Union Square

Your Guide
Liz Guthrie, ASLA

Although I’ve rarely heard this area called Union Square (perhaps in part, because it is not architecturally a “square,” nor does it feel like you’re in a square when there), it was part of the McMillian Commission’s 1901 redesign plan for Washington, D.C. A major portion of the site encompasses the U.S. Capitol Reflecting Pool -- a large, trapezoidal shallow pool that was envisioned as a counterpoint to the Lincoln Memorial and Capitol. In recent times, the area has become underutilized and lacks proper maintenance. However, a National Mall Design Competition was held in 2011, and the winning design team plans to reorient the reflecting pool and create new terraces in the site, hopefully breathing new life to the area.

One of the notable features on the east side of the reflecting pool is a sculptural memorial honoring Civil War General and U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant. The sculpture, one of the largest equestrian sculptures in the world, was created over a period of twenty years by sculptor Henry Merwin Shrady and architect William Pearce Casey. Dedicated in 1922, the memorial consists of a large bronze statue of Grant mounted on his war horse, set on a marble pedestal, and guarded by four lions. Sculpture groups of the Cavalry and Artillery flank Grant to the north and south, respectively. These opposing dramatic sculptures evoke a sense of attack and turbulence, almost as if they may collide or collapse on each other, which contrast with the calm, unmoving statute of Grant at the center, looking west over the reflecting pool. When viewed from afar, the memorial seems to anchor the foot of the U.S. Capitol as a historical marker of the North-South opposition in the Civil War. 

Little known fact: The Grant Memorial is the central memorial of a three-part sculptural group including the James A. Garfield Monument to the south and the Peace Monument to the north. See if you can find them, too.

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