Grand Avenues tells the riveting story of Pierre Charles L’Enfant and the creation of Washington D.C.–from the seeds of his inspiration to the fulfillment of his extraordinary vision.
L’Enfant’s story is one of consuming passion, high emotion, artistic genius, and human frailty. As a boy he studied drawing at the most prestigious art institute in the world. As a young man he left his home in Paris to volunteer in the army of the American colonies, where he served under George Washington. There he would also meet many of the people who would have a profound impact on his life, including Alexander Hamilton and James Monroe. And it was Washington himself who, in 1791, entrusted L’Enfant with the planning of the nation’s capital–and reluctantly allowed him to be dismissed from the project eleven months later. The plan for the city was published under another name, and for the remainder of his life L’Enfant fought for recognition of his achievement. But he would not live to see that day, and a century would pass before L’Enfant would be given credit for his brilliant design.
Scott W. Berg recounts this tale, richly evocative of time and place, with the narrative verve of a novel and with a cast of characters that ranges from Thomas Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers to the surveyor who took credit for L’Enfant’s plans, the assistant who spent a week in jail for his loyalty to L’Enfant, and the men who finally restored L’Enfant’s reputation at the beginning of the twentienth century.
Here is a fascinating, little-explored episode in American history: the story of a visionary artist and of the founding of the magnificent city that is his enduring legacy.