- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2001

The task force looking at the possibility of reopening Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House is weighing a variety of informal, unsolicited proposals submitted by architectural firms, all vying to be a part of history.

Two highly touted plans for the avenue the National Park Service's "President Park" plan and the Federal City Council's proposal, included in last year's Rand Corp. report were presented last week to the task force.

But other sketches and ideas from architects eager to put their mark on the city including one proposal from John Carl Warnecke, the designer of John F. Kennedy's grave site were also presented to the group.

"I think it's very encouraging, and I think it shows the passion these people feel about the issue," said Richard L. Friedman, the chairman of the interagency task force formed by the National Capital Planning Commission.

"They have passionate and conflicting views about whether and how the avenue should be opened," said Mr. Friedman, who is also the chairman of the commission.

President Clinton closed a two-block-long stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in May 1995, a month after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

Since the road's closure, about 29,000 vehicles that once streamed through the east-west corridor each day are routed through surrounding areas, clogging roads and disrupting traffic.

One of the firms interested in the proposed redesign project is Franck Lohsen and McCrery Architects, a 3-month-old firm that based part of its proposal on the Rand report.

"As Washingtonians, we look at Pennsylvania Avenue and think it has to be opened," said Arthur C. Lohsen, an architect with the group. "It shouldn't be like a security zone, which it looks like now. The ultimate solution has to look appropriate to the neighborhood."

George W. Bush said during the 2000 campaign that he would look at reopening the avenue, and a plank in the Republican Party platform calls for the street to be reopened.

The task force, formed this month, is to report to President Bush and Congress in July with their recommendations.

Mr. Lohsen and his partners all agreed there is an "opportunity" now with Mr. Bush and the Republicans in charge.

Mr. Lohsen said his firm, which is designing the proposed $50 million millennium memorial at Barney Circle in Southeast, has a redesign that would make the White House even more secure than it is now.

"A lot of the people we talk to keep saying that the target has been protected from a truck bomb. But the closing has not addressed any of the other threats," said Mr. Lohsen.

The Rand report, which was commissioned by downtown civic and business leaders looking to reopen the street, doesn't take into account security threats like armed pedestrians, according to Mr. Lohsen and others.

Ever since a would-be assassin tried to kill President Truman in front of nearby Blair House as the White House was being renovated in 1950, the Secret Service has urged that Pennsylvania Avenue be closed.

The Secret Service got its wish after the Oklahoma City bombing, but a groundswell of support for its reopening has traffic-weary commuters hopeful.

Mr. Lohsen said his firm's design calls for:

• Putting iron gates at 15th and 17th streets NW that would limit traffic along the avenue to cars.

• Traffic circles, with fountains, in the middle on the avenue to slow traffic.

• Cobblestone surfaces.

• Permanent guard huts in front of the Treasury and Eisenhower buildings where pedestrians would walk through.

Like the Rand plan, Mr. Lohsen said the group is incorporating the "Jefferson Bow," which Thomas Jefferson envisioned in 1802 as a 60-foot curb built into the street in front of the executive mansion.

The Rand proposal also includes pedestrian bridges that would go across the avenue, allowing cars to flow underneath. Other plans do not call for such a span.

The Park Service's plan, which leaves the road closed, would simply expand the park across from the White House and keep the avenue open only for pedestrians.

Washington architect Arthur Cotton Moore, a longtime advocate of reopening, said his plan also addresses more than just the threat of a truck bomb.

"What we were simply trying to do is equal or exceed the amount of protection you would get by closing down the avenue," said Mr. Moore, who said he has been working to get his proposal adopted since the avenue was closed.

Mr. Moore's design includes elliptical gates and weight sensors that can tell if a car is suspiciously heavy.

Mr. Moore is also calling for a protective laminated glass or plastic barrier, strong enough to withstand a bomb blast and gunfire, in front of the White House gates, along its perimeter.

"The major threat the White House has is a pedestrian who conceals weapons under clothing," said Mr. Moore.

He also calls for making the White House building itself sturdier by reinforcing it with earthquake-resistant materials.

Mr. Warnecke, who designed the Kennedy grave, also made a presentation to the task force though he is one of the architects uninterested in reopening the two-block stretch of road.

Mr. Warnecke, who could not be reached for this report, presented as he has for the last 40 years a plan that would permanently expand nearby Lafayette Park.

"All of the proposals have merit and all have some problems," Mr. Friedman said, but "they all stimulate a great amount of thought and discussion."


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