Moynihan, centre, at the opening of the renovated Willard Hotel, Washington, D.C., 1986
It was originally going to be called Moynihan Station. The plan – to rebuild New York’s Pennsylvania Station within the James A. Farley Post Office Building on Eighth Avenue – had been an idée fixe of New York’s senior senator since the 1990s. The city authorities had allowed the original Penn Station, a magnificent Beaux-Arts structure that had opened in 1910, to be demolished in the 1960s to make way for Penn Plaza and Madison Square Garden. Penn Station was moved entirely underground, an arrangement that Moynihan thought deplorable: ‘New Yorkers were left with a subway station when there had once been the Baths of Caracalla.’ He was particularly fond of quoting a line from the architectural historian Vincent Scully: ‘You used to enter New York City as a king; now you slither in like a rat.’
Pennsylvania Station, New York City, 1911
When Senator Moynihan learned in 1994 that the Post Office was vacating the Farley Building (which stood directly opposite the site of the old Penn Station and had been built to the same proportions by the same firm of architects), he set out to recover, as he put it, ‘an ancient glory.’ The project became one of Moynihan’s consuming passions in his final years in office, requiring much patient wrangling with Senate colleagues and local politicians, many of whom felt the plan was wasteful and unnecessary. After his death in 2003, it was proposed that the new terminus be named ‘Moynihan Station’ in his honour. In January 2016, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a new expanded version of the already well-advanced redevelopment plan, to be renamed the Empire State Complex, with the plan’s first champion relegated to a ‘Moynihan Train Hall.’ Tony Bullock, Moynihan’s former chief of staff, was dismayed at the change, noting that ‘Train Hall’ sounded ‘too much like “food court”.’ Maura Moynihan, the senator’s daughter, was more circumspect: ‘Me personally, I don’t care what they call it, as long as they build it.’ She added that her father would likely have been unfazed by the apparent demotion, having always felt that James Farley’s name should stay.
The multi-year scheme to reclaim Penn Station attests to Moynihan’s lifelong fascination with public architecture, a facet of his career that is often overlooked but which was a preoccupation from almost the moment he entered the federal government. It is likewise a testament to his lifelong belief that there was a direct link between the quality of a nation’s public architecture and the health of its civic life. He was responsible for a number of similar endeavours: the restoration of the Prudential Building in Buffalo, western New York, the renovation of the Custom House in lower Manhattan, and the transformation of the Pension Building into the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., to name only three. ‘I guess at heart I am a City planner,’ he wrote to a friend in 1988. It was, however, a different landmark bearing the name of the Keystone State that became the defining architectural project of Moynihan’s career: the redevelopment of Pennsylvania Avenue, the ceremonial route linking Capitol Hill to the White House. That project would span more than four decades and eight presidencies, and would require the raising of billions of dollars and the interventions of a former First Lady with a keen sense of history. Moynihan remained doggedly committed to it throughout. One eulogist suggested that ‘Moynihan’s achievements are worthy of the great public builders, from Hadrian to Georges Haussmann to Robert Moses.’ One need not quite that far to recognise the historic accomplishment of Pennsylvania Avenue’s renovation and Moynihan’s central role in it.
Years later, Moynihan would claim that the original idea had come from John F. Kennedy. The version he usually told involved Kennedy embracing the need to rehabilitate the Avenue, which was considerably dilapidated by the 1960s, before he even set foot in the Oval Office. As Moynihan explained in a 2002 Newsweek interview:
During the Inaugural parade in 1961, President Kennedy rode up Pennsylvania Avenue and waved left and right, as it were. And he noticed, to the right, there was just nothing there. The city had emptied out – in literal fact, there was only one residence between the Capitol and 15th Street. The president said, this doesn’t look like a capital.
