Panel Discussion: Communities Battling Harmful Development — Sat, 15 Feb 2014, 2pm, Anacostia Library

Flier - DC Communities Fighting Back Against Harmful Development - 15 Feb 2014

Please mark your calendars for this important community event to build your coalition and gain lessons learned from the following controversial DC development projects:

A primary purpose of the forum is to discuss the tools and strategies that communities have used to influence, oppose, or shape development proposals that were thrust upon them as compared to proposals resulting from community needs or desires.

Logistics details:

  • What:  Panel Discussion on Communities Fighting Back Against Harmful Development
  • When:  Saturday, 15 February 2014, 2-4pm
  • Where:  Anacostia Library, 1800 Good Hope Road SE, Washington, DC
  • Hosted by:  Empower DC
  • Facebook:

Supermarket in the Hood

Poor VMP Crocodile

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The Original Vision for McMillan Park: “No Medical Facilities, High Rises, or Big Box Retail”

The District of Columbia Office of Planning conducted an intensive community planning process for McMillan Park a decade ago that concluded in 2002. The following document, recently uncovered by the McMillan Park Intelligence Consortium, outlines a vision for McMillan Park revitalization that looks very different from the plan that the Gray Administration’s development consultant, Vision McMillan Partners (VMP), is presenting to our communities today:

Unfortunately, the competitive process for selecting a master developer for McMillan Park was never completed.  The DC Council dissolved the National Capital Revitalization Corporation (NCRC) in 2006 just months after NCRC released its RFP for McMillan Park Phase I Land Development Partner.  How exactly VMP was selected from the at least 19 proposals submitted to NCRC remains a mystery. To learn more, research the dealings of the defunct Anacostia Waterfront Corporation and Nationals Park baseball stadium project.

McMillan Plan - 1901 - Emerald Neclace of Parks

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McMillan Park – Washington’s First Racially Integrated Park

Racial Integration 3

By: Kirby Vining

Washington D.C.’s McMillan Park commemorates the contributions of Michigan’s Senator James McMillan both to beautify our nation’s capital and improve the water supply and stop the epidemics of typhoid fever. The commemoration of Senator McMillan at this location is significant: It combines the water purification function of the Washington Aqueduct’s McMillan Reservoir and slow sand filtration facility with the graceful, calming landscaping of Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., both projects for which Senator McMillan fought hard to realize. A fountain named in his honor, paid for by the school children from every county in Michigan, originally stood in the place of honor and prominence, overlooking the entire park, and again combining beauty with water.

But it is also the scene of a lesser-known chapter in the history of our once very segregated city. McMillan Park was Washington’s first de facto racially integrated public park, enjoyed for decades by black families who were not permitted to use other, segregated public parks, until it closed for security reasons at the beginning of World War II. And at the southern edge of the Park is the former home of James Hurd, whose attempts to purchase that house resulted in the landmark Hurd v. Hodge Supreme Court case that overturned the racial covenants then common in D.C. real estate deeds.

The racial integration of McMillan Park was likely unintentional. While police throughout the rest of Washington shooed blacks away from most other public institutions, McMillan Park was administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers whose mandate was to maintain the water facility. Apparently the Corps never chased anyone off the Park for racial reasons. Howard University Sociology Professor William Henry Jones in his 1927 book, Recreation and Amusement Among Negroes in Washington, D.C., a detailed study of exactly where blacks could and could not go in segregated Washington, noted that there were only two public parks open to blacks. Rock Creek Park and the National Zoo were open to blacks one day each year only: the day after Easter, according to an old Washington tradition. But he also wrote that “McMillan Park, located east of Howard University and surrounding the New Reservoir, has been taken over almost exclusively by Negroes.” Professor Jones could not cite any other public park in Washington that routinely admitted black families.

A fence with “No Trespassing” signs was erected around McMillan Park in May, 1941 to protect the water supply from enemy sabotage not many months before the U.S. entered World War II. The McMillan Fountain was removed with all its benches and other amenities to stop the public from sneaking in to continue to enjoy their park. McMillan Park has been closed to the public since then, though many men in the surrounding neighborhoods fondly recall sneaking under the fence to run around in the underground caverns or play ball on the surface even years after the park was closed.

