Pierre L'Enfant's great design for Washington

Open Road: Pierre L'Enfant's great design for Washington

WASHINGTON (WUSA*9)--On Sunday a divided France chose a new leader; but, but not before former US President Barack Obama endorsed his choice in the election.  The United States and France have been friends for more than 200 years.  Americans and French have stood next to each other on the battlefields -- starting with  the Revolutionary War fighting for freedom and democracy.   In 1886 France gave us the Statue of Liberty, one of our most famous icons.  And, it was a Frenchman, Pierre Charles L'Enfant,  who helped create our capital city.  

 
 
He saw the future.  L’Enfant’s map has become a canvas — and for more than 2 centuries our nation has been painting between his lines.  
 
"He left a very large imprint on America," says Scott Berg, who wrote a book about L’Enfant called Grand Avenues.  "So, when L’Enfant gets there in 1791 he looks around and says there.  He points.  That’s where the capitol building is going to go."
 
L’Enfant studied art at the Royal Academy in Paris.  At the age of 22 he came to America to fight in the Revolutionary War.  He was almost killed and spent time as a prisoner of war.
 
"You kind of get the sense he come across the ocean to prove himself," says Berg.
 
After beating the British, L’Enfant went to work laying out the new Federal City.  His ideas were so grand, so majestic he had to argue for every park, circle and square.
 
"He was sure he was right.  He was sure he knew what the city would look like.  And against extremely long odds his vision was realized," Berg tells WUSA9 reporter, Scott Rensberger.
 
His vision may have been realized but his temperament ended his career says Berg.
 
"In 21st century terms he had no filter and he had no boundaries."
 
The Frenchman who gave up everything to be an American citizen was fired by George Washington.    
 
"He starts petitioning Congress and saying I did all this and I never got a cent for it," says Berg. 
 
L’Enfant died completely broke.  He was buried in a slave cemetery in an unmarked grave behind a Maryland mansion. 
 
However in 1909 L’Enfant’s reputation was resurrected.  The U.S.. Government exhumed his body.  All they found were two bones and a tooth.  Today, those remains are resting in Arlington National Cemetery overlooking the city he designed.  
 
"What is totally remarkable about Washington, DC is when we talk about it being planned.  We go backwards in time to the mind of one individual," says Berg.  
 
Before L’Enfant died the United States Government gave the designer a small fraction of the money he requested.  The funds paid off some of his past debts. 
 
 

 

© 2017 WUSA-TV


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