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Constitution Avenue Almost Renamed Franklin or L’Enfant Avenue

Constitution Avenue used to be named B Streets. That wasn't impressive enough so Congress had a few options.
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We wrote a while ago about the history behind Constitution Avenue. Doing a little more digging, we have come up with a great addendum to that post, with a little more backstory on the second-place names.

Washington Post - May 21st, 1930
Washington Post – May 21st, 1930

Below is an interesting story printed in The Washington Post on May 21st, 1930.

B street northwest should be renamed, the District Commissioners yesterday told the House District committee in discussing a bill now before that committee, but it should be named Washington or Lincoln avenue and not L’Enfant avenue, as the bill provides.

Since that street will be the ceremonial street of the National Capital, supplanting historic Pennsylvania as the street of state parades, funerals and marches, the present name seems out of place. The present B street will run by the new Government buildings which will be erected or which are under construction at the present time.

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“It is fitting,” the Commissioners said, “that the street should be given a name more dignified and more appropriate than the name it has at present, but we should give it a name relating more to something in our national history. We should name a square or court directly related to the city plan for the French planner, and leave this more important street for America to remember her greatest men by.”

I wouldn’t exactly call this xenophobic, but more of an Americentric view. Obviously, we know what happened, with the eventual name, and Pierre L’Enfant eventually did get a large part of the District named for him, albeit a pretty bleak 1960s-ish part that looks like brutalist East Germany.

Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC
Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC

A letter to the editor the following day mentioned a few other names in the running, focusing on notable presidents, rather than the Frenchman.

To the Editor of The Post–Sir: Opposing the bill to change the name of B street northwest to L’Enfant avenue, the District Commissioners remark:

“It would be more fitting that B street should be given a name directly associated with some great person in our national history, such as Washington or Lincoln, and that a more suitable memorial to Maj. L’Enfant might be found in some square or court directly related to the city plan.”

I think it would be well to limit Federal City memorial to individuals conspicuous in the maturing period of our national growth. How they have been neglected will be seen as we call to mind a few.

Among the ardent and fiery spirits who blazed the way, except for whom there would have been no American Revolution, were Jefferson, Henry, Otis, Hancock, Samuel Adams.

Framers of the Constitution (constitutional engineers they might now be called), Hamilton, Madison, Jay.

Proponents of a sane and forceful nationalism, Marshall, Monroe.

Representatives of American genius and culture in the bud, Whittier, Longfellow, Holmes, Lowell, Emerson, Irving, Hawthorne.

English friends of the Colonies, Burke, Chatham.

French friends of America, Lafayette, Rochambeau.

There is Franklin, publicist, clear-sighted counselor, revolutionary sage, whose name leads all the rest.

in keeping with the foregoing suggestion a suitable memorial of L’Enfant should, of course, be erected.


Another letter to the editor that year emphatically urged for the adoption of Memorial Boulevard as the new name. The proposal was in line with the new bridge being built on the back side of the Lincoln Memorial, linking Arlington to the District. That bridge would be called Memorial Bridge.

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