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City Beautiful movement

Field Museum of Science and Industry , Chicago. Axial plan of The Mall, Washington, D.C.: the Reflecting Pool and Lincoln Memorial  extend the central axis. Capitol building in Denver
City Beautiful movement

The City Beautiful movement was a Progressive reform movement in North American architecture and urban planning that flourished in the 1890s and 1900s with the intent of using beautification and monumental grandeur in cities. The movement, which was originally most closely associated with Chicago, Detroit, and Washington, D.C., did not seek beauty for its own sake, but rather as a social control device for creating moral and civic virtue among urban populations. Advocates of the movement believed that such beautification could thus provide a harmonious social order that would increase the quality of life and help to remove social ills.


Origins and impact

The movement arose in the United States in response to inner-city crowded tenement districts, itself a product of increased immigration and consolidation of rural populations into cities. The movement flourished only for several decades, but in addition to the classicizing monuments it left, it also achieved great influence in urban planning that extended throughout the 20th century, in particular in regard to the later creation of housing projects in the United States. The "Garden City" movement in Britain influenced the contemporary planning of some newer suburbs of London, and there was cross-fertilization between the two esthetics, one based in formal garden plans and urbanization schemes of the Baroque the other, with its "semi-detached villas" evoking a more rural atmosphere.

Architectural idioms

The particular architectural style of the movement borrowed heavily from the contemporary Beaux-Arts movement, which emphasized the necessity of order, dignity, and harmony. The movement also borrowed from classical monumental planning but differed from the true neoclassical style in that in the City Beautiful movement, the classical idiom was adopted only partially, mixed with Beaux-Arts elements, and subjugated as means to the end of creating uniformity and harmony in style.

World Columbian Exposition

The first large-scale elaboration of the City Beautiful is considered to have been the "White City", as it came to be called, at the World Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago. The planning of the exposition was headed by architect Daniel Burnham, who brought in architects from the eastern United States, as well as the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, to build large-scale Beaux-Arts monuments that were vaguely classical with uniform cornice height. The exposition displayed a model city of grand scale, with clean state-of-the-art transport systems and no visible poverty. The exposition is credited with leading to the wide-scale embrace of the monumental idiom in American architecture for the next 15 years. Richmond, Virginia's Monument Avenue is one expression of this initial movement.

Louisiana Purchase Exposition

The momentum begun by the World Columbian Exposition was accelerated at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis. In 1901 the commissioner of architects selected Franco-American architect Emmanuel Louis Masqueray to be Chief of Design of the Fair. In this position, which Masqueray held for three years, he designed the following Fair buildings in the prevaling Beaux Arts mode: Palace of Agriculture, the Cascades and Colonnades, Palace of Forestry, Fish, and Game, Palace of Horticulture and Palace of Transportation, all of which were widely emulated in civic projects across the United States. Masqueray resigned shortly after the fair opened in 1904, having been invited by Archbishop John Ireland of St. Paul to come to Minnesota and design a new cathedral for the city in the Fair's Beaux Arts style. Other celebrated architects of the Fair's buildngs, notably Cass Gilbert (who designed the Saint Louis Art Museum, originally the Fair's Palace of the Fine Arts), similarly employed the City Beautiful ideas from the Fair throughout their life's work.

McMillan Plan

An early use of the City Beautiful ideal with intent of creating social order through beautification was the McMillan Plan, named for the Michigan Senator James McMillan, which arose from the Senate Park Commission's redesign of the monumental core of Washington, D.C. to commemorate the city's centennial and to fulfill unrealized aspects of the city plan of Pierre Charles L'Enfant a century earlier.

The Washington planners, who included Burnham, Saint-Gaudens, Charles McKim of McKim, Mead, and White, and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., visited many of the great cities of Europe with the intent of putting Washington on par with the European capitals of the era and creating a sense of the legitimacy of government in a time of social upheaval in the United States. The essence of the plan surrounded the U.S. Capitol with monumental government buildings to replace "notorious slum communities". At the heart of the design was the creation of the National Mall and eventually included Burnham's Union Station. The implementation of the plan was interrupted by World War I but resumed after the war, culminating in the construction of the Lincoln Memorial in 1922.

Influence in other cities

The movement's success in Washington is credited with influencing subsequent plans for beautification in many other cities, including Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus, Montreal, Denver, Madison (with the axis from the capitol building through State Street and to the University of Wisconsin campus), New York City (notably the Manhattan Municipal Building), Pittsburgh (the Schenley Farms district in the Oakland neighborhood of parks, museums, and universities), and San Francisco (manifested by its Civic Center). In New Haven, John Russell Pope drew up a plan for Yale University that swept away substandard housing, but banished the urban poor to the peripheries.


In Denver the energy behind extensive City Beautiful planning came from Mayor Robert W. Speer, whose plan centered round a Civic Center, disposed along a grand esplanade that led to the Colorado State Capitol. The plan was partly realized, on a reduced scale, with the Greek amphitheater, Voorhies Memorial and the Colonnade of Civic Benefactors, completed in 1919. The