The Neighborhood

In Pierre L’Enfant’s original plan, the President’s Palace projected into a large square open on three sides, a hub for seven major radiating streets. An irregular U-shape, this square was molded on Roman and Parisian examples rather than on an enclosed park (scale). As L’Enfant designed 16th Street as the same breadth as the diagonal avenues, it was intended as that great prominence be given to the President’s House by creating reciprocal views to and from numerous vantage points.

The shape of the park was not firmly established until 1824, when Pennsylvania Avenue separated the president’s grounds from Lafayette Park. The park was named in honor of the French hero, General Marquis Gilbert de Lafayette’s American tour of 1824-1825. In the early 1830s Robert Mills suggested enlarging the executive department offices by covering the entire park with a single, vast building. Although the design was praised by Thomas U. Walter, local residents opposed it. In 1851, as part of Andrew Jackson Downing’s design for the public grounds, Lafayette Square was landscaped in a picturesque manner.

The park’s statuary history began with the erection of the central equestrian figure of President Andrew Jackson. He was first avowed ‘man of the people’ ever elected to occupy the White House opposite, and at each of its four corners are statues of men of foreign lands who contributed to American liberty as a result of the Revolutionary War. Those individuals include France’s General Marquis Gilbert de Lafayette and Major General Comte Jean de Rochambeau, Poland’s General Thaddeus Kosciuszko and Prussia’s (Germany’s) Major General Baron Frederich Wilhelm von Steuben. Historically, the Square and its flanking houses have played many an important role in the Nation’s development.

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