It’s about 1948, and you’re looking over the National Mall in Washington, DC

Among the Kodachrome slides that belong to my mother in law are several from a trip to Washington, DC. Guessing from a number of clues among the entire set of slides I scanned, I think they’re from about 1948. Certainly no earlier than 1947, and no later than about 1953.

Three photos probably taken from the observation deck of the Washington Monument show a very different National Mall than we experience today. The Lincoln Memorial and its reflecting pool, and the US Capitol and the grassy areas before it, were there. But so were a number of buildings not present today. Check it out:


The buildings on the left are a grassy area today. The buildings on the right have given way to Constitution Gardens and its pond. These buildings remind me of other buildings I’ve seen only in photographs that were built hastily as office space in support of World War II.

The Vietnam War obviously hadn’t happened yet, but it would happen, and eventually the Vietnam Veterans Memorial would be built beyond the buildings on the right. Finally, the National World War II Memorial would be built some 55 years hence, replacing the small pool before the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.


Looking east toward the Capitol, you can see that most of the Smithsonian museums haven’t been built yet. More of those anonymous-looking buildings stand beyond the Smithsonian Castle at center right. That’s where the Hirshhorn Museum, the National Air and Space Museum, and the National Museum of the American Indian would eventually go.


One last Kodachrome from atop the Washington Monument shows Virginia Avenue and the Potomac River. The set of buildings in the bottom right corner is the Department of the Interior.

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14 responses to “It’s about 1948, and you’re looking over the National Mall in Washington, DC”

  1. Dan Cluley Avatar
    Dan Cluley

    My Dad was stationed in DC when he was in the Army in the late ’50s and at least part of the time worked in one of those buildings by the reflecting pool. I suspect that your theory of their origin is correct.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Oh cool! What did your dad do?

      1. Dan Cluley Avatar
        Dan Cluley

        Something clerical, but I don’t know exactly what. His comment was that once they found out he could type they knew where to send him.

  2. DougD Avatar

    Very interesting. A lot of things got done very quickly during WW2, which is a very good thing. Can’t imagine what would have happened if they had used the current system of EPCM consultants..

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I wonder if we ever find ourselves in a situation akin to WWII again whether the current slow processes would suddenly find themselves accelerated.

  3. Doug Anderson Avatar

    Wonderful photographs. I find old photographs much more interesting than those of the present time. I wonder which, if any, of our photographs people will be looking at and enjoying in another 70 years.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Always a good question. I think photos of everyday places will be interesting in 70 years just because they will change, and people will like seeing how they used to be.

  4. M.B. Henry Avatar

    Wow!! Great pictures! I always love looking at older pictures like this.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Me too! There are other photos of places my mother-in-law visited – I’m sure I’ll share more over time.

      1. M.B. Henry Avatar

        I’ll be looking forward to it!

  5. Denny Gibson Avatar

    It seems I was totally unaware that rows of buildings had once filled the areas beside the pool. Thanks for the unusual look back.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I was too. When I saw this slide for the first time I was shocked.

  6. Richard Winkelmann Avatar
    Richard Winkelmann

    We’re these the temporary buildings put up for the war that were referred to as the “rat palace”?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I don’t know! I’d not heard of this before.

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