Many now-elderly residents of the nearby neighborhoods recall their enjoyment of the park before it was closed, for all the usual activities we associate with city parks. The park atop the sand filtration site was used for ballgames, parades, picnics, military training, and many other common activities, as is documented in the DC Historic Landmark designation for the site (see section 310.23), as well as in some more recent oral history interviews. And there are many more of our senior citizens who for reasons that must be respected choose not to have their stories documented.

Though the park, reservoir, sand filtration plant, and the fountain are tangible testimony to the McMillan Plan’s intentions of beautifying our city and saving us from the ravages of typhoid, the story of the use of McMillan Park is intangible, but no less a chapter of our history. This story is not well known because segregation was always a dirty secret not well covered in the press except when it exploded in arrests, riots, or worse. We hope that those days are gone and that this story will not be forgotten.

The District of Columbia is our home. But it is also the world’s stage, a beautiful theater that hosts grand events such as the 1963 March on Washington and funerals of presidents. It is also home to a subtler grandeur as well for those of us who spend our lives here, such as the drum circle at Meridian Hill Park, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, and for the black families who spent hot summer afternoons and evenings with a picnic on the breezy plain at McMillan Park. Senator McMillan, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., and others on the McMillan Plan design team could not have foreseen these intangible details of how their redesigned city would be used, both grand and small. But they certainly foresaw the creation of this stage for the grand and the subtle on which history, national and personal, would play out.

A Formal Banquet

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Save the Date: McMillan Park Fundraiser Event at The Red Hen – Mon, 24 Feb 2014

Beer and The Red Hen

Please save the date for a very special fundraiser event hosted by The Red Hen restaurant in Bloomingdale to save historic McMillan Park. The elegant event will take place on the evening of Monday, February 24, 2014.

Details coming soon.

Please let us know if you, your business, or your associates would like to join our event Host Committee at the $250 level. Contributions are tax-deductible thanks to our 501(c)3 fiscal sponsor, National Association for Olmsted Parks. All proceeds benefit the Save McMillan Park Legal Fund.

For additional information, please contact Kirby Vining at (202) 234-0427 or

The Red Hen logo

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Yoga District Fundraiser to Save McMillan Park – Sunday, 15 Dec 2013

Calling all lovers of Bloomingdale, the surrounding neighborhoods, and the District of Columbia at large!

Please join us for a very special yoga fundraiser to save historic McMillan
Park on Sunday, December 15, from 2:30 – 4:30pm at the Bloomingdale Yoga
District (1830 First Street NW).

Yoga District’s senior teacher and Bloomingdale lover, Gracy Obuchowicz, will
lead a beginner-friendly yoga class with the theme of using yoga to inspire
and awaken conscious activism in our communities.

Community leaders Paul Cerruti and Hugh Youngblood will speak and conduct Q&A before and after the class on the following topics:

  • The importance of preserving and restoring McMillan Park as a world-class public place to serve all DC residents and visitors
  • Attracting creative and innovative local business to the park
  • What we can do as a community to save this marvelous, unique site.

All levels of yoga are welcome. The suggested donation is $20. All proceeds benefit the Save McMillan Park Legal Fund. We will also have Save McMillan Park t-shirts, holiday cards, and other merchandise available for purchase.

Yoga District Logo

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Public Service Announcement – The McMillan Park

The McMillan Park from Snorre Wik on Vimeo.

Washingtonians are worried that their government is about to give away the beautiful and historic McMillan Park site to deep-pocketed and politically connected commercial developers. If you care about our city and our parks, please watch Bloomingdale resident Snorre Wik’s beautiful McMillan Park PSA video. We need your voices to help protect this legacy.

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National Trust “Extremely Troubled” by Proposed Development’s Disregard for McMillan Park Covenants

A view of McMillan Park in autumn.

A view of McMillan Park in autumn.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation added its testimony today in strong opposition to the most recent plans submitted by Vision McMillan Partners to develop historic landmark McMillan Park. The Trust’s statement joined dozens of testimonial letters voicing disapproval of the revised plans due to their failure to maintain the historic character of the site, which was constructed in 1904.

“The National Trust remains extremely troubled by the fact that the development plans completely disregard the binding historic preservation covenants that conditioned the sale
of the McMillan Reservoir site from the GSA to the City in 1987,” said Elizabeth Merritt, Deputy General Counsel of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Ellicottdale Arch, Franklin Park, an Olmsted Park in Boston, MA. Olmsted National Historic Site, photo courtesy NPS  National Association of Olmsted Parks.

