Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Law Enforcement Goes Underground in Judiciary Square


Judiciary Square will soon become a tourist mecca - once the new National Law Enforcement Museum is built on (or, rather, under) the 400 block of E Street, NW. Okay, it may not be the new go-to spot for tourists, but construction is expected to get underway nonetheless in the first quarter of 2009.

If all goes according to plan - in this case, the National Capital Framework Plan - the 90,000 square foot underground museum would extend under E Street and be accessible by two above-grade entry pavilions separated by a 100-foot wide shared plaza. Currently the site of a parking lot between District of Columbia Court Building C and United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Services, the plaza would make Judiciary Square a new draw for tourists - and give deadbeats something to do while waiting for their turn in the docket - and serve as a “natural extension” of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, already located in the square.

The placement of the museum next to the memorial that inspired it is no coincidence. The genesis of the project came in 2000, when Congress and President Bill Clinton enacted a measure calling for the establishment of such a museum. Fundraising endeavors were then passed off to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund and the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) in their roles as de facto developer, which got to work clearing the project with the seemingly endless list of local and federal authorities with overlapping jurisdictional interests.

Eight years and a million feet of red tape later, the museum will finally begin construction in 2009. Utilizing designs by Davis Buckley Architects and Planners, the museum will sport exhibition rooms, a gift shop, a theater and an underground atrium with skylights that peek into the plaza above. The mission of the museum will be to be lead visitors on a journey from “the first days of the night watch in the 1600’s” up to today’s high-tech era of CSI-styled detective work. Using exhibits designed by Christopher Chadbourne and Associates, the museum will highlight “historical artifacts, manuscripts, books, oral histories and other information that chronicle the development of America's civil society.” Or it might be like the aborted City Museum, a multi-dollar downtown museum that resulted in too few tourists too make it financially viable.

Then again, maybe not. Marcello Muzzatti, an officer with the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and President of the Fraternal Order of Police of Washington, DC (DC-FOP), testified before the City Council this week regarding the project and has no doubts about its potential. "[Ward 2 Councilman] Jack Evans is really in favor of it because he knows it's a whole marketing strategy for downtown," said Muzzatti. "You've got the Spy Museum, the [Koshland] Science Museum, the Newseum - all that area, in the past 10 years, has just exploded. It is going to bring more visitors into Washington, DC and our museum, you have to understand, is completely unique."


The project has finally been approved by all the agencies with a finger in the development pie (District of Columbia Office of Planning, National Parks Service, US Commission of Fine Arts, etc.). All that now remains is to begin spending the $80 or so million that has been donated by prominent benefactors such as Panasonic, DuPont and Motorola (in exchange for product placement within the museum, of course), and police organizations such as the DC-FOP and the MPD (who recently organized a 5K run that raised $10,000 for the project). Fundraising is still very much underway and the NCPC is currently working with the adjacent courts to develop a perimeter security plan that is satisfactory to all. Clark Construction will serve as the general contractor once the project goes to ground.

For those who care, the oldest of the Judiciary Square buildings is the Old Courthouse, designed by architect George Hadfield, and originally intended to be the District's city hall. The courthouse was built in stages from 1820 and 1849. Maybe when it’s complete, they can slap the museum on tour including the Navy Memorial, the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Building Museum and explore the unmined history of the rest of the Village People. Okay, maybe not, but think about it.

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