Meridian Hill Park

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A thirteen-basin cascade fountain is one of the most dramatic features of Meridian Hill Park.
A thirteen-basin cascade fountain is one of the most dramatic features of Meridian Hill Park.

Meridian Hill Park, also known unofficially as Malcolm X Park, is located in the Washington, D.C. neighborhood of Columbia Heights. The 12 acres (49,000 m²) of landscaped grounds are maintained by the National Park Service as part of Rock Creek Park but is not contiguous with the main part of that park. Meridian Hill Park is bordered by Euclid, 15th, W, and 16th Streets. In 1969 a bill was introduced to rename the site Malcolm X Park. Although the bill failed, some locals informally refer to it by the proposed name.

Much of the impetus for a grand park on this portion of 16th Street came from Mary Foote Henderson, wife of Missouri senator John Brooks Henderson and local resident. She lobbied Congress with several plans for the neighborhood before getting approval for the park. The land was originally part of Columbian College, now George Washington University. In 1910, after the school moved to its current location, the federal government bought the land, and in 1914 the Interior Department hired landscape architect George Burnap to design a grand urban park modeled on parks found in European capitals. His plans, later modified by Horace Peaslee, included an Italian Renaissance-style terraced fountain in the lower half and gardens in a French Baroque style in the upper half. The walls and fountains were built with concrete aggregate, a new building material consisting of concrete mixed with small pebbles. After two decades under construction, the grounds were given park status in 1936 and have been designated a National Historic Landmark.

In the 1970s and 80s, crime became widespread in the surrounding neighborhoods and as Meridian Hill Park became a haven for drug dealing, it was generally considered unsafe, especially at night. After the murder of a local teenager near the park in 1990, a group of citizens formed "Friends of Meridian Hill Park." They organized volunteer nighttime patrols and lobbied the National Park Service to make improvements to the park. Their efforts were largely effective and today the park is considered relatively safe.


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