On April 3, 2019, the National Trust for Historic Preservation announced plans to partner with the Trust for National Mall and the National Park Service to restore and renovate the much-loved but shamefully decrepit National Mall Tidal Basin in Washington, DC.
I (Storm Cunningham), for one, am very happy to see this campaign. Being based right across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia, my wife (Maria) and I are very frequent visitors to the Tidal Basin, especially now that the nearby waterfront revitalization area known as The Wharf is open.
The program will address the pressing need for critical repairs and improvements, including a crumbling sea wall and daily flooding that swamps sidewalks and threatening the roots of cherry trees.
The centerpiece will be an Ideas Lab, presented by American Express, which will serve as a forum for generating a new vision to secure the future of the Tidal Basin.
“As part of ‘America’s front yard,’ the Tidal Basin is home to some of the most iconic landmarks and traditions in the nation’s capital,” said Katherine Malone-France, interim chief preservation officer of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “Yet current conditions do not do justice to a landscape of such significance. We are excited to bring new energy, innovation, and resources to the revitalization of the Tidal Basin, to ensure it continues to delight and inspire audiences from all over the world for generations to come.”
Currently, walkways surrounding the Tidal Basin are flooded at high tide on a daily basis, making them impassible for visitors and impacting the roots of the cherry trees. Other issues include perimeter safety challenges, substandard visitor facilities, and inadequate interpretation—repairs and improvements that could cost as much as $500 million to address.
“We are proud to lead this initiative with our partners to reimagine the Tidal Basin in a way that will have a lasting effect for our capital city and the 36 million visitors who come each year to take in the Basin’s beauty and history, including the beloved cherry trees,” said Catherine Townsend, president and CEO of the Trust for the National Mall.
With the launch of the #SavetheTidalBasin campaign, the National Mall Tidal Basin joins the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s revolving portfolio of National Treasures, nationally significant historic places where the organization mobilizes the full range of its preservation, advocacy, and public engagement resources to secure the site’s long-term protection. Other National Treasures in Washington, DC include Howard University’s Founders Library and Union Station.
The National Mall Tidal Basin Ideas Lab, presented by American Express, will invite several architectural and landscape design firms to propose solutions to five challenges specific to the Tidal Basin site: security, circulation, hydrology, cultural landscape, and visitor experience. These proposals will then be vetted by a wide range of federal and private entities and the general public at a museum exhibition. This work will inform the National Park Service’s mandated environmental review, master planning, and detailed design processes that will follow.
“We are delighted to present the National Mall Tidal Basin Ideas Lab,” said Richard Brown, vice president, philanthropy for American Express. “This work combines private sector ingenuity and public sector stewardship to uplift one of America’s most iconic spaces.”
The American Express Foundation, a long-time supporter of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is backing the Ideas Lab through a $750,000 grant that will be provided over the next three years.
“We are grateful to have the Trust for the National Mall and the National Trust spearhead this effort to ensure the Tidal Basin is dramatically improved and protected for years to come,” said Jeff Reinbold, acting superintendent for the National Mall and Memorial Parks division of the National Park Service.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a privately funded nonprofit organization that works to save America’s historic places. National Treasures, the National Trust’s signature program, are a revolving portfolio of cherished and nationally significant historic places for which the organization deploys the full range of its preservation, advocacy, and public engagement resources to secure long-term sustainability.
The Trust for the National Mall is a privately funded non-profit organization that brings critical resources to design and deliver modern and resilient solutions to transform the visitor experience and preserve the historic legacy of the National Mall. The Trust brings valuable expertise in project design and management to help expedite capital improvements, as well as to help mobilize volunteers and engage the general public in understanding the history and needs of this sacred space. Aging infrastructure and over 36 million visits annually have contributed to the more than $800 million in costs for deferred maintenance and needed upgrades.
All photos courtesy of Sam Kittner / National Trust for Historic Preservation.