The story goes that Kennedy remarked on the decay to Secretary of Labor Arthur Goldberg, who passed the job on to Moynihan, then a junior official. In fact, the impetus for the plan came from Moynihan himself. He gave a more accurate account of the plan’s genesis in a 1972 article for the New York Times. It began in a Cabinet meeting in August 1961 when talk turned to office space. Or rather, as General Service Administrator Robert Peck recalled, the talk was ‘mainly bitching about parking in federal buildings – all right, it was supposed to be office space, but it was also about parking, it always is.’ The result was an Ad Hoc Committee on Federal Office Space, with Goldberg as chair. Moynihan was delegated to write the committee’s first report.
That report, published in June 1962, took an expansive interpretation of the committee’s brief. It included a one-page subsection titled ‘Guiding Principles of Federal Architecture.’ In that single page, Moynihan sought to provide a new rationale and template for public works across the nation. Any federal building, Moynihan wrote, should meet ‘a two-fold requirement’: first, it should ‘provide efficient and economical facilities for the use of Government agencies’; secondly, it should ‘provide visual testimony to the dignity, enterprise, vigor, and stability of the American government.’ Though a uniform ‘official style’ was to be avoided, emphasis was to be placed on ‘designs that embody the finest contemporary American architectural thought,’ incorporating regional traditions and fine arts influences wherever possible. Moynihan’s declaration was accompanied by a short proposal for the redevelopment of Pennsylvania Avenue, which was to be the first place that the principles he had articulated could be put into practice. The Avenue, he wrote, should have be ‘the great thoroughfare of the City of Washington’ and had instead become ‘a vast, unformed, cluttered expanse at the heart of the Nation’s Capital.’
Only after the publication of the report did Kennedy begin to take an interest, authorising the creation of a President’s Council on Pennsylvania Avenue. Work began, Moynihan recalled, ‘in high spirits, but with no staff, no money and no legal existence.’ The drafting of the actual plan was overseen by the head of the council, Nathaniel Owings, founder and partner in the nation’s most prestigious architectural firm, Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill. Only from the spring of 1963 did Kennedy begin to take an active interest in the project. One of his last instructions before leaving for Dallas in November 1963 was to set up a meeting to enlist the support of congressional leaders.
After Kennedy’s death, wrote Moynihan, ‘a trust of sorts devolved.’ His later reworking of Kennedy into the protagonist of the story meant that the plan became a monument to the martyred president. Moynihan could count on the support of the president’s widow, Jackie Kennedy, who was wasting no time in constructing the ‘Camelot’ myth around her husband’s memory. On November 29, 1963, Moynihan was told, through a Kennedy family friend, that Jackie Kennedy was ‘completely behind’ the plans for Pennsylvania Avenue, which had been included on a list she had given to LBJ of ‘those projects left undone and which she feels were of great interest to President Kennedy.’ Moynihan wrote to Mrs. Kennedy a few days later to tell her that he was ‘immensely heartened’ by her support.
By now an Assistant Secretary in the Labor Department, Moynihan agitated for White House support for the plan. In March 1964, he petitioned Arthur Goldberg, now a Supreme Court Justice, to persuade the administration to take more of an interest in raising architectural standards for the Pennsylvania Avenue project. Adopting the medieval habit of blaming the king’s bad advisers, Moynihan lamented to Goldberg that though the president was ‘immensely interested,’ the plan was stalling because ‘nobody around him in the White House or in the Bureau of the Budget really [gives] a damn about this subject.’ In January 1965, he made a similar appeal to Richard Goodwin, presidential speechwriter, pitching the redevelopment of Pennsylvania Avenue as a key component of Johnson’s wider domestic agenda. ‘Point number one of the Great Society is to rebuild the American city … [this] is a proposal to build the first modern downtown urban complex of the Twentieth Century.’ This was not merely a matter of ‘making Washington more attractive’ but of ‘whether America will be the first to do something that must be done the world over.’
