Oh hey, I didn’t see you standing there. It’s been a while. No, no, I should have called you! Look, the past few years have been a little weird. There were a lot of martinis and I think there was orange carpet.
So I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Tenleytown’s history. What can it do for us? What are the traces of the past buried in our daily lives? How have we adapted our environment? How can we continue to do so, in a more profound way. Let’s look at the traces of the pre-industrial past within the Fort Reno study area.
It shows the orientation of each building. Gray is for the cardinal grid. Purple buildings face the avenues, while light green ones face curvilinear roads. Blue ones were doing their own thing. Dark green buildings didn’t really fit in any one box. Orange buildings face roads we know to be historical.
Yeah, I know what you’re saying. We’ve all been here. But, and you don’t have to look at it, let me break this down.
It’s been a while since I looked at Tenleytown’s history, but I came across this map on Wikipedia. It shows the changes proposed in 1902 by the McMillan Commission to the Permanent Highway Plan. Meant to make DC more befitting a national capital, it generated several key ideas that would change Tenleytown, beyond its integration into the suburbs:
A park on the site of Fort Reno / Reno Town. The circular parkland shown in the upper left-hand corner radiates out a quarter of a mile from the original point of greatest natural elevation. This is now obliterated by the water tanks. Reno Town certainly still existed at this time, but the political maneuvering that erased the black community from Tenleytown hadn’t begun. It’s possible that Sen. McMillan was collaborating with Sen. Newlands, the founder of Chevy Chase, to suggest this, but I have no proof.
The Fort Circle Parks system appears here for the first time. The country was beset by nostalgia for the Civil War at the time, so it’s not surprising that the planners decided to commemorate those events with a set of parks that incorporated the former sites of the forts that protected Washington during the war. This plan would undergo many revisions, slowly becoming more of a highway until it died in the early 1960s.
Yuma street is depicted as a parkway, running from the daylight of Murdock Mill Creek, into Soapstone Valley. Very little evidence for this idea remains. Principally, Yuma’s right of way is slightly wider than the surrounding streets.
I have seen this map in person at the Washington Historical Society, and there are lots of fascinating details. I will try to get a larger upload, but enjoy this for now.
The Van Alen Institute and the National Park Service have announced a program that would create new designs for several national parks, Parks for the People. The program is a competition limited to entire studios of architecture students, who will propose designs as part of their education. In the program’s words:
Participating schools will work with park administrators to create model solutions for seven park sites in each geographic region of the U.S., and use these design paradigms to create a stronger national identity for our open space ideals. Throughout the competition, schools will have an opportunity to engage with the Park Service and its rich cultural and historic assets, including access to park leadership, in-depth encounters with park sites, and the chance to build long-term relationships with park staff and resources.
They have selected seven interesting sites, one of which is the Civil War Defenses of Washington, presumably including Fort Reno. It is the only site in a major city and the only site that is used for day-to-day recreational purposes.
Students will have to consider these uses in addition to the interpretive and conservational missions of the NPS. These parks are back yards for some people, and not just precious destinations. There hasn’t been a lot of work in terms of creating commemorative spaces that are also great places to spend time, since memorials shifted from illustrative work to psychologically engaging complexes (even as they got bigger.)
Another program related to DC that I would love to publish is Leon Krier’s Spring 2010 studio at Yale, which asked students to design a monumental replacement for the MLK library on the CityCenter site.
Two small additions to the analysis of zoning regulation. First are PUDs. PUD stands for Planned-Unit Development. In a PUD, a developer negotiates with community representatives, offering certain amenities to the public in exchange for some reprieve from aspects of Zoning Codes. There are four PUD structures (in red) here: Van Ness Station, the Saratoga, Friendship Center, and Mazza Galerie.
The other major legal framework is the landmarking system. There are a handful of landmarks (red), the Grant Road Historic District (blue), and the not-landmarked-but-sensitive Fort Drive area (yellow). The master plan will have to harmonize with the legal strictures imposed by them.
I’ve been visiting the Historical Society of Washington and the Washingtoniana collection at MLK library. While I make more sense of my research, here is a pile of interesting things about Upper Northwest:
Famous people have been through the area. Oliver Wendell Holmes was stationed at Fort Reno and referred to the area as “Ten Alley Town.” Dolley Madison watched DC burn from Tenleytown and may have overnighted here. Edward Braddock and George Washington passed through in 1755 on their way to Fort Cumberland, and further east, military failure.
Wisconsin Avenue, from Georgetown to Tenleytown, has been a city street since 1809. But most of the streets were planned after 1897. Some of these schemes were grandiose. For example, in 1901, the city considered tunneling Rock Creek from Adams Morgan to the C&O Canal and building a “parkway” on top. One of the other tunneling proposals put Foundry Branch in a pipe and ran a road to be named Arizona Ave on top of it.
Fort Reno Park should have been more developed than it is now. In addition to a Fort Circle plan, the McMillan Commission planned for another parkway up Soapstone Valley and over to Dalecarlia. Until the 30s, Military Road was called Keokuk St. and Grant Road was called Military Road. There was also a Xenia St.
Ok, so for the second set of transportation analysis, I’ve compared transit accessibility to lot areas. Even without buildings, it’s possible to get a sense of the transit-accessible public space here. Areas that are lighter have more transit options. Again, Tenleytown is a hub of activity, where the blocks around the circle and the Metro stop are major transfer points that get a lot of street traffic.
So, Chevy Chase isn’t really the most transit-accessible place in the world. Even if I had used a 1/4 mile radius for buses, there would have been a dark spot there. Also, note that the commercial strip between Fessenden and Ellicott streets is in the 1/2 mile radius overlap between Tenleytown and Friendship Heights, which may contribute to its success, in spite of being somewhat isolated by the hill to the south. Read on for a breakdown of plans.
Last night began week five of this summer’s Fort Reno concerts. The annual series of musical triptychs, which take place in an improvised venue in the Tenleytown park, may be the most urbane happening of any place in DC. Amid the mild yellow-orange light of a summer evening, a small local band plays and a few hundred people of various ages watch while they sit on the grass. But beyond that and behind the stage, those less interested in the concert partake in all kinds of leisurely activity. Really, I’ve never seen the park so well used.
The entity that organizes the annual Fort Reno Concert series has finally gone online, and not a moment too soon. The first show is next week, on Monday, June 22nd, showcasing some strong talent from the DC area. First up is Pash, an indie rock band that sounds superficially like Metric, having a good band and a great female vocalist. Second is Funk Ark, a funk group that seems to mass-customize grooves for a post-partisan era. Lastly, but not leastly, the Sweater Set, about whom the only thing to say is: kazoo harmony.
The concerts are an annual event going back at least until the 1950s that let some up-and-coming local bands get some wide exposure. I’ve talked to some old timers who remember sitting out on the grass and listening to blues and folk music after ending their days at Deal and Wilson. It was a good time then, and it’s still a good time. Check it out.