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George Mason National Memorial by Rhodeside & Harwell Incorporated

A new memorial on the National Mall honors an American patriot and restores historic park grounds.

by ArchNewsNow
April 8, 2002

If you’re in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, April 9th (and weather permitting), stroll down the National Mall for the dedication of a new memorial garden near the Jefferson Memorial. Designed by Alexandria, Virginia-based landscape architect Rhodeside & Harwell Incorporated, the George Mason National Memorial honors the Virginia patriot who authored the landmark Virginia Declaration of Rights in 1776 that served as a model for the American Bill of Rights. It is the first memorial in the Tidal Basin area dedicated to an individual who did not serve as president, and among the last to be sited on the National Mall grounds.


Rhodeside & Harwell’s memorial setting is reflective of Mason’s love of gardens and recalls the site’s own history as a formal garden. A bronze by sculptor Wendy M. Ross of Bethesda, Maryland, depicts Mason seated on a curved stone bench gazing toward the Jefferson Memorial with a book in hand, and additional books, his hat, and his walking stick nearby. A simple trellis frames the sculpture that is flanked by marble walls – 4 feet high and 12 feet long – hand carved with quotes from Mason. The memorial lies within a circular garden, just beyond a large fountain.


The 100,000-square-foot site is situated in East Potomac Park between the Potomac River and the Tidal Basin, and near the base of the 14th Street Bridge, formally known as the George Mason Memorial Bridge. Originally established as a Victorian garden in the late 19th century and redesigned by the National Park Service (NPS) as the “Pansy Garden” in 1929, the site is a Designated Historic Landscape within the National Capital Region of NPS. It is the only one that remains of four national gardens originally established by the McMillan Commission in 1902. The other three formal gardens were demolished to make way for the 14th Street Bridge in 1962.


Rhodeside & Harwell’s design reflects the original circular layout, architectural elements, and plantings of the historic garden, using drawings dating to the early 1900s as a reference and basis for the new memorial. Landscape architect and founding partner Faye Harwell and her team performed extensive research into the configuration of the original park. Harwell researched earlier colonial gardens, and studied the character and preferences of George Mason himself. Inspiration was also drawn from the architecture and gardens at Gunston Hall Plantation, Mason’s Northern Virginia home, which is now a museum. Period plantings include hundreds of perennials and thousands of bulbs that were typical in 18th-century gardens, such as daylilies, coneflowers, iris, black-eyed Susans, and daffodils. The garden includes American hollies and pines, as well as a boxwood hedge, a favorite of Mason’s.


The sponsor of the memorial is the Board of Regents of Gunston Hall Plantation and The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America, with oversight from the National Park Service, the National Capital Park and Planning Commission, the President’s Commission of Fine Arts, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. All of the organizations gave the memorial unanimous approval and endorsement, applauding its modest scale, sensitive design, and rehabilitation of an historic site.


Memorial Design/Landscape Architect: Rhodeside & Harwell Incorporated

Sculpture Design/Execution: Wendy M. Ross

Construction: The James G. Davis Construction Company and Lorton Stone Construction

Hand carving: Eastern Memorials and Del Gallo Studio, LLC


Established in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1986, Rhodeside & Harwell provides landscape architecture and planning services nationally and internationally. In addition to the George Mason National Memorial project, the firm is completing a new garden to house the Bonsai and Penjing collection at the National Arboretum, and is currently designing an interactive park along the waterfront adjacent to the National Aquarium at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, MD. The firm specializes in the restoration of urban and historic parks in particular. Other projects include: an archeological park along the historic Portland Wharf waterfront in Louisville, KY; restoration design for several areas within Gettysburg National Military Park; and the new master plan for Arlington National Cemetery. The firm also worked with Michael Graves on the landscape for the new Alexandria Central Library, and is presently preparing a long-range Open Space Plan for the city.

(click on pictures to enlarge)

(Courtesy Rhodeside & Harwell)
Long-view rendering of the trellis element of the George Mason National Memorial on the National Mall.

(Courtesy Rhodeside & Harwell)
Plan for the restored circular garden.

(Courtesy Rhodeside & Harwell)
Detail rendering of the trellis.

(Courtesy Rhodeside & Harwell)
Statue of George Mason by Wendy M. Ross (before casting).

(Courtesy Rhodeside & Harwell)
Stone seat where Mason sculpture will sit.

(Courtesy Rhodeside & Harwell)
Trellis (still under construction).

Trellis detail.

(Courtesy Rhodeside & Harwell)
Benches for garden visitors to rest under the trellis.

© 2002