George Washington Bashes America's First Starchitect

A letter written by George Washington that is set to be auctioned by Christie's details the founding father's conflicting views of Pierre Charles L’Enfant, diva designer of the District of Columbia.
December 7, 2012, 10am PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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L’Enfant's visionary plan for a new capital city filled with "wide boulevards and lush public spaces" that "married European style with American egalitarianism," is admired by many in the District and in planning circles. However, L'Enfant's legendary temperament, which cost him the commission, was less admired by his peers, as Washington's letter makes clear.

"By the time Washington put quill to paper on that 30th day of November 1792, L’Enfant was already a source of controversy. Even though he’d drafted an impressive plan for the federal city, he’d been shoved aside amid bickering with the commission established to oversee construction," writes Manuel Roig-Franzia. In the letter to David Stuart, one of three members of the commission, "Washington tells Stuart that L’Enfant might be a good candidate [to complete the much-delayed project] — 'if he could have been restrained within proper bounds and his temper was less untoward.'”

"But Washington then pivots, noting that L’Enfant is 'the only person with whose turn to matters of this sort I am acquainted, that I think fit for it.'”

"Chris Coover, a senior specialist in rare books and manuscripts at Christie’s, reads in the letter an American president 'conflicted' over the designing genius. Impressed with his work, annoyed by his temperament, for, after all, L’Enfant was 'very arrogant . . . very full of himself.'”

The letter is expected to sell for as much as $400,000.

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Published on Thursday, December 6, 2012 in The Washington Post
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