Jill Biden Honors Jacqueline Kennedy’s Conservation Legacy

By AAMER MADHANI, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — First lady Jill Biden on Friday paid tribute to Jacqueline Kennedy, a predecessor 60 years ago, for her pivotal role in preventing the demolition of historic buildings in iconic Lafayette Square near the White House.

Biden helped the White House Historical Association, an organization that Kennedy co-chaired, unveil a medallion of the former first lady designed by American artist Chas Fagan in front of the association’s office on the plaza.

The wife of President John F. Kennedy is widely recognized for ushering in an emphasis on historic preservation in the White House during her 1,036 days as First Lady. She was instrumental in saving some of Lafayette Square’s buildings from the wrecking ball.

The square, just north of the White House, has become a rallying point for protesters over the years, from suffragists in the early 20th century to Vietnam protesters in the 1960s to Americans advocating for police reform in 2020.

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During quieter daily times, it is an urban oasis for tourists and for office workers on their lunch breaks.

The bas-relief of Kennedy sits in a new garden in front of the association’s office, known as the Decatur House. It includes one of her most famous quotes: “The White House belongs to the American people.”

Jill Biden, wife of President Joe Biden, said Kennedy worked to save the park and surrounding historic townhouses “because we all deserve to experience our rich history, the full, complex and beautiful story of who we are.”

“Together we open the doors of the people’s house wider and wider to welcome all those who are part of this nation,” she said.

Jacqueline Kennedy was an outspoken and effective critic of a plan in the early 1960s for a massive new modern office building to be erected on the square. The project would have seen several 19th-century townhouses bordering the park razed.

In 1961, her husband and the Commission for Fine Arts agreed on a design for the new office building, but a local civic group, known as the Committee of 100 in the Federal City, strongly opposed the idea.

The activists argued that the new office building should be placed behind the 19th-century townhouses, and that two taller and newer office buildings should be demolished. Members of the committee presented their plan to the president, published their views in the newspaper and even corresponded with Jacqueline Kennedy’s mother, according to the National Park Service.

The first lady let her husband know she was not a fan of what was proposed for the square, writing that it would be “the most inappropriate, violently modern building which would be a jarring note on the square.”

In 1962, President Kennedy hired architect John Carl Warnecke to find a better solution. Warnecke began with a historical survey of the square, paying more attention to context than previous architects, according to the National Park Service.

Eventually, the new federal offices were built behind the historic townhouses on the square, and in 1970 Lafayette Square was designated a National Historic Landmark District.

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