The Washington Monument

Standing across Constitution Avenue from the southwest corner of the Department of Commerce, the Washington Monument rises above the city as the world's tallest obelisk. Built in honor of George Washington, the monument reflects the intent of Pierre L'Enfant's original plan to place a monumental equestrian statue of Washington directly south of the White House. A lack of funds and disagreement over the form of the memorial delayed design until 1836, when an open competition was held. Robert Mills, Architect for Public Buildings in the District of Columbia, won the competition with his design of a nearly flat topped obelisk surrounded by a circular colonnade with a statue of Washington in a chariot. The cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1849 and construction continued until 1854 when funds ran out. Years of political bickering and the outbreak of the Civil War delayed further building until 1876. By that time, Mills had died and his successor, Lt. Colonel Thomas L. Casey, altered Mills' plan by eliminating the colonnade with its chariot statue and creating a simple Egyptian obelisk. The monument was finally dedicated in 1885 and opened to the public in 1888.

Weighing in at 81,120 tons and standing over 555 feet high, the interior of the monument contains 193 memorial stones presented by individuals, societies, cities, states, and nations of the world. The variation in color, noticeable at the 150 foot level, marks the break in construction between 1854 and 1876. When construction on the monument resumed, an exact match for the existing marble could not be found. For more information, visit the web site:

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The Ellipse

Across 15th street from the Commerce Department, the Ellipse is one of Washington's great open spaces. In 1791, Pierre L'Enfant drew up the first plans for the park which was then known as "the White Lot" because it was enclosed by whitewashed fences. During the Civil War, the park was used as a corral for horses and cattle and a campsite for Union troops. Today, the Ellipse contains a number of notable memorials. In addition to the 1st Division Monument, commemorating soldiers from World War I, and Second Division Memorial, the Boy Scout Memorial stands directly across 15th Street from Commerce on the site where the first Boy Scouts Jamboree was held in Washington in 1937. The Ellipse is also home to the National Christmas Tree, which is lit by the president each year in early December.

Pershing Park

Located across Pennsylvania Avenue from the Department of Commerce, this park is the official U.S. memorial to General John J. Pershing, who led the American Expeditionary Forces to victory in World War I. Named General of the Armies in 1919, the highest possible officer rank in the U.S. Army, Pershing shares this title with George Washington, who was awarded the title as part of the 1976 bicentennial celebration. The park features a statue of Pershing, created by sculptor Robert Winthrop White, as well as memorial walls and benches describing his exploits in World War I. The park also contains a waterfall and pond, which is turned into an ice skating rink in winter. Surrounded by granite walls and beautifully landscaped, the park provides a quiet retreat in the heart of the city. The park is part of the Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site and is administered by the National Park Service.

The Willard Hotel

Located at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 14th Street, the Willard Hotel has played host to countless foreign dignitaries and American presidents. Completed in 1904, the Beaux Arts structure hosted Julia Ward Howe in 1861, during which time she drafted the Battle Hymn of the Republic on hotel stationary. More than a century later, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his famous I Have a Dream speech while staying at the hotel. Nine presidents, including Lincoln, Grant, and Wilson, have stayed at the Willard. Plans for the League of Nations grew out of President Woodrow Wilson's meetings in the hotel lobby in 1916. Other famous guests include Buffalo Bill, P.T. Barnum, Samuel Morse, Henry Houdini, and Emily Dickenson. The hotel was novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne's unofficial headquarters while serving as a Civil War correspondent; Walt Whitman immortalized the Willard in poetry; and Mark Twain composed two books while staying there in the 1900s. The Willard is still an operating hotel.

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Sutter Boarding House

In the summer of 1814, a ragged vagrant knocked on the door of a boarding house at 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, where the northwest corner of the Commerce Building stands today. Despite warnings from lodgers that he might be a British spy, the landlady—a widow named Barbara Sutter—fed the beggar and let him sleep under a nearby tree. Several weeks later, British troops invaded Washington, setting fire to the Capitol before marching down Pennsylvania Avenue to burn the White House. Mrs. Sutter fearfully answered another knock at her door to find a splendidly uniformed British officer who introduced himself as General Ross, "come, madam, to sup with you." The beggar had indeed been a spy but had also reported Mrs. Sutter's kindness to his superiors who chose her house as their headquarters during the invasion of Washington.

Pennsylvania Avenue Parades

Pennsylvania Avenue, often called America's Main Street, has witnessed countless parades and marches throughout the country's history. Lasting more than 48 hours, the longest parade on record occurred in May 1865, celebrating the end of the Civil War. One observer, the poet Walt Whitman, described it: "In their wide ranks stretching clear across the Avenue, I watch them march, or ride along, at a brisk pace, through two whole days—infantry, cavalry, artillery—some 200,000 men." Whitman wrote his mother that it was "too much and too impressive to be described." Since that time celebratory parades have honored national heroes including Charles Lindbergh, World War II Allied Supreme Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower, and astronaut John Glenn.

Protest marches have also occurred on Pennsylvania Avenue. The first recorded protest, occurring in 1893, was lead by Jacob Coxey's Army of the Unemployed demanding jobs during the economic panic of 1893. It was one of the earliest demonstrations of organized labor in the country and the first to use Pennsylvania Avenue as a venue of dissent. Suffragettes followed in the early 20th Century, holding their largest rally on March 3, 1913, the day before Woodrow Wilson's Inaugural. Thousands of women converged on the avenue, many dressed in flowing pastel robes and forming tableaus that represented Liberty, Hope, and Equality. Their efforts were ultimately successful although it would be another seven years before their right to vote was solidified by the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

Last Reviewed: 2020-09-18