Ellicottdale Arch, Franklin Park, an Olmsted Park in Boston, MA. Olmsted National Historic Site, photo courtesy NPS National Association of Olmsted Parks.

The DC Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) received testimony before their public hearing today to determine if the Vision McMillan Partners’ revised plan upheld the site’s historic character. McMillan Park–originally the McMillan Sand Filtration Plant–was designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted Jr. to serve as the city’s first water filtration plant.

John Singer Sargent,  Portrait of Frederick Law Olmsted. Olmsted's son designed McMillan park.

John Singer Sargent, Portrait of Frederick Law Olmsted. Olmsted’s son designed McMillan Park.

Olmsted Jr., whose father designed Central Park, created the site as part of the US Senate Park Commission’s comprehensive plan to preserve park space and provide for the recreation and health of the growing city.

 Parc Monceau, a 20-acred park in Paris, France. McMillan has drawn comparisons to the urban park.

Parc Monceau, a 20-acred park in Paris, France. McMillan’s potential has drawn comparisons to the urban park.

The HPRB received letters from a large contingency of neighbors, DC citizens, architects, and preservation groups, including the Sierra Club and the National Association for Olmsted Parks, objecting to the destruction of the site’s historic character, which is composed in part by rolling green hills and ivy-covered towers. These letters are part of the pubic record and should be accessible soon.

“Why would the city choose to build on a park, any park, let alone a park of great significance?” asked one writer. Others called for an international competition to develop a new plan for reviving McMillan and utilizing its underground infrastructure. “Act like a world-class city.  Make no small plans. Let’s build for the ages; let’s honor this historic place,” concluded one letter writer.

Seattle Gas Works Park, a 20-acre reclaimed industrial space now used as an urban park and once slated for demolition.

Seattle Gas Works Park, a 20-acre reclaimed industrial space once slated for demolition and now used as an urban park. Architect Richard Haag realized that the site contained the last gas works and a unique opportunity for preservation.

Call to Action – Please Send McMillan Park Testimony to HPRB by October 30th

Dear Supporters:

We need your help.

We’ve reached a critical moment in the Gray Administration’s plan to destroy historic landmark McMillan Park and replace it with a plan designed by Vision McMillan Partners (VMP). The DC Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) will consider the Mayor’s latest development plans for the Park on October 31st in a public hearing at 10:45 AM.

To see the VMP’s new concrete box nightmare, click here.

The HPRB helped us slow the Mayor’s relentless push to overdevelop the Park back in June, raising concerns that the development plan fails to preserve the Park’s historic character. We need to flood the HPRB with public comments once more to let the Board know that this concrete monstrosity represents an unacceptable destruction of a historic Olmsted park. Please send your written testimony to HPRB in advance and attend the hearing to testify in person if possible.

Below we’ve included a sample email for you to send to HPRB, plus a list of points that you can use to tailor your letter.

Help us send the message to the HPRB that this development plan is unacceptable for a Park that is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places—our great city and our historic landmark deserve better!

Are you available to testify in person at the HPRB hearing on Thursday? Here’s what you need to know: The hearing will take place at 441 4th Street NW, Room 220 South (Metro: Red line, Judiciary Square station). Please bring printed copies of your testimony for the Board if possible. If you have any questions, please contact or 202.234.0427.

Here’s a sample email to send the HPRB:



Subject: McMillan Park Reservoir Historic District, HPA #13-318

Dear Members of the Historic Preservation Review Board:

I urge the Historic Preservation Review Board to reject Vision McMillan Partners revised master plan, design guidelines, and building designs proposed for McMillan Park Reservoir Historic District (HPA #13-318). The VMP revisions would be a visual blight on the neighborhood. The height, scale, and designs of the proposed buildings are inappropriate for the open McMillan Park site and are inconsistent with the overall character, sense of place, aesthetics, and historic vistas of this distinctive national landmark Olmsted park and engineering marvel. The proposed building designs are also incompatible with the site’s existing historic buildings and with its above- and below-ground historic structures.

Specifically, [insert your favorite points from the list of example design weaknesses provided here etc].

