Why Is It Named Constitution Avenue?

Not too long ago, the main drag through Washington, on the north side of the Mall, adhered to the structured naming convention of this city. It was B St. NW.

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Constitution Avenue
Constitution Avenue

Wisconsin Congressman Henry A. Cooper didn’t feel the name suited a central and important boulevard in the nation’s capital. The Mall was undergoing significant redevelopment and Cooper put forth a bill to give the thoroughfare a more impressive name.

Henry A. Cooper
Henry A. Cooper

Representative Cooper was seeking a name that would reflect the magnificent stature of B Street, yet this was not without a fair number of challenges. In July of 1930, the D.C. Commissioners would not give their support to renaming the street.

The District Commissioners yesterday refused to give their approval to the proposal or representative Cooper, of Wisconsin, to change the name of B street northwest to Constitution avenue. The proposal was contained in a resolution introduced in the House and sent to the Commissioners for a report. Constitution avenue is one of several names which it has been proposed to give to B street.

The street, when the Government building project is completed, will be a great ceremonial street, the Commissioners said, and agreed that it “should be given a name commensurate with its dignity and importance and  directly associated with some great person in our national history,” but of the many names which have been suggested the Commissioners said they “do not desire to express a choice.”

Fast forward through the fall and into the next year, momentum was building and sufficient support was garnered to rename B street. Below is an article from the February 10th, 1931 Washington Post.

The bill to rename B street, the ceremonial street in the center of the Mall development program, Constitution avenue, was ordered favorably reported yesterday by the Senate District committee.

The bill, sponsored by Representative Henry Allen Cooper (Republican), Wisconsin, was passed by the House last Saturday. Representative Allen was the only witness before the Senate committee when his bill was under consideration. He discussed the suggestion that the avenue be named Jefferson avenue in honor of Thomas Jefferson.  Paying high tribute to the author of the Constitution, Mr. Cooper said there should be erected a great memorial to Jefferson and the naming of B street Constitution avenue was in itself a tribute to Jefferson.

It’s quite interesting to imagine the street being named Jefferson Avenue, although that’s an equally grand name in my opinion. Cooper was right about the memorial for Jefferson, but construction on a monument to our third president did not begin until 1939, near the tidal basin, and was finally completed in 1943.

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Department of Labor at 14th St. and Constitution Ave. NW (1935)
Department of Labor at 14th St. and Constitution Ave. NW (1935)

A couple weeks later, President Herbert Hoover signed the bill into law, officially changing the name to Constitution Avenue.

President Hoover signed two measures of interest to the District of Columbia yesterday., one was the joint resolution to change the name of B street to Constitution avenue and the other an act authorizing $100,000 for the District of Columbia Commission for the George Washington Bicentennial.

Sadly, a few days later, on March 1st, Henry Cooper died in his hotel room, accompanied by his wife. He was 80 years old.

  • While Thomas Jefferson’s name was not used in renaming B St NW (to Constitution Ave. NW), it was used for naming one of the 4 drives on the National Mall. The 4 streets ran from 3rd St NW/SW to 15th Sts NW/SW. Adams Dr. & Washington Dr. were 2 pretty tree lined roads that beautified our Mall. I believe it was in the mid 1970’s, Adams Dr SW and Washington Dr NW were turned into gravel walkways. It is no where as pretty now as it was then! Gravel and dead grass most of the time. But now and tonight that whole area will be very entertaining and exciting with all the July 4th festivities going on!

  • And the most important thing….Congrats and Happy 6th month anniversary!

  • Tim

    What I take from the first quote is not that the Commissioners did not support renaming B St., but that they did not want to support any particular name.

  • Ernie

    I find it most interesting that Rep. Cooper apparently thought that Jefferson was the author of the Constitution, and that no one seemed to call him on this. Yet today they bemoan that our history and civics education is slipping…

  • Connie

    Everything I read says that Thomas Jefferson did not write the constitution; he was not a member of the Constitutional Convention.