Johnson was persuaded to establish the President’s Temporary Commission on Pennsylvania Avenue, with Owings as chair and Moynihan as his deputy. The Commission met for the first time in May 1965. The administration remained essentially lukewarm on the subject, however, and little progress was made, not even on persuading Congress to create a permanent commission. As the urban crisis of the late 1960s took hold, with Johnson’s urban policy failing to meet its ambitious goal and riots a grimly anticipated annual tradition, Moynihan’s ambitions were displaced. In 1967, Moynihan, now back in academia, vented his frustrations to Nat Owings: ‘Pennsylvania Avenue is a project for spending money. The Administration does not want to spend a dime. Not even in response to the worst outbreak of racial violence in history. A fortiori not to play City Beautiful.’ Nonetheless, Moynihan continued in his efforts to keep the project on the national agenda. In November 1968, he urged LBJ, unsuccessfully, to make ‘some reference’ to the plan in his final State of the Union address.
The Pennsylvania Avenue plan remained a preoccupation of his as he took up the post of Counselor to the President for Urban Affairs under Richard Nixon. He was invited to speak to the American Institute of Architects in 1969 (later published as ‘Architecture in a Time of Trouble’), to whom he argued that architecture was ‘as fundamental a sign of the competence of government as will be found. Men who build bad buildings are bad governors. A people that persists in electing such men is opting for bad government.’ Nixon, always on the lookout for grand and historic accomplishments to accomplish, proved more receptive to Moynihan’s theory of architecture as a test of American democracy’s vigour. However, a purely federally-financed effort to redevelop the Avenue had failed even when Great Society utopianism was the prevailing mood in Washington. Moynihan proposed instead the creation of a government-owned corporation, with federal seed money, to co-ordinate private funds for the redevelopment. In September 1970, following a well-publicised walking tour of Pennsylvania Avenue with Moynihan, Nixon issued a statement supporting a bill to create a Federal City Bicentennial Development Corporation. The bill’s backers hoped that linking it to the nation’s approaching bicentennial in 1976 would be a spur to action. It would be another three years before the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation (PADC) was created.
Throughout, Moynihan remained in correspondence with JFK’s widow, Jackie Onassis (as she was after 1968), continuing to update her about the progress of the plans. It was through Jackie Onassis that he was able to enlist the support and assistance of Senator Edward Kennedy, who had treated Moynihan with a certain amount of suspicion after his decision to take up with Nixon. In May 1972, Onassis wrote a fulsome letter to Moynihan, lauding him as ‘the one who realized with all your heart how much President Kennedy’s vision of Pennsylvania Avenue meant to him.’ Moynihan forwarded a copy of this letter to Ted Kennedy explaining, ‘I am sure you would want to see how much this remains in her mind.’ Pat and Jackie’s collusion in burnishing this aspect of the Camelot mythology was crucial to the eventual success of the Pennsylvania Avenue project.
President Nixon and Moynihan tour the Pennsylvania Avenue development site, September 1970 (Credit: Flickr, cliff 1066)
As a senator from 1977, Moynihan continued to support and lobby the corporation. Upon his election, he had sought a seat on the Public Works Committee, surprising those who had expected the former ambassador to bid for a seat on Foreign Relations. By this time, the Pennsylvania Avenue plan had gone through several iterations, becoming more diverse (‘a bit less monolithic, a bit more, well, urban,’ in Robert Peck’s words) as it was redesigned, and as more private actors were brought in. This was entirely in keeping with Moynihan’s original proposal. He had written in 1962 that the Avenue should not be lined with ‘a solid block of public and private office buildings which close down completely at night and on the weekends.’ Instead, the Avenue should be ‘lively, friendly, and inviting, as well as dignified and impressive.’ To this end, Moynihan suggested building a concert hall, opera house and theatre along the Avenue. When still a member of the Temporary Presidential Commission, Moynihan had even speculated about building a ‘bawdy house’ along the Avenue, to add to the general ambience.