Open space is so important to the historic sense of place at McMillan Park that any infill development would be inappropriate. Would you subdivide all the scarce few Olmsted parks left in the District of Columbia? Please reject this application.


[Your Name]


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The InTowner: Historic McMillan Park Site in Bloomingdale Set for Big Development

Neighbors Object to Plan, Seek to Retain and Restore Open Space

By Mike Persley


One day, early in 1989, Kirby Vining got a knock on his door. Two men, Tony Norman and Darryl Jordan, both residents of the Bloomingdale neighborhood, stood out front and asked “Do you know what the city is planning to do with that right over there?,” they asked, pointing toward the old water filtration plant which had been fenced off from the public since World War II.

He didn’t. But he was curious.

The two men spoke about the history of the park, about the people of the neighborhood that used to play there, and about the beautiful features that were still intact.

As it turned out, the city was making plans to turn the old 25-acre site, McMillan Park, into a shopping center, with a K-Mart and other retail stores.

The site had not been in use since 1986, when the Army Corp of Engineers, the land’s previous owners, updated to a newer water filtration system.

No longer in need of the site’s towers or 20 underground caverns, the Engineers, in 1987, offered the city a deal: The land could be sold to the District for one dollar if it decided to keep the site as a park, or the city could pay $9.3 million if it chose to develop it. The city chose the latter.

Vining was not prone to activism, but something about McMillan stuck with him. Resistance to the city’s plan was building. Some people within Bloomingdale thought that the site’s historical value should be preserved.

McMillan was the city’s first water treatment plant, built in 1905, and played an important element in the city’s water supply system, preventing the spread of typhoid and other water-borne diseases.

It was built as a part of the 1902 McMillan Plan, which, under the guidance of Michigan Senator James McMillan and the United States Park Commission, sought to finish the vision of architect Pierre L’Enfant by bringing in such prominent designers associated with the “City Beautiful” movement as planner Daniel Burnham, architect Charles McKim, landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmsted, Jr., and sculptor Augustus Saint Gaudens. The site also served as one of the first de facto racially-integrated parks in the District.

Even today, over 60 years after the park was fenced off during World War II to protect the city’s water supply, if you stand at the center of its prominent vista, you’ll find a gorgeous view the National Basilica to the northeast, Howard University’s Independence Hall to the west, and the Capitol and  Washington monument to the south.

The site’s most prominent feature, the underground caverns where thousands of gallons of water were once stored, vary in condition from unusable to well-preserved. They are battered from 30 years of no maintenance, but some are arguably suitable for restoration and preservation. They are under any condition undeniably beautiful.

And so the McMillan Park Committee was formed, a group of about 10-12 Bloomingdale residents, holding weekly meetings in Vining’s living room, hoping to maintain the site as a park and avoid having it turned into a suburban-like shopping complex.

The committee won its first early battle when in 1991 the park was listed on the DC Inventory of Historic Sites. This new historic landmark status all but threw out the city’s plans to build the shopping center, and has hindered many proposed plans since. And just this year, the park was also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Through the ‘90s, the park sat largely still, with only faint talk of development. In 2000, though, the city began to feel out ideas. It turned to the architectural departments at Howard and Catholic Universities, both of which sit less than a mile away from the park, to come up with a design.

Catholic’s plan proposed that the majority of the above ground area remain open, with a small area of row houses built on the north end, an urban beach on the southeast end where the caverns were clearly irreparable, but with the majority of the development moved undergroundinto the remaining, usable caverns.

Miriam Gusevich, a professor of architecture at Catholic who worked on the original design and has since proposed an updated version, remembers the response by the neighborhood to the plan.

“There was a meeting where everyone came together and showed their ideas, and when people saw ours they got really excited,” she said.

The city was skeptical, particularly that the caverns’ unreinforced concrete was structurally sound enough to permit their new, adaptive re-use.

Gusevich denied this to be an issue. “The dome in the Pantheon of Rome is unreinforced concrete; it was built in 126 A.D and is still standing,” she said. She also argued there are tested products that can repair and add reinforcement to concrete installations at a low cost.

Nevertheless, the plan soon fell by the wayside, and shortly after, the land was given to the National Capital Revitalization Corporation (NCRC), a development agency created by the city, in a land swap deal involving riverfront property along the Anacostia and the construction of the Nationals baseball stadium.

