Another Museum on the Mall?

I just blogged over at DCist about the new Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture that is currently in the planning stages. In addition to what I am sure will be plenty of controversy about the museum’s content, I anticipate a showdown between museum supporters and the uptight planning wonks in the city about the museum’s location. The map above shows a few proposed locations suggested by the museum — but more on that in a bit.

Supporters strongly desire a location on the National Mall, but the National Capital Planning Commission has strenuously said they will not approve further development on the Mall. As recently as one year ago it seemed the NCPC was holding the line and the Mall was closed for new development for good. Now there seems to be building momentum to challenge the National Capital Planning Commission’s ‘The Mall is Done’ mantra. Recently, a group called the National Coalition to Save Our Mall has been supporting an initiative to expand the Mall by annexing East Potomac Park (see photos or a Google map). This is from a recent Post story about a forum they sponsored:

Ultimately, the Mall is not a collection of museums and memorials. That’s not what the Mall was intended to be. It’s a living, lively place, and it can keep changing,” said Judy Scott Feldman, chairman of the National Coalition to Save Our Mall, the group that has spent the past two years championing another move as bold as the one involving the Lincoln Memorial. …

The mood at the lecture was electric, with architects in black turtlenecks and historians in tailored suits popping from their chairs with ideas. It was supposed to last an hour, but people stayed for more than two, talking long after the gallery staff had stacked the chairs and dimmed the stage lights.

I tend to side with the grow-the-Mall school. I’m persuaded by the arguments that say it might send a bad signal to tuck the official black history museum in a neglected corner of downtown D.C. However, that where it gets interesting. If the Mall is expanded the two off-Mall sites considered by this report on possible sites (PDF) the museum commissioned may be closer to the action than they are now. The Liberty Loan spot, in particular, could be along a new beautiful promenade, if only they filled in part of that pesky tidal basin …

Author: Rob Goodspeed