J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building Neighborhood

Between the White House and the Capitol, connecting the executive and legislative branches of the Government, Pennsylvania Avenue is rich in historic association, traditions, and sentiments; no other mile of American roadway has provided the setting, over so long a period, for such a pageant of national pomp and ceremony. The inaugural parade of every President since Thomas Jefferson, and the funeral processions of the four Presidents who died in office, have followed this course; Lafayette and Kossuth and many other distinguished foreign guests, the King and Queen of England and other crowned rulers, have been acclaimed here; the homecoming armies of three wars have received tumultuous welcome as they marched along the Avenue.

Thomas Jefferson, in a letter written in November 1791—3 months after L’Enfant had drawn up his plan for the ‘Federal City’—is believed to be the first to refer to Pennsylvania Avenue under that name. In L’Enfant’s plan, the main diagonal avenue was to extend from the Anacostia River to Georgetown along the line of three chief points— the “Federal house,” the “President’s palace,” and a “grand square” at what is now Washington Circle. In his report of 1791, accompanying the L’Enfant plan, President Washington wrote: “The Grand Avenue connecting both the palace and the federal house will be most magnificent & most convenient.” But at the time when this report was written and for several year thereafter, the “Grand avenue” was no more than a footpath cut through a tangled growth of trees and bushes along the marshy border of Tiber Creek.

The early development of the ‘Grand Avenue’ was chiefly residential until about 1825. Then the substantial red- brick dwellings began to be converted into boarding-houses and shops, while hotels spring up all along the thoroughfare. After the middle of the century, Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the 9th or 10th Street steadily deteriorated into a blighted region of saloons, gambling dens, lodging houses, quick-lunch rooms, cheap-jack shops, and catch-penny amusement places. Then came the great regeneration in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Most the old buildings on the south side of the Avenue between the Capitol and the Treasury, and for several blocks on the lower north side, were demolished; park areas were laid out, and the ambitious Triangle development begun under the guidance of the Senate Park Commission of 1901.



Last Reviewed 2016-09-15