Lafayette Square Location Analysis

While most do not see the green square of Lafayette Park as much more than another monument in an area saturated with similar memorials, the space holds a rich history and speaks leagues of the areas disposition. The space, now called Lafayette Square, has not always technically been utilized as government property, the square has always been a staple of its surrounding community. Originally used as a cemetery, a racetrack, and even a slave market, Lafayette square was a public space used until it was purchased by the government in the 1700’s (Lafayette Square, Washington, DC). The space’s first official governmental purpose was to serve as the original construction site for the White House and then again for repairs after the British destruction during the War of 1812 (Lafayette Square, Washington, DC). Since then, the square has seen numerous changes, undergoing its latest update in 1970, when the square became an official historic landmark.

Lafayette Square, often referred to as Lafayette Park, originally went by the name of ‘President’s Park’ in the 1800’s, when it first became a landmark of significant use to it’s community (Lafayette Square, Washington, DC). Likely, the locations original name was a result of the proximity of what is now Lafayette Square to the white house and the National Mall. Marquis de Lafayette, for which the square was named, was a French revolutionary, holding a large role in the American Revolutionary war as well as revolutions in France, particularly, the revolution of 1789 and the July Revolution of 1830 (The Marquis de Lafayette). Lafayette, often referred to as “The hero of two worlds”, helped shape not only American as a country, the patriotism and attitude that has lived inside American citizens since the revolution. The square in his honor is home to five statues, one in each corner of the Square commemorating a significant European figure in the revolution and Andrew Jackson in the center on Horseback (Monuments to the American Revolution in Lafayette Park). One statue, situated at the corner of the square farthest from the White House, shows Lafayette standing above three other men in a position of triumph. This statue aligns clearly with his image of a successful revolutionary and greets you as you enter into the Square. The second statue is erected precisely in the middle of the square. This statue shows President Andrew Jackson sitting on his horse, his stance and positioning connoting less a sense of victory and more a sense of honor and patriotism and pride.

Two of the Squares monuments, while both the same in their message of honoring and patriotism, are entirely different in their structure and in their subliminal, covert messages. The placement of these statues and how they are situated so differently also symbolic in the meaning of the Square as a whole. The statue of Lafayette is situated in the Southwest corner of the park (Monuments to the American Revolution in Lafayette Park). The monument is not fenced off from the public. Tourists and locals alike can go as close to the statue as they would like, many even climbing onto the base of the structure to take photos or sit down. The statue is also incredibly close to the busy street, with strips of sidewalk bordering two of the four sides of the monument. The placement of the statute ensures that it is not the centerpiece of the Square while also creating a less monumental, sacred tone around the space that is so often seen in and around historical monuments. Unlike the placement and construction of the monument of Lafayette on the southwest corner of the square, the monument to President Andrew Jackson sits in the center of the square, eluding a very different message and level of importance. Fenced off and surrounded by a circular, pristine patch of grass, President Andrew Jackson sits on top of his horse. The parks guests are not permitted to pass through the fence that separates this monument for the rest of Washington D.C.. The closed off nature of the monument in comparison to the more open monument at the corner of the park, subliminally relays to the citizen that this central statue is to be viewed as something placed in the park, and the four corner statutes are to be experienced as a part of the park. As the first statue to be placed in the Square, its central location seems only logical. Though, the placement along with the fact that it is the only statue that passersby are not permitted to get close to as well as the fact that not only is it the only American depiction in the park but an American president says something different. While the Square is named for the French revolutionary who helped gain American independence, it is the American President who holds the dominant place in the square. This, matched with the placement of the Square in regards to the white house solidifies national dominance over foreign influence in the area. The few blocks surrounding Lafayette Square, speak of more nationalism, patriotism and American pride than almost any other space in the country. While this Square is named for a foreigner who helped fight for those three things, the foreign influence is far from overshadowing the American influence in the park, as seen through the monuments.

