Restoring Eighth St. and Massachusetts Ave. NE Triangle Park

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The Department of Parks and Recreation recently reopened the triangle park at the corner of Eighth Street and Massachusetts Avenue NE after the park sat neglected for many years.

At the corner of Massachusetts Ave. and 8th St. NE sits a triangle park that for years was abandoned and, most recently, camouflaged behind large chain fences partly covered by canvas. Located at a busy intersection, it was a major eyesore.

But a few months ago, the corner went from ugly to stunning, as the DC Department of Parks and Recreation took down the fencing and revealed a spectacular pocket park for all residents to enjoy. “A lot of good karma happened over the past few years,” says Dare Johnson Wenzler, neighbor and advocate for the park.

Unearthing History

The park can be accessed on the Massachusetts or Constitution sides and is open and welcoming to all.

Many of the District’s triangle and small parks were part of the masterplan devised by Pierre L’Enfant in 1790. Over the years, the city neglected these spaces. When Lady Bird Johnson came to the White House in 1963, the country was dealing with the escalation of the war in Vietnam and the social tumult of the struggle for civil rights. Sometimes we forget that our not-too-distant past was filled with a state of uncertainty, not unlike today.

Lady Bird wanted to help the country heal from all the tensions. “Ugliness is so grim. A little beauty, something that is lovely, I think, can create harmony which will lessen tensions,” Lady Bird noted.

Following her husband’s vision of a green legacy, Lady Bird created the Committee for a More Beautiful Capitol in February 1965. Her goal was to beautify her newly adopted hometown. She felt it important to tackle triangle parks and neighborhoods first, and legend has it that the 8th and Massachusetts Avenue park was one of the first focal points. 

It is also thought that Darwina Neal, the first woman elected president of the American Society of Landscape Architects, and known as a trailblazer in landscape architecture, was responsible for the original redesign of the park. Neal was assigned to assist Lady Bird Johnson through the National Park Service (NPS). Many triangle landscape drawings from this time are archived in the NPS files. The fact that this park sat across from Capitol Hill’s hospital made it of special interest to the White House.

Neighbors a Catalyst for Change

Capitol Hill residents are not shy about advocating for and digging in to improve neglected spaces in their neighborhood. Over the years, whether it was picking up trash, planting containers or mowing grass, neighbors would get together to clean up the park. Dare says three years ago the neighborhood group received a grant from the Capitol Hill Garden Club to repair and replant the broken containers in the park. “I think we caught the attention of DPR, and shortly thereafter, the city began its work to fix the park,” says Dare. 

Maygene Daniels, longtime Hill resident who lives on the block, is quite pleased with the finished result. Others in the neighborhood clean-up group are also delighted. The project began with a community kickoff meeting on June 3, 2021, and the completion that had been predicted for August 2023 happened early in 2024.

All residents involved said their experience working with the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation staff was a very positive one, and they appreciated the thoughtful, inclusive approach of the landscape designers and architects. 

Kudos to DPR and Department of General Services

The budget for the project was $615,000, which included ADA improvements like building a ramp into the park on the Constitution side to make it wheelchair accessible. The ramp was funded through a different budget line, adding $250,000 in funds. “It slowed down the process,” says Dare, “but it is such a wonderful addition. I walked by the other day and saw a few residents in wheelchairs enjoying the park.” John Stokes, associate director of external affairs at DC’s Department of General Services, says the city is working on improving other triangle and pocket parks and hopes the Garfield Park improvement plan will begin construction very soon.

In addition to the ramp, the renovation tore out and replaced the broken benches and added a backless circular bench in the middle of the park. Originally there may  have been a water fountain in the middle of the park, but now there are beautiful native plants, including Heuchera americana, wild columbine, Pennsylvania sedge, miniature rush and even some Christmas ferns. A drinkable water fountain was added that includes a water-bottle fill up.

The project planning included a 2022 survey and several Zoom calls with the community. An overwhelming number of residents wanted to have DPR repair the masonry to maintain the open space, add seating and improve the landscaping, while 53% of respondents said they visited the park multiple times a week, including 23% reporting they visited daily. 

The end product is a real delight. A great big thank you to all involved in making history come alive by preserving and improving the 8th Street and Massachusetts Avenue triangle park. It is fabulous when the community and city departments come together to make our Hill neighborhood more beautiful. Lady Bird would be so proud.

Rindy O’Brien finds the abundance of open spaces and little parks one of the best parts of living on Capitol Hill. To contact her: rindyobrien@gmail.com.