National Mall: Reconstruction – Washington DC


The New Deal carried out a major renovation of the National Mall, the green centerpiece of Washington DC.  Funding was provided by the Public Works Administration (PWA) and labor power by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). As of 1939, the PWA had expended $1,050,000 on the reconstruction work. 

As one newspaper put it, “…the mile long park connecting the Capitol with Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial probably would still be in an early stage of development but for the allocation of PWA funds to finish the project.” 

In 1901, the McMillan Commission, composed of eminent architects and landscape architects, was created to rethink the park system of Washington DC and come up with a new plan for city parks.  In the case of the National Mall, they rejected a previous plan based on the Central Park model of winding roads and naturalized landscaping and returned to the principal features of the L’Enfant plan of 1801.  The McMillan plan proposed a broad carpet of grass between park drives, bordered on either side by formal rows of trees.  Little of the new plan had been accomplished, however, before the New Deal came along.

The PWA made an initial allotment of over $600,000 in 1933 and work began in early 1934.  Another $175,000 was added in 1936 and smaller allotments made after that. Work was carried out under the direction of the Superintendent of the National Capital Parks, which had become a branch of the National Park Service when the park system was taken over by the Interior Department under Harold Ickes in August 1933. 

Temporary wartime structures and an old power plant were removed, old roadways and paths erased, and the land graded between 1st and 14th streets (the eastern half of the Mall).   Workers constructed four parallel park drives and adjoining paths, created a huge area of lawn (1 mile long x 300 feet wide), planted trees all along the paths and borders, installed a sprinkler system and added decorative lighting. The botanic gardens were also moved.  

Later, other encroaching buildings were removed, the grade at 12th street raised, and the park drives carried over 14th Street on bridges.  Repair work was also done on the Washington Monument, at the center of the Mall, and the Lincoln Memorial, at the far western end, and improvements made to the grounds around each.




Project Details

Federal Cost Local Cost Total Cost Project #'s
1050000 1050000

Source notes

Frank Gartside and Edward Kelly, "The Mall - National Capital Parks," Parks and Recreation, vol 20 #4, December 1939, pp. 163-179

C. W. Short and R. Stanley-Brown,  Public Buildings: A Survey of Architecture of Projects Constructed by Federal and Other Governmental Bodies Between the Years 1933 and 1939 with the Assistance of the Public Works Administration.  Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. 1939.

Newspaper clippings file, 1935-1942. Record Group 69, Records of the Work Projects Administration. National Archives and Records Administration.

“New Deal Projects Aid Many Park Developments in Capital,” Washington Daily News, July 23, 1936.

“600 Relief Workers To Get Park Places,” Washington Star, May 23, 1937.

“Work on Million Dollar Mall is Now 90 Percent Completed,” Washington Post, October 4, 1936, p. 15.

“1,000 From PWA Assigned To Work On Park System,” Washington Star, November 14, 1936.

Works Progress Administration, "National Capital Parks," Work: A Journal of Progress, Vol. 1, No. 3 (November 1936), p. 19. 

Project originally submitted by Brent McKee on December 5, 2011.
Additional contributions by Richard A Walker.

We welcome contributions of additional information on any New Deal project site.


Location Info

3d St to 23d St
Washington, DC 20001

Location notes: general location in center of the Mall

Coordinates: 38.8897, -77.0230

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