Threat to Pershing Park Draws International Attention
The fate of Pershing Park in Washington, D.C., which could be demolished to make way for a national World War I memorial, has garnered national—and even international—attention, which may be one reason why the unveiling of the five finalist designs scheduled for August 14, 2015, was postponed to the 19th.
The Atlantic’s CityLab first broke the news that Pershing, designed by Modernist landscape architect M. Paul Friedberg with plantings by Wolfgang Oehme and James van Sweden, had become a TCLF Landslide site. The park has suffered from years of deferred maintenance and now its signature fountain (created as a water garden) is dry, the lithe moveable tables and chairs have been replaced with hulking concrete furnishings, and there are other deficiencies. The article, titled "How Many World War I Memorials Does One Park Need?," concludes: “Restoring Pershing Park ought to be a no-brainer. It would certainly suit the adjacent hotels to reverse years of deferred maintenance and reclaim what was once a well-loved D.C. park.”
The creation of a new memorial, regardless of the impact on Pershing Park, will require approvals from the National Capital Planning Commission, the Commission of Fine Arts, and the District of Columbia’s Historic Preservation Office, among others. According to Architectural Record, there would appear to be a predisposition towards demolition. The article cites World War I Centennial Commission vice-chair Edwin Fountain, who “seemed perplexed when asked if the Friedberg-designed garden should be preserved.” Fountain stated: “I’m aware that some people hold that view. I don’t happen to share it. My view is that it’s a 35-year-old failed park that has significant drawbacks. We’ll go through all the necessary reviews. But Congress has authorized us to make alterations to the site, so that’s our starting premise.”
More recently, Architect ran a Q&A with TCLF’s Charles Birnbaum in which he discussed “the ongoing design competition … and how [most of] the [more than 350] submissions threaten the integrity of the site.”
The announcement of the five finalist designs was made August 19, and all call for the demolition of Pershing Park - TCLF issued the following press release.