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.
The Mayor’s Minions
DC’s Mayor, and her agents, like those at DMPED and Historic Preservation Office have proclaimed that McMillan Park is ‘unsafe’ going as far to say that if people played soccer on the site they would fall through roof of the underground water vaults. This is misleading and untrue.
As it had been for decades, the vast majority of the park has been safe for public access. 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.
Moreover, these minions in public-service disguise have attempted to STEAL OUR PARK but we have caught them before its too late!
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 for less practical reasons.
After the Hurd vs. Hodge Supreme Court decision of 1948 that eliminated covenants in real estate deeds that excluded homeowners by race and religion (thus ending a key practice that prevented persons of color from being able to purchase homes), the city coincidentally fenced and gated the entire area, even though wartime had ended, in an apparent effort to deny this park to the area’s new African-American residents.
The federally owned reservoir side of the McMillan district likely retained the protective fencing for security reasons, but why is the fence still up on the city-owned side, where there is no longer any city water and thus no water security issue? Although, the McMillan waterworks could once again be employed in response to climate emergencies, or can be repurposed as DC Water has recently demonstrated.
DC Buys the Land
When D.C. Purchased McMillan Park from the Federal Government the McMillan sand filtration site purified city water until 1986. It was subsequently de-commissioned, and a chemical water-treatment facility nearby took over that task.
The federal government determined that it had no purpose for the decommissioned water filtration site and park and so sold it to the District for $9.3 million. The deed transferring the property to the District contained a covenant that obligated the District and any successor owners of the land contemplating development of the site to proceed in accordance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Historic Preservation.
Since that time, 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.
Historically Failed Projects
First, a strip mall with a Kmart was proposed, and then a prison. The city’s 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 all but 6.2 acres of the contiguous open space above for the construction of high-rise buildings and townhouses.
The Vision McMillan Partners development plan is still being challenged now, at both the judicial level and administrative levels.