Lafayette Square is a seven-acre public park located directly north of the White House on H Street between 15th and 17th Streets, NW. The Square and the surrounding structures were designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1970. Originally planned as part of the pleasure grounds surrounding the Executive Mansion, the area was called “President’s Park”. The Square was separated from the White House grounds in 1804 when President Jefferson had Pennsylvania cut through. In 1824, the Square was officially named in honor of General Lafayette of France.
Lafayette Park has been used as a race track, a graveyard, a zoo, a slave market, an encampment for soldiers during the War of 1812, and many political protests and celebrations. The surrounding neighborhood became the city’s most fashionable 18th century residential area – home to a number of Washington personalities including Lincoln’s Secretary of State William Henry Seward and South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun. Andrew Jackson Downing landscaped Lafayette Square in 1851 in the picturesque style. Today’s plan with its five large statues dates from the 1930’s. In the center stands Clark Mills’ equestrian statue of President Andrew Jackson, erected in 1853; in the four corners are statues of Revolutionary War heroes: France’s General Marquis Gilbert de Lafayette and Major General Comte Jean de Rochambeau; Poland’s General Thaddeus Kosciuszko; Prussia’s Major General Baron Frederich Wilhelm von Steuben.
Buildings around Lafayette Square include: the White House, the Old Executive Office Building, the Department of the Treasury, St. John’s Episcopal Church, the Blair-Lee House, Decatur House, and the Renwick Gallery.
Other buildings around Lafayette Square include:
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) building, 810 Vermont Avenue, that was built in 1916 on the site of the distinguished Arlington Hotel (1868-1913). Veterans Affairs runs the nation’s largest hospital network, involving 170 hospitals nationwide;
The Hay-Adams Hotel, 16th and H Streets, named after two of Lafayette Square’s most distinguished residents, John Milton Hay and Henry Brooks Adams, whose adjoining homes once occupied the site. Turkish-born Armenian architect Mirhan Mesrobian designed the 143-room hotel in 1927, using Rome’s Farnese Palace as an inspiration for the Italian Renaissance exterior;
The New Executive Office Building, 722 Jackson Place, and the National Courts Building, 717 Madison Place, built in 1968-1969 on either side of the Square behind the existing historic buildings. John Carl Warnecke designed the 10-story structures to harmonize with Lafayette Square’s historic character and retained the domestic facades but joined the separate interiors; and
The White House Historical Association, 740 Jackson Place, located in one of the five buildings constructed as part of the redevelopment of Lafayette Square in the 1960’s. The Association is a non-profit historical and educational organization chartered in 1961 to enhance understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of the White House. Since its founding, the White House Historical Association has contributed more than ten million dollars for the benefit of the White House.
Lafayette Square Park is located on H St. between 15th and 17th Sts., NW. A public park, it is accessible to the public. Metro stop: McPherson Square.
The Hay-Adams Hotel, located in Lafayette Square Park, is a Historic Hotels of America member, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.