McMillan Park: A Jewel in DC’s Emerald Necklace & symbol of DC’s City Beautiful Movement.
The McMillan Sand Filtration Site, Park, and Reservoir, with its system of underground vaults for water purification, is the last such facility of its kind extant in the U.S.
In 1991, the 25-acre park land was added to the D.C. Inventory of Historic sites, putting it under the protection of the city’s very strong Historic Preservation Act, and in 2013, the entire McMillan campus was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
A Public Land Grab That Serves Private Interests
Some administrators went as far to say that if people played soccer on the site they would fall through roof of the underground water vaults.
The unsubstantiated statements made by officials about the weak structural integrity of McMillan Park’s historic assets is misleading yet sets the false premise to give away this public site to private interests.
Neighborhood tours of the park were given for many years without incident. And on New Years Day 2015, the Freshstart McMillan Cup soccer match was held at our park. And that same year, supporters held an underground party. There was also a Fourth of July Party held in 2016. Regular tours around the site continue to this day.
Some city officials think this is their park and want to turn it over to their friends in the real estate developer-class. They will come up with any story to help STEAL OUR PARK but we have caught them before its too late!
Amazing History of McMillan Park
The McMillan Sand Filtration Site and Park, located at the corner of Michigan Avenue and North Capitol Street, NW, in Washington D.C., served to filter and purify our capital city’s water beginning at the turn of the 19th century during an era of rampant, fatal water-borne diseases like typhoid. The Washington Aqueduct leads to McMillan Park.
Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., the famous landscape architect who designed the grounds of McMillan, cleverly concealed the water purification facility beneath a public park for the surrounding communities to enjoy.
The entire park, opened to the public about 1912, served as the city’s first and only de facto integrated park until the beginning of World War II (when it was fenced to protect the water supply from enemy sabotage). After the war, McMillan Park was re-opened for a short time but was soon fenced again.
THE RACIST FENCE AT MCMILLAN
Some believe the fence surrounding McMillan Park was put up for explicitly racist reasons, that is those on the Hill didn’t want the Black families moving into the area to be able to access the open green parklands ever again.
Perhaps the fence was a reaction to the huge victory in the Hurd vs. Hodge Supreme Court decision of 1948 that eliminated land covenants in real estate deeds excluding homeowners by race and religion (thus ending a key practice that prevented persons of color from being able to purchase homes).
It was soon after this critically import civil rights judgement that Federal operatives ensured McMillan Park was fenced and gated in perpetuity even though wartime had ended. This appears to be a distinct effort at that time to deny this park to the area’s new African-American residents.
Fast Forward: The City of DC Purchases the Land from the US Government
The sand filtration plant underneath McMillan Park purified DC’s tap water straight through to 1986, when the sand filtration plant was de-commissioned and a chemical water-treatment facility nearby, in tandem with the treatment facility at Blue Plains, took over the task.
The Federal government determined that it had no purpose for the decommissioned site any longer and sold McMillan Park to the District for $9.3 million in 1987.
The deed transferring the property to the District contained restrictive land covenants that obligates the District and any successor owners of the land who may be contemplating development of the site, to proceed in accordance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Historic Preservation.
Since DC bought McMillan Park, neighbors, students, professionals, preservationists, and the District government have contemplated the possible future of this land, which offers scenic views of the Washington Monument and beyond.
Failed Projects Never Happen
After DC purchased McMillan Park, a strip mall with a Kmart was proposed, and then a prison. There was also an unsolicited bid for a monument to war dogs. These ideas largely went no where.
The most recent proposed development, initiated in 2007 by the city’s selected development partner, Vision McMillan Partners (VMP), including Trammel Crow and Jair Lynch (both companies looking to make hundreds of millions of dollars in pure profit), would demolish virtually all of the vaulted underground sand filtration chambers and privatize and eliminate most of the open space to construct high-rise buildings and townhouses.
There was no design competition regarding the currently proposed project.
A Successful Re-Purposing
What Now for McMillan and the Community?
On the table now sits the proposed McMillan Town Center, as it is known. 2+ million square feet of trophy office space and luxury condos and townhomes.
This plan is being pushed without any competitive bidding largely eschews the feedback and concerns of neighbors, residents, and people from around the city who like this public space.
We Want to Win a Fresh Start!
The Vision McMillan Partners development plan is still being challenged now, at both the judicial level and administrative levels.
The Save McMillan Action Coalition has regular meetings, volunteer opportunities, and ways to help save the park and historic site.
We want three things as shown in our petition:
- Halt the demolition, destroying the historic assets at McMillan is unlawful.
- Reopen the park now for all to enjoy (esp during a pandemic).
- Reset the plan, and hold an open design competition to entertain as many wonderful re-use ideas as possible!