The square, to me, has a layered layout. The innermost layer of the park, The statue of President Andrew Jackson, depicts a core of American emphasis. As the first statue erected in the Square, the monument displayed a sense of dominance over its space, creating a museum in which the spectator viewed. The next layer, which would be installed in the years to come, consisted of four statues, each of foreign influence. This layer, while responsible for the naming of the Square, holds less physical influence over the space. The layer trades in the experience of viewing for a more holistic experience. The third layer, the surrounding area, which holds everything from the White House to Historic Washington DC homes. This layer corresponds with the core of the square, reinstating the American dominance of the space, despite it having been named for a foreign ally. I see this layering effect as a measure of containment. By creating a strong American presence on either side of the international Tribute that is the perimeter of Lafayette Square, the foreign tribute is politely contained to its space. The strength of the American history that resides over the space directly outside of the square as well as at the core keeps the tribute to Lafayette and other foreign dignitaries relatively minimal. This, along with the fact that the square is placed in an area that is so saturated with American monuments, history and symbolism, ensures that the strength of the American Presence in the area will far outheign the strength of the foreign presence.

While I do not see this layering effect of dominance and containment as particularly negative, the effect of it is certainly evident when looking at the Square by itself, and in connection to its surrounding environment. The monuments erected in honor of these men, Lafayette included,  do not extend passed the sidewalks in which the are situated next to. They are not tall enough to see from a great distance away as are other monuments, nor do they demand a great amount of space. All of the elements of the construction and the placement of these figures serves to pay tribute to their subjects, while not overpowering any aspect of American tribute or honor in the nearby area.

This is further emphasized by the fact that each of the foreign honoring statues subjects are being honored due to their service to the United States of America to begin with. This shows not only the containment of the foreign influence in their placement, but in their message as well. In this, not only is the layering effect in full force, but and intrinsic containment is also present. This containment, as I see it, is done to maintain consistency within the area that the park sits. As the very center of our nation’s capitol, the purpose of the area is, at its core, to convey the strength, patriotism and core of The United States of America. This message of strength would be undercut by a such a strong message of international aid. In maintaining this image of American national pride, strength and unity, the introduction of such a strong foreign presence would be contradictory and alter both the consistency of the space and the message of the area as a whole.

 

Works Cited

 

“Biography of the Marquis De Lafayette.” Ushistory.org, Independence Hall Association,

www.ushistory.org/valleyforge/served/lafayette.html. Accessed 27 Feb. 2017.

“Lafayette Square, Washington, DC.” GSA Home, www.gsa.gov/portal/content/214547.

“Monuments to the American Revolution in Lafayette Park.” The White House Historical Association , Library of Congress,

www.whitehousehistory.org/monuments-to-the-american-revolution-in-lafayette-park.

Accessed 26 Feb. 2017.

“Why ‘Lafayette’?” New Lafayette.org, 13 Aug. 2010,

www.newlafayette.org/lafayette-history/why-lafayette/. Accessed 27 Feb. 2017.

 

BED #5

This photo shows the edge of Lafayette Square, where a group of students all sitting in black sat on the front steps of a private building. This group sat on the steps for about thirty minutes before they all got up at once and started walking in the direction of the White House. Whether this was a tour or a protest of some sort, I found the meeting place to be significant. Not only did they all meet directly across from the Square, but they sat and stayed in those positions for quite a while.

BED #4

This photograph plays into many different aspects of Lafayette Square as a whole. Initially, I noticed the divide that the Square created in the geographical layout of the city. The Square serves to somewhat separate the political buildings from the more business oriented sector of the city. While this divide is not finite, it is definitely present. Another interesting thing I noticed about the park that can be found in the photograph is the amount of the park that is fenced off from the public. Many grass-covered areas or benches where fenced off from the general public, creating an environment where it would feel more natural to ‘walk through’ than to ‘linger’. This made the area seem less like that of a park and more like something to view.

BED #3

The second monument in honor of the revolutionary, Lafayette, stands in the middle of the square, enclosed inside of a fenced off, grass circle. Visitors cannot get as close to this monument as they can to his other statue, which they can climb on and touch. Unlike, the first monument, this was put in place in in the 1900s, 1924 exactly. This statue stays in line with the Washington Monument, which is visible directly behind the statue in this photograph. The enclosed nature of the statue as well as the placement in the square and in accordance to the Washington Monument gives this statue a more centric, important and historic feel.

