Ambassador Bryce

Ambassador James Bryce, circa 1907 (WikiMedia)

Ambassador James Bryce, circa 1907 (WikiMedia)

Another participant, if now a seemingly unlikely one, in the area’s landscape was Ambassador James Bryce of Great Britain. Serving from 1907 to 1913, he was an articulate, energetic and persuasive proponent of what made and would make Washington unique in the world. At a Board of Trade meeting in 1912, he warned that the beautiful spots of Washington could be ruined if acts of preservation were not soon taken. He criticized some members of Congress for concentrating on appropriations for their home districts while ignoring their capital city. In support of building a touring road from the Zoo to the Potomac River, he was quoted saying to the group that “It seems to me that one of the principal endeavors of all people who want Washington made the greatest capital in the world should be to maintain the beauty of Rock Creek Park” (Washington Post, 1 March 1912). The following year, before the Chamber of Commerce Committee, he proclaimed:

I know of no great city in Europe that has anywhere near such beautiful scenery so close to it as has Washington in Rock Creek park, and in many of the woods that stretch along the Potomac on the north and also on the south side. The river in the center, beautiful hills, delightfully wooded, rise on each side and one may wander day after day in new walks. I never have to take the same walk twice (Washington Post, 28 February 1913).

Rock Creek Park (between 1918 and 1920, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress)

Rock Creek Park (between 1918 and 1920, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress)

In a 1913 essay for the Committee of one hundred on the future development of Washington, the Ambassador pleaded for preserving a nearby location:

May I mention a point of view that is now threatened and perhaps almost gone? You all know the spot at which Wisconsin Avenue intersects Massachusetts Avenue, which has now been extended beyond that intersection into the country. At that point of intersection, just opposite where the Episcopal Cathedral is to stand, there is one spot commanding what is one of the most beautiful general views of Washington. You look down upon the city, you see its most striking buildings—the Capitol, the Library, State, War and Navy Department, and the Post Office and other high buildings along Pennsylvania Avenue—beyond them you see the great silvery flood of the Potomac and the soft lines fading away in dim outline in the far southeast. It is a delightful and inspiring view.

Bryce Park (J. Blakely)

Bryce Park (J. Blakely)

Believing there was no better vantage point in Washington, Lord Bryce stated that this slope should be turned into a public park and the houses stretching below limited in height to protect the vista. He didn’t envision that the subsequent tree growth, from what was cut down during the Civil War to defend the vulnerable city, would partially block the vista, and that acreage would soon become so valuable; nor that in fifteen years his own country would begin a building trend of foreign missions and ignite the area as even more desirable in the northwest part of Washington.

Lord Bryce is often quoted in the literature of Rock Creek Park, remembered for his eloquent advocacy of the city that was only one of his many diplomatic postings. His legacy rather sadly lives on in the neglected terraced triangular Bryce Park, dedicated by Princess Margaret in 1965. It is located at what once was his favorite vista, now the busy intersection of Wisconsin and Massachusetts Avenues without the sweeping views, less than a mile from the British Embassy.

Bryce, James. The nation’s capital. Washington, D.C.: B.S. Adams, 1913.
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