Too Many Memorials In D.C.?

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Washington Monument with park ranger/policeman in forground.
AP

Are all the memorials in Washington D.C. too much of a good thing? The capital is beginning to feel a bit crowded lately — not with the millions of tourists who descend on us each year but with museums and memorials.

Of course we all know the big three: the Washington Monument, and the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. But what about the little, carefully maintained park dedicated to Sonny Bono?

We've got more than 160 monuments and memorials, even a statue celebrating José Artigas, the "father of Uruguayan independence," and one honoring victims of the Titanic.

Of course the prime real estate here is the National Mall, the area that includes the expanse between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial where so many famous demonstrations have taken place

"We're worried about the mall looking like Route One South," Judy Scott Feldman, Chair of the National Coalition to Save our Mall, told Sunday Morning correspondent Rita Braver. "Essentially covered over, like a shopping mall from end to end."

Scott says a case in point is the World War II Memorial, which Congress decided to put right smack between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. This seven-and-a-half-acre monument really does cut the continuous open space — the green vista that used to be here — with water.

In fact, in 2003, the year this monument was dedicated, Congress passed a moratorium on new buildings on the Mall. But this being Washington, several exceptions were already on the drawing board, including a Museum of African American History and a monument to Martin Luther King. Feldman worries that there could be even more exceptions to come.

"Well, the mall is the center of the nation," Feldman said. "It's the greatest gathering place of America, everyone wants to be there."

And sometimes it feels like everybody is there: 25 million people visit this park every year. The trick says Vicky Keys, who supervises the Mall for the National Park Service, is to steer tourists and monuments in new directions.

There are many other places within the city that future commemorative works or memorials can be placed.

But the catch is it's not just the mall that's in demand. Federal space in all of Central Washington is so precious that new monuments are supposed to relate to American History in order to earn a place here.

"It's where we celebrate who we are and what we are," Chairman of the National Capitol Planning Commission John Cogbill said.

Cogbill said that, being a country of immigrants, the United States' memorials and monuments will reflect diversity.

"Well, the federal government and the Congress can write laws, but we are a country of immigrants and everything we do in this country" is celebrated by these monuments, he said. "Basically all the background that brings us [together] and makes us all Americans."

Cogbill insists we're not running out of places to put things. And maybe all of this was just meant to be.

In 1791, when Pierre L'Enfant, the architect who created the original plan for Washington, saw the site where the city would be built, he called it "a pedestal waiting for a monument" — little did he know.