National Mall: Roadways and Lighting – 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 1934, with the aid of funds from the PWA, work began under the supervision 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.

Central to the plan were four parallel roadways, extending from the foot of the Capitol to the Monument grounds, amounting to about four miles in total. These are today’s Constitution, Independence, Madison and Jefferson Avenues. The roadways were flanked by broad paths lined with trees and park benches.

Second Street was also opened between Constitution and Maryland Avenues to aid traffic.  Unfortunately, a freeway (I-395) was later routed across the Mall at this point.

A lighting system, approved after many months of study, was installed along the roads and paths.  Light standards were 21 feet high and made of fluted bronze, topped by a cylinder of glass, frosted to prevent glare.

Source notes

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.

Project originally submitted by Brent McKee on December 19, 2019.
Additional contributions by Richard A Walker.

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


Location Info

National Mall
Washington, DC 20001

Coordinates: 38.8897, -77.0230

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