America's Main Street

America's Main Street (HM12SB)

Location: Washington, DC 20004
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Country: United States of America
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N 38° 53.63', W 77° 1.36'

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Make No Little Plans

— Federal Triangle Heritage Trail —

The broadest and most important street in Pierre L'Enfant's Plan of 1791 for the nation's capital connects to the Capitol and the White House.

Pennsylvania Avenue. Almost every American knows its name. Almost every visitor to the Washington sets foot on it. As America's Main Street, Pennsylvania Avenue is where Americans practice their rights to free speech and assembly. It is our ceremonial stage, where the nation comes together to celebrate - new presidents, national holidays, and victories - and to mourn, as at funeral processions for seven of the eight presidents who died in office.

L'Enfant's plan called for a grid of streets broken by wide diagonal avenues offering visual connections among the city's important buildings. The avenues, he suggested, would be named for the states. Later, city authorities honored Pennsylvania, home of the nation's seat of government at the time of the Revolution, with the most central avenue.

The area where you are standing first developed in 1801 as Washington's main marketplace. In 1871 the ornate, red-brick Center Market arose just across the avenue, and shops, wholesalers, and the small businesses clustered nearby. In the 1930s the market district disappeared, replaced by the stately, classically detailed National Archives and its neighboring, grand Federal Triangle buildings.

Thirty years later, this side of the avenue had grown shabby. President John F. Kennedy noted the decline as he traveled the parade route from his inauguration at the Capitol to the White House in January 1961. President Kennedy appointed scholar and policy expert David Patrick Moynihan to plan the restoration of the avenue as the "great thoroughfare of the city of Washington."

You are standing in the Federal Triangle, a group of buildings whose grandeur symbolizes the power and dignity of the United States. Located between the White House and the Capitol, these buildings house key agencies of the U.S. Government.

The Federal Triangle is united by the use of neoclassical revival architecture, drawing from styles of ancient Greece and Rome that have influenced public buildings throughout the ages. Although each structure was designed for a specific government department or agency, they all share limestone fa?ades, red-tiled roofs and classical colonnades. Their architectural features, following traditions of the Parisian School of Fine Arts (?cole des Beaux-Arts), illustrate each building's original purpose. Most of the Federal Triangle was constructed between 1927 and 1938. However, the Old Post Office and the John A. Wilson Building survive from an earlier era, while the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center was not completed until 1998.

In 1791 Pierre L'Enfant designed a city plan for the new cpaital in Washington under the direction of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. The L'Enfant Plan overlaid broad avenues on a street grid with areas reserved for prominent buildings and parks. This area originally followed L'Enfant's vision as a center for businesses serving the municipal and federal governments. By the time of the Civil War (1861-1865), it had become a hodgepodge of boarding houses, stables, and light industry. This disarray, and the growing need for government office space, led to calls for redevelopment. In 1901 the Senate Park Commission, known as the McMillan Commission, created a new plan for Washington's parks and monumental areas and redefined the Triangle as a government center. In 1926 Congress authorized a massive building program that drew inspiration from classical architecture to create today's monumental Federal Triangle.

Make No Little Plans: Federal Triangle Heritage Trail is an Official Washington, D.C. Walking Trail. The self-guided, 1.75-mile tour of 16 signs offers about one hour of gentle exercise. Its theme comes from "Make no little plans, they have no magic to stir men's blood. Make big plans," attributed to visionary Chicago architect Daniel Burnham, chair of the McMillan Commission.

For more information on Federal Triangle buildings, please visit For more information on DC neighborhoods and walking tours, please visit

Make No Little Plans: Federal Triangle Heritage Trail is produced by the U.S. General Services Administration in collaboration with the District Department of Transportation and Cultural Tourism DC.
HM NumberHM12SB
Marker Number1
Year Placed2012
Placed ByCultural Tourism DC
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Sunday, September 14th, 2014 at 10:02pm PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)18S E 324584 N 4306939
Decimal Degrees38.89383333, -77.02266667
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 38° 53.63', W 77° 1.36'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds38° 53' 37.80" N, 77° 1' 21.60" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)202
Closest Postal AddressAt or near 301-375 10th St NW, Washington DC 20004, US
Alternative Maps Google Maps, MapQuest, Bing Maps, Yahoo Maps, MSR Maps, OpenCycleMap, MyTopo Maps, OpenStreetMap

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