By the time it was dissolved in 1996, the PADC had succeeded in raising some $1.5 billion from private sources for the rejuvenation of the Avenue. The Willard Hotel and the Washington Hotel were restored, as was the Old Post Office and the National Press Club building. From 1986, Moynihan adopted the idea of building an International Trade and Cultural Center in the Federal Triangle (the area between Pennsylvania Avenue and Constitution Avenue). The Center was projected to be the second largest federal building, behind only the Pentagon, and, with a final budget of $818 million, the most expensive building the government had ever constructed. Republican opposition was defused by offering to name it after Ronald Reagan. The Center opened in 1998, housing not only a number of federal agencies but also the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Financed principally with loans from private developers, the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center was the first federal building in Washington, D.C. to be designed for both government and commercial purposes. It continues to host over a thousand events every year – conferences, trade fairs, concerts, galas, and other functions. This heterogeneity makes the Center a microcosm of Moynihan’s overall vision for Pennsylvania Avenue. As he wrote to President Reagan in 1987, taking stock of the development to that point: ‘The result is cluttered and eclectic but very much American, and Americans should feel at home on the Avenue of the Presidents. This looks accidental. It was nothing such.’
Pennsylvania Avenue, facing East towards Capitol Hill, 2007
The redevelopment of Pennsylvania Avenue has continued in fits and starts since the PADC’s dissolution. For instance, 2002 saw the opening of the Newseum, an museum of news and journalism, next to the Canadian Embassy (which had been constructed under the auspices of the PADC). The Old Post Office Pavilion, saved from demolition by Moynihan, is currently being transformed into the newest Trump International Hotel. The Trump Organization acquired a 140-year lease in 2013 and Donald Trump promised to ‘restore this magnificent building to even well beyond its original grandeur.’ We can only hope that this is the most damage that Trump is able to do in Washington, D.C.
 Daniel P. Moynihan, Steven R. Weisman (ed.), Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary (New York, 2010), 619, 623
 Jim Farley had been a leading figure in New York’s Democratic Party, had served as Franklin Roosevelt’s campaign manager in 1932 and 1936, and had been Postmaster General from 1933-1940. For more see Daniel Scroop, Mr. Democrat: Jim Farley, the New Deal and the Making of Modern American Politics (Ann Arbor, MI, 2006)
 Weisman, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, 499.
 Robert A. Peck, ‘Daniel Patrick Moynihan and the Fall and Rise of Public Works,” in Robert A. Katzmann (ed.), Daniel Patrick Moynihan: The Intellectual in Public Life (Washington, D.C., 1998)
 As Robert Peck noted, ‘History does not explain how John Kennedy had failed to notice this condition during all the years he commuted as a senator from the Capitol to his residence in Georgetown.’ Cathleen McGuigan, “He’s the Man With the Plan,” Newsweek, Nov 25, 2002; Peck, “Moynihan and the Fall and Rise of Public Works,” 82.
 Godfrey Hodgson, The Gentleman from New York: Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Biography (Boston and New York, 2000), 79.
 Hodgson, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, 80.
 Daniel P. Moynihan, “Avenue of Presidents,” New York Times, April 4, 1972
 Weisman, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, 156-57
 Moynihan, “Avenue of Presidents.”
 Weisman, Daniel P. Moynihan, 68-9.
 Ibid., 75-6, 88-9.
 Weisman, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, 138, 157.
 Daniel P. Moynihan, Coping: Essays on the Practice of Government (New York, 1973), 233-42; “Moynihan Critical of Cities’ Design,” NYT, June 24, 1969.
 Kilpatrick, "Nixon Pushes Avenue Development," Washington Post, September 9, 1970.
 Weisman, 261.
 When the committee structure was reorganised in 1987, Moynihan oversaw the creation of a new Subcommittee on Water Resources, Transportation, and Infrastructure, of which he was named chairman. This gave him control of around 80 percent of the federal funds authorised by the committee. Peck, “Moynihan and the Rise and Fall of Public Works,” 69.
 Hodgson, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, 342.
 Weisman, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, 488.
 Eduardo Cue, “Canada Plans Chancery On Pennsylvania Avenue,” WP, June 24, 1977.