BED #2

This statue, situated at the corner of the park, farthest from the White House and National Mall, depicts an image of Marquis de Lafayette, a key actor in both the American Revolutionary War as well as the French revolution of 1789. The respected revolutionary’s honorary statue was created in 1891. This was the first of two statues that would be created in his honor in Lafayette Square. This statue sits at the corner of the square, serving as somewhat of an entry mark to the park. It seemed the most natural way of walking in or out of the square involved passing by the large monument. The sculpture is also very hard to miss from the street in front of it. In passing, the first thing the eye is drawn to is the statue. This, matched with the powerful, stance of conquest that the statue of Lafayette displays, marks the square as seemingly more important or honorary than any other park or square.

 

BED #1

This photograph taken at Lafayette Square, shows a group of of young girls seated on a bench. Next to this group of females is a black homeless male, laying horizontally on another bench, presumably trying to sleep. On one hand teenagers can be found looking to find a nice place to sip their starbucks lattes, where on the other, a man tries to find somewhere to sleep because he has no home of his own. This side-by-side imagery captured the spectrum of people that can be found in Lafayette square in very close proximity. This disparity was heightened with the fact that this space shares a city block with the White Hous

Annotated Bibliography #1

 

Source 1:

“Lafayette Square, Washington, DC.” GSA Home,

www.gsa.gov/portal/content/214547.

In the U.S General Service Administration’s article on Lafayette Square in Washington DC, the GSA provides a detailed history of the park from its construction to present day. Additionally, this article notes the disparity between the historical uses of the park and the way that the park is used today. The article is written chronologically, beginning with the original use of the park in the 1700’s. These uses included a family graveyard, a zoo and a slave market among other things. The article then goes on to note the specific changes that certain presidents made to the square of the surrounding area. For example, President Thomas Jefferson who fenced off the square during his time in office. The article then takes us into the 1800’s and the rise of the square’s status, describing the area around the square and the way in which it was built up throughout the century. The status of those who lived around the square and the reputation of the area continued to rise. The article later describes the architects involved in making the square what it is today, as well as the stop put on the construction around the square due to its proximity to the white house.

I plan to use this source as a solid background source throughout my project. The article gives me a clear, chronological look on the timeline of Lafayette Square. This source also touches on external factors that have influenced the square throughout history, which will hopefully be useful when creating my project. Another aspect of this source that will most likely serve to help me when creating my project is the fact that it is relatively unbiased. The government nature of the site in which this article is posted leads me to believe that the piece is mostly fact based. Overall, I intend to use this article and what I learned while reading this article as a basis of information regarding the square as well as a good jumping off point.

Source 2:

Godfrey, Sarah. “Lafayette Park Is No Longer a Home for the Homeless – City Paper.”Lafayette Park

Is No Longer a Home for the Homeless – City Paper, 6 Aug. 2004,

www.prop1.org/history/2004/040806.dccitypaper.lafayettepark.Abandon%20Quip.htm.

The article, Lafayette Park is no Longer for the Homeless, by Sarah Godfrey, serves to illustrate the numerous ways in which past presidents have manipulated the square, in regards to homelessness, to fit their agenda. This piece, Godfrey examines the ways in which presidential nominees and presidents themselves used the well known homelessness in the square to their advantage, all the while the level of homelessness not changing. Godfrey goes on to highlight the image of inequality in America that the square exemplifies. For example, Godfrey notes the distance from the White House to the square, highlighting the difference between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. Godfrey further explains how the proximity of the most powerful, elevated place in the country to a square full of homeless people shows two opposite ends of the American socioeconomic spectrum.

I will most likely use this article when incorporating elements of demographic into my project. The different types of people that inhabit an area have a lot of influence over that area. This being said, if those inhabiting Lafayette Square differ greatly from those surrounding the square, it will be worth noting in my environmental analysis. I also like the way that this article brings up the bigger idea of the socioeconomic gap that is so prevalent in America today. I will hopefully incorporate this idea into my project in some way.