There’s recently been a lot of news about McMillan Park in D.C., with secret parties and protests about the impending redevelopment and a group trying to preserve it. Right near Children’s Hospital, McMillan Park is that large fenced-off space with the weird towers. On the last time that it legally had a viewing day for the public, back in 2012, I got to see the de-commissioned water treatment plant underneath the towers.
The doors in each tower open to an entry ramp into the underground.
There are twenty towers, and each tower has the same vast series of catacombs, an acre each. The eerie light comes from round holes overhead. The catacombs have a floor of sand, which was used to filter the water from the Washington Aqueduct, drawing water from the Potomac River. The treatment plant was completed in 1905, and had a major public health effect on the city. The scope of the engineering and building challenge is awesome.
The ground above it was landscaped as a public park, designed by Frederick Law Olmstead Jr., and was a major recreation area in its day. During WWII, the area was fenced off for security, and has not been used as a park since then. The D.C. government bought the land from the Federal government sometime in the 1980’s, after the treatment plant was decommissioned. The area is slated for a combination of retail, office, housing, and recreation, with plans to keep one tower open for viewing. There is controversy about so many aspects of the redevelopment that is it unlikely to be executed any time soon.