From the beginning . . .
United States Navy Memorial . . .

Crown Jewel of America's Main Street, Pennsylvania Avenue

Fulfilling Different Dreams for Different People

Washington is the town where people bring their dreams to make them come true. They may call their dreams ``agendas'' or ``programs,'' but they're dreams all right. Typically, some dreams conflict, but more typically they attach themselves to one another, unrelated except in combination as their best chance of coming true.

The U. S. Navy Memorial is a product of such unconnected dreams‹unconnected as to time, space, purpose or the dreamers themselves. Somehow they got connected and came true.

The first dreamer was architect Pierre L'Enfant, whose plans for the nation's capital included a column ``to celebrate the first rise of the Navy and consecrate its progress and achievements.''

The second dreamer was President John F. Kennedy, who inspired the establishment of the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation to restore the Avenue to a stature befitting ``Main Street, U. S. A.''

The third dreamer was Admiral Arleigh A. Burke, World War II war hero and former three-term Chief of Naval Operations, who, in the Spring of 1977, declared, ``We have talked long enough about a Navy Memorial and it's time we did something about it.''

Those are the three dreams, apparently all that was necessary for the Navy Memorial. Except for the work.

When Admiral Burke spoke, others listened, including Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, another former CNO and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and then-current CNO Admiral James L. Holloway III. The U. S. Navy took up the matter then referred it to private sector friends of the Navy, Navy retirees and Naval Reservists wearing their civilian hats to establish, in 1977, the private, non-profit U. S. Navy Memorial Foundation.

Within a year, under the presidency of Rear Admiral William Thompson, USN (Ret.), the Foundation undertook a drive to achieve five objectives necessary in the building of a memorial in Washington: enabling legislation, design, site selection, fund raising and construction and maintenance.

The Foundation was able to secure Congressional sponsorship for legislation to authorize construction of the Navy Memorial on public land in the District of Columbia. Congress authorized the Memorial in 1980, with the stipulation that funding come solely from private contributions. Public Law 96-199, an omnibus bill for the Department of the Interior, was signed into law in March 1980 by President Jimmy Carter, a former Navy lieutenant.

Paralleling the legislative process, the Foundation dealt with the design of the memorial-to-be. How and where do you build a Navy memorial on land? What is an adequate representation or symbol? Capital designer L'Enfant chose a column, a popular 18th-century form of architectural adulation, to be located on the banks of the Potomac River. But a column isn't too functional, and early on, the Foundation sought a memorial that would be functional as a ``living memorial,'' specifically that would provide a concert stage to be used by all the military bands based in Washington.

The Foundation then ``discovered'' the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation, and together, the two organizations brought their dreams together in the selection of Market Square as the site for the Navy Memorial, to help fulfill PADC's dream of bringing life back to Pennsylvania Avenue. In partnership with PADC, the Foundation participated in the selection of Conklin Rossant architects of New York.

The architects' first design was a massive arch, a Washington version of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. All but one of the approving agencies thought the arch would be just wonderful, but the National Capital Planning Commission rejected the plan, a blow and a blessing to the struggling Foundation. However, instead of caving in after this demoralizing setback, Rear Admiral Thompson and his lieutenants returned to the drawing boards and came up with a concept for the design that was to become the Navy Memorial you see today.

Instead of a massive and costly arch that blocks an important vista across Pennsylvania Avenue, the Navy Memorial offers the low and subtle profile of a 100-foot diameter amphitheater and plaza, whose deck is a granite map of the world, surrounded by fountains and pools.

``To passers-by, the appearance of the Memorial is not unlike that of America's perceptions of the sea,'' says Admiral Thompson. ``Even though it is vast and broad and unmistakably there, you could miss seeing it if you are not paying attention. But when you walk on to the site, it engulfs you with its scale and grandeur.''

The total area of the Navy Memorial is 53,879 square feet, with a supporting foundation of 3,543 cubic yards of concrete and 150 tons of reinforcing steel. The Memorial is covered with 5,112 pieces of cut stone, mostly granite, weighing a total of 860 tons.

Meantime, the Foundation selected a sculptor, Stanley Bleifeld of Connecticut, and, it was later learned, a Navy veteran who illustrated training manuals during World War II. Bleifeld refined the seascape plaza concept and introduced to it the first sketches of a solitary figure, a sailor, later dubbed by the Foundation the Lone Sailor. Additional sketches would follow, including those of a sailor and his family for The Homecoming statue located in the Visitors Center.

Geographic, architectural and artistic issues aside, the Foundation was all the while engaged in raising funds for the Memorial, through the creation of the Navy Memorial Log and a corporate giving program. By the opening of the Visitors Center in 1991, log enrollments (representing minimum contributions of $25 per name) had exceeded 180,000 names. Log enrollments continue to be accepted today and will be accepted as long as the Memorial exists.

By December 1985, the Foundation had raised enough funds to warrant a go-ahead approval from the Secretary of the Interior, and construction got underway the following month. (The Foundation staff and Board of Directors had raised $18-million by opening day of the Visitors Center, and fund raising continues today, to retire remaining construction debt and support educational programs undertaken by the Foundation.)

By August 1987, Stanley Bleifeld completed work on the Lone Sailor statue as construction of the Memorial neared completion at the site.

October 13, 1987 was the long awaited official dedication of the U. S. Navy Memorial, the 212th birthday of the United States Navy. The Navy brought out the big guns on the portico of the National Archives across the street from the Memorial: the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of the Navy, the Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, the Chief of Naval Operations, the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy. Nearly all of their living predecessors gathered in the audience, including Admiral Arleigh A. Burke. A far larger throng were Navy veterans from all over America.

The Memorial came to life that blustery October day, but not many visitors returned to the Memorial until the following summer of 1988, with the premiere of ``Concerts on the Avenue,'' a weekly series of evening concerts by the U. S. Navy Band and other service bands and their supporting units in the Washington area. ``Concerts on the Avenue'' have rapidly become a permanent and popular summertime tradition on the Washington scene.

From late 1987 to mid-1990, builders erected two commercial mixed-use buildings on the northern perimeter of the Memorial. The eastern-most of the two buildings was selected for the Memorial's 24-thousand square foot Visitors Center. The building's shell was sufficiently completed by September 1989 to permit contractors to begin fitting out the Visitors Center. Occupying leased space on the ground floor and concourse level below it, the Visitors Center houses a magnificent motion picture theater, a Ship's Store, the U. S. Presidents Room and the Navy Memorial Log Room.

At long last, the Visitors Center opened in June 1991 and was formally dedicated on October 12, 1991, during the Navy Birthday weekend. The Memorial and its Visitors Center will continue to evolve over the next few years, becoming, in the eyes of one founder, ``the crown jewel of Pennsylvania Avenue.'' For now, the dream is fulfilled, if not paid for, as the key elements of a great and wonderful Memorial are drawn together as surely connected as the separate dreams of an 18th-century architect, a President of the United States and a distinguished Navy admiral.

Taken from the web page of the Navy Memorial Foundation at


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