The NAS Building

The Setting and the Grounds

The Federal Commission of Fine Arts considered the northern side of B Street, N.W. (now Constitution Avenue), between 17th and 23rd Streets, N.W., as the "frame" for the Lincoln Memorial, which had been dedicated on Memorial Day, 1922. Designs for all the buildings in that area were to respect this relationship. The concept of the Mall included the Capitol, representing all the people; the Washington Monument, a reminder of the fight for independence; the memorial to Lincoln, who preserved the Union; and the Arlington Memorial bridge to Virginia, symbolizing the resolve to maintain ties of brotherhood among all the states.

The first building constructed in the "frame," the Academy was conceived by Goodhue as "a central pavilion in a small but heavily wooded park." Between 1924 and 1937, Constitution Avenue acquired the Pan American Union Annex and buildings of the Public Health Service (now occupied by the Department of the Interior), the Federal Reserve Board, the Academy, and the American Pharmaceutical Association. Tour guides often identified the neighboring Public Health Service, Federal Reserve, and Academy as "Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise."

Charles Downing Lay, a landscape architect, drew up the original plans for the Academy grounds in 1924. Soulangeana magnolias banked the building's front terrace, Lombardy poplars lined the entrance walk, and American hollies provided color in winter. The overall grounds plan has been considerably modified over the years; the hollies still thrive, along with some oaks, elms, and European beeches from Lay's plan, but newer Soulangeana have replaced the originals and English boxwood have long since been substituted for the poplars. Today, hundreds of varieties of trees, shrubs, and flowers adorn the grounds, and new plantings are frequently added.

The topography of the land, inclining gradually upward from Constitution Avenue to C Street, suggested to Goodhue the placement of three rectangular reflecting pools in stepped areas on the walkway leading to the building's main entrance. Lined with eight-inch-square turquoise-hued tiles, the pools were stocked by the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries with successive generations of exotic fish. The cost of repairing the pools eventually proved prohibitive; in 1951 the tile was removed, and the areas were adapted for use as planters.

In 1982, the Professional Grounds Management Society presented its national Grant Award for the best-maintained grounds of an institution to Mark J. Feist, the Academy's grounds manager.

Read More:

... A Temple of Science  Recognition of Need  The Architect  The Setting and the Grounds  Description of the Building  The Façade  The Window Panels  The Doors  The Main Foyer and the Great Hall  The Library and the Members' Room  The Lecture Room and the Board Room  The Wings  The Auditorium  The Albert Einstein Memorial

Photo courtesy NAS Archives

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