Since the Civil War, the government has used the spaces of the Mall to support war efforts. During the Civil War, hospitals, Union army camps, and even livestock occupied the Mall. During both World Wars, government agencies expanded dramatically and built temporary offices and housing for Department of Defense workers along and across the Mall. Anti-aircraft guns and soldiers occupied the roofs of federal buildings to protect the city from a possible attack during World War II.
How has the federal government used the Mall during times of war?
The Mall was not a peaceful park for strolling or playing during the Civil War, but transformed into a busy military reservation. Soldiers camped on the South Lawn of the White House. Cattle grazed near the unfinished Washington Monument, destined to be food for the army. Wounded soldiers were brought to the Armory Square hospital, one of many built in Washington, which stood where the National Air and Space Museum is today.
During World War I, the federal government took over much of the Mall. Office buildings went up along 6th Street, where the National Museum of Air and Space and the National Gallery of Art are today. Others appeared in East Potomac Park and near the Lincoln Memorial. There were even proposals to build temporary housing between the Lincoln Memorial and the Potomac River. Although the museums and memorials remained open to the public, the Mall was visibly part of the work of a government at war.
World War II brought another wave of new federal employees to Washington, D.C., renewing the problems of insufficient office space and housing. Although some of the 'temporary' buildings from World War I were still standing, the government built more offices, surrounding the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool on three sides. Anti-aircraft guns were mounted throughout Washington, even in front of the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building. The dome of the Capitol, normally lit at night, went dark from December 1941 until the war's end in 1945.
Many of the new federal worker hired during both World Wars were young women. They worked in offices on the Mall, ate their lunch outside on the grass during the warmer months, and visited the museums and monuments for recreation. In addition to men in uniform manning the anti-aircraft guns, Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) pictured here, and other military women, worked and drilled near the Washington Monument. During World War II, military and civilian women were an integral part of life on the Mall.
After 1943, many Defense workers moved from offices on the Mall to the new Pentagon building in Virginia. Many, but not all, of the temporary buildings on the Mall were torn down. In 1969, President Richard Nixon ordered the demolition of the remaining 'temporary' buildings, which were the Navy Munitions buildings constructed for World War I between Constitution Avenue and the Reflecting Pool. Demolition began on July 15, 1970, with a ceremony attended by Navy officers during which the Navy Band played Auld Lang Syne as the wrecking ball took its first swing.