Grandeur for the People

Grandeur for the People (HM12SC)

Location: Washington, DC 20004
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Country: United States of America
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N 38° 53.6', W 77° 1.4'

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Make No Little Plans

— Federal Triangle Heritage Trail —

The National Archives, keeper of the nation's founding documents and most important federal government records, occupies this important spot halfway between the Capitol and the White House. Before the Archives building was constructed, federal records were stored haphazardly all over town. The nation's first archivist began centralizing them here in 1935.

In 1898 the United States won the Spanish-American War, and national leaders began questioning whether their capital city reflected the nation's new importance in world affairs. This viewpoint, the centennial in 1900 of the federal government's arrival in Washington in 1800, and concerns of the nation's foremost architects spurred the Senate Park Commission, led by Senator James McMillan, to develop a new city plan. The McMillan Plan revived and expanded elements of Pierre L'Enfant's 1791 vision for the capital. It also looked to the Beaux-Arts style of buildings at the 1893 Chicago World's Columbian Exposition (world's fair). The fair awed visitors and launched the City Beautiful movement, which promoted classically inspired groups of buildings for governmental or institutional functions. The McMillan Plan redesigned the National Mall and designated this 70-acre triangle for new government offices. Before World War I intervened, however, only one structure was built, the John A. Wilson Building (Washington, DC's city hall, 1908), at 13th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.

In 1926 President Calvin Coolidge signed the Public Buildings Act, revived the McMillan Plan, and assigned Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon to work with leading American architects to create the Federal Triangle. It stands today as the nation's largest great public project combining classical architecture and sculpture.

The U.S. Navy Memorial across the street was dedicated in 1987, the Navy's 212th anniversary.

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 NumberHM12SC
Marker Number2
Year Placed2012
Placed ByCultural Tourism DC
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 at 6:57pm PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)18S E 324525 N 4306885
Decimal Degrees38.89333333, -77.02333333
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 38° 53.6', W 77° 1.4'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds38° 53' 36.00" N, 77° 1' 24.00" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)202
Closest Postal AddressAt or near 800 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington DC 20004, US
Alternative Maps Google Maps, MapQuest, Bing Maps, Yahoo Maps, MSR Maps, OpenCycleMap, MyTopo Maps, OpenStreetMap

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