DC Mythbusting*: Washington Monument On Axis

The Washington Monument is not on axis!

The Washington Monument is not on axis!

 I admit it, I’m definitely a perfectionist.  I’m a big fan of symmetry and straight lines and order.  I think that’s one of the reasons I like DC so much– L’Enfant’s plan is so orderly, with the important sites marked by radiating avenues, and the clear axis of power coming straight down the Mall.  But something has always bothered me– the center of the White House doesn’t look like it lines up with the Washington Monument.  Why, in a city so based on order and symmetry and strong axes, does the Washington Monument not line up?!

Because the ground right at the intersection of the center of the White House and the center of the Capitol was not strong enough to support such a giant structure.  Originally, L’Enfant had proposed a small equestrian statue of George Washingon at the intersection of the east-west axis of the Capitol and the north-south axis of the White House.  But plans changed, and the Washington Monument went there instead.  The Monument was larger and heavier than anything that L’Enfant had envisioned, so it had to be shifted off axis to avoid less solid, marshy ground.  The Monument now rests “about 300 feet southeast of the crossing point of L’Enfant’s two primary vistas” (from Grand Avenues, page 271).  Mystery solved!

So has anyone besides me noticed and been bothered by this?  Or am I the only one who will be sleeping easier tonight knowing that there’s a reason behind the off-axis placement of the Monument?

* Ok, so I realize this isn’t a myth exactly.  But it’s something that’s always bothered me about DC that I couldn’t figure out.  If you have a DC myth in mind that you’d like me to bust/confirm, please e-mail me at shannon (at) welovedc.com.  Thanks!

Shannon grew up in the greater DC area/Maryland suburbs, went to Virginia for college and grad school (go Hoos!), and settled in DC in 2006. She’s an urban planner who loves transit (why yes, that is her dressed as a Metro pylon for Halloween), cities, and all things DC. Email her at Shannon (at) WeLoveDC.com!

8 thoughts on “DC Mythbusting*: Washington Monument On Axis

  1. I’ve always been bothered by this…especially when I used to play kickball just West of the Monument. The lack of symmetrical order drove me crazy! What are the chance that you are a Virgo?

  2. Ah so glad I’m not the only one who is bothered by this! :) And I’m not a Virgo, but I’m a crazy perfectionist nontheless!

  3. I actually appreciate it – and I’m a Virgo. When you’re on the ellipse, you are able to get a clear view of the Jefferson Memorial as well as the Washington Monument.

    So – alignment fail, but awesome view success.

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