By 2007, the city had dissolved the NCRC, reestablished control over the property, and quickly awarded the project to a team of developers, now known as Vision McMillan Park(VMP), to design new space for housing and retail on the site.


When word of the Vision McMillan Partner’s design plan got out, out too, came the old bystanders from the McMillan Park Committee, who have since changed their name to the more descriptive Friends of McMillan Park.

Along with Kirby Vining, Tony Norman, Darryl Jordan, and the rest, came an ever-enlarging group. Today, in addition to the hundreds of people who subscribe to their list-serve, Friends of McMillan Park has upwards of 20 of its members who do the group’s day-to-day work. They have held numerous town hall meetings, posted flyers, and even built a website — all to bring awareness to their cause.

Hugh Youngblood, an environmental engineer who served as an advisory neighborhood commissioner from between 2011 and 2012, was brought in by other commissioners in the neighborhood. “They would all talk about this place, and what they wanted to do to it, and I knew I had to get involved,” he says.

Professor Miriam Gusevich of Catholic University’s architecture department has updated her original plan and it has largely been adopted by the Friends as their vision for the park.

In it remains the small portion of housing and retail on the north side, the urban beach, and development underneath in the caverns. Added now is an ambitious underground community center which would include a swimming pool, wading pools, tennis and basketball courts, among other facilities.

In the past few months, the Friends have collected nearly 6,000 signatures on a petition asking that the city at least consider its alternative plan, but to this point there has been no response.

At the very least, most of the Friends are flexible in what they want for the site so long as it’s historical features are left intact.

At the recent National Capitol Planning Commission’s public meeting on September 25th, Office of Planning Director Harriet Tregoning said in her remarks “We’re not proposing building on parks.” But in fact, as pointed out by Kirby Vining in an October 6th posting in TheMail which is published twice-weekly on, the city is planning to erect 13-story office buildings, among other [commercial and residential] structures on historic McMillan Park.”

At a town hall meeting at St. Martin’s church on September 14, 2013, John Salatti, a former advisory neighborhood commissioner who has been involved with the Friends since 2006, argued, “We’re not against all development. We’re just against the wrong kinds of development.”

The wrong kind would be the Vision McMillan Partners (VMP) plan, which would demolish the majority of the underground caverns in order to build town homes, an apartment building, a grocery store and other retail space.

To be fair, VMP, which has brought its plan before the Historic Preservation Board several times since it was awarded the site in 2007, though so far has failed to meet the board’s requirements, has made what seems to be a good faith effort to adjust its plans.

From its original plan, VMP has increased the size of the park, restored the Olmsted Walk on the outer border, added a recreation/community center, a garden, and water features.

As Tania Jackson, outreach coordinator for VMP points out, “The issue is that their plan (as they point out themselves) is a concept that is based on design ideas alone, done without study of the site or any engineering and condition reports.”

Indeed, the Friends have not conducted studies on either their plan’s cost nor feasibility. This omission could be the largest hindrance to potential for development.

John Salatti all but admitted the struggle: “The city is trying to get the train out of the station.  . . . We’re just trying to get the train not to leave the station.”


The writer, Mike Persley, a resident of the Bloomingdale neighborhood, is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago where he majored in political science, and is now studying for his Masters degree at the University of Maryland’s Phillip Merrill College of Journalism.

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Bowser to Meet with Friends of McMillan Park

Mayoral candidate Councilmember Muriel Bowser has agreed to meet with a delegation from Friends of McMillan Park (FOM) to hear the organization’s call for her to support preservation of McMillan Park.  The Friends delivered a formal meeting request on Thursday evening at the Bowser Ward 5 campaign kickoff that occurred in the heart of Bloomingdale on 1st and Bryant Streets, NW, just one block south of McMillan.

At the campaign event, a number of Bowser’s supporters signed the FOM petition to save McMillan Park, joining the more than 5,000 other signatories from across the District. Bowser, however, declined to sign it. Councilmember Jack Evans has signed the petition.

Bowser Campaign Event in Bloomingdale

During the upcoming meeting with Bowser, FOM plans to ask her to oppose Mayor Gray’s plan to surplus McMillan Park, to closely examine the unusual relationship between his Administration and its development consultant (Vision McMillan Partners), and to support an international design competition for the adaptive reuse of the historic Olmsted park.  FOM will also ask Bowser again to sign the petition.