An integral part of the long-range plan to renovate Pennsylvania Avenue into the nation’s preeminent street, M. Paul Friedberg + Partners was engaged by the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation to transform a former traffic island into a multi-level park. The park-plaza hybrid opened in 1981. The plaza, which honors General John J. Pershing, includes many design elements found in Friedberg’s earlier work at Minneapolis’ Peavey Plaza: a central sunken plaza with a pool basin; amphitheater-style seating oriented around the plaza; and a site-specific palette of furnishings. The design also contains a statue of Pershing. The planting materials were subsequently revised by Oehme, van Sweden.
In 2015 Congress authorized the World War I Centennial Commission to construct a World War I Memorial in the park. Following an international design competition that saw 350 submissions, in January 2016 a winning entry by architecture intern Joe Weishaar and figurative sculptor Sabin Howard was selected; it would have substantially altered the earlier Friedberg design (which in July 2016 was determined eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site). Multiple federal reviews saw revisions to the design, which was ultimately unified by landscape architect David Rubin, in part, through the integration of new features, including a circular interpretive belvedere (which replaced a disused pavilion) and a contemplative resting space with a water cascade on the reverse side of “A Soldier’s Journey,” Howard’s 58-foot-long bronze frieze. The overall design intent is a commemorative landscape that is also a vibrant, revivified urban oasis. The project opened to the public on April 17, 2021, with the frieze scheduled for installation in 2024.