, respectively). Franklin fits no pattern, it being a later addition.

Square 249 did have one precious resource — a powerful spring. The square was commonly called “Fountain Square.” This spring fed a stream which traversed central Washington and emptied into Tiber Creek near 10th and C Streets, NW. This stream can be seen (faintly) on the 1818 map of Washington City by Robert King, where it skirts the hills which stretched east/west from 9th Street to the White House and north/south from H to E Streets.

Early Washington’s water supply derived from a variety of springs and streams. Garnett P. Williams in Washington, D.C.’s Vanishing Springs and Waterways compiled a list of over 30 springs supplying drinking water in the 19th century. [1]

Detail of Robert King’s 1818 “Map of the city of Washington” overlaid with current square boundaries and with the course of the Franklin stream highlighted. image—prepared by author.

Major federal buildings derived their (increasingly inadequate) water supply from these springs. The White House was supplied from Franklin Spring — which led to the purchase of square 249 by the federal government.

…. COMPLETE COLUMN CLICK HERE: https://intowner.com/2019/11/04/franklin-square-park-or-parking-evolution-of-a-public-space/

“There is plenty of good park space that can be used for parking cars besides Franklin park. . . . The Ellipse is waste ground and should be used for parking cars. The White House grounds could be cut down one-half without discommoding the presidential family. . . . Lafayette square is another unnecessarily large waste space. . . . The Union Station plaza, the Capitol plaza and Judiciary square are good parking spaces. . . .” [8]

…. COMPLETE COLUMN CLICK HERE: https://intowner.com/2019/11/04/franklin-square-park-or-parking-evolution-of-a-public-space/

Was the idea of a parking structure under Franklin Square so absurd? Parking under parks was more prevalent out west. In 1942 parking was built under San Francisco’s Union Square. Pershing Square in Los Angeles sits atop an underground parking structure built in 1952. In Washington, DC the “Spirit of Justice Park” (completed in 1967) covers two blocks of underground parking south of the Longworth and Rayburn House Office buildings. And development of parking under the Mall is being suggested today. [18]

View of Franklin Square, “Looking Southwest from the Roof of One Franklin Square on the North Side of K Street, NW”; 1992. Historic American Buildings Survey, Engineering Record, Landscapes Survey. photo–Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Div.

COMPLETE COLUMN CLICK HERE: https://intowner.com/2019/11/04/franklin-square-park-or-parking-evolution-of-a-public-space/

One comment on “Franklin Square: Park or Parking? Evolution of a Public Space

  1. Brian Kraft
    November 9, 2019

    The 1858 Directory of the City of Washington (https://briandkraft.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=a7828ca399724552a699585d6f13e60f) does not speak to the development or demographics in the early 1850s, but by late 1857 when the directory would have been compiled, Franklin Square was home to a Supreme Court “judge,” the secretary of war, several military officers, a banker, a chief clerk, and Zalmon Richards. Certainly not the hinterland that is apparently described in the 1970 book on the square. 

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