We first published this article on March 24, 2016. The history is still interesting, so we’re sharing it again!
In the 1940s, there was a proposal to make East Capitol Street into a wide, monumental avenue. This map shows what it would look like, and provides some other glimpses into what DC was like at the time.
I spotted the map in a recent Washington Post story about cartographer Pat Easton painting it on his dining room wall via a projector. One glance shows how different the DC it depicts is from how DC looks today.
Today, East Capitol Street is a typical Capitol Hill street: It isn’t very wide, and most of the buildings along the street are small. The map shows an East Capitol that looks like the National Mall continuing east past the Capitol building and stretching to the Anacostia River.
It turns out the map was drawn up by the National Capital Park and Planning Commission (NCPC) in 1941. It details proposals that would have incorporated much of the land between Constitution Avenue NE and Independence Avenue SE into new space for federal and District government buildings. The Library of Congress has a copy of the map on its website, where you can zoom in and see many of the details.
One of the most notable things is how many of the (now historic) buildings along East Capitol Street today would have been razed to make room for wider streets and office buildings. The corners of Lincoln Park in Capitol Hill would have been rounded off to make the space shaped more like an oval, and Independence and Constitution Avenues would have been widened to include some freeway-like sections along with tunnels underneath the Capitol Building itself. That would have meant that the roads stayed very wide for their entire length across the city.
Had all of this this happened, East Capitol would probably look similar to today’s Independence Avenue SW near the USDA Complex.
The map has lots of signs of the times
Other details I notice are that there is a stadium near where RFK stadium sits today, along with other athletic facilities, including tennis courts and an indoor swimming pool.
There’s also no bridge across the Anacostia River. Instead, Consitution and Independence Avenues both veer off the map, traveling along the Anacostia’s western shore. That’s obviously different from today, as we now have the Whitney Young Memorial Bridge.
It also looks like there where plans for a new railroad bridge and tunnel that would cross the Anacostia closer to today’s RFK site and, presumably, link up with the current right of way near L’Enfant Plaza.
And of course, since this map was drawn in 1941, there are no interstate highways cutting through the southwest and southeast quadrants of the city, and Constitution Avenue dead ends at the Potomac rather than leading to today’s Roosevelt Bridge.
Readers: What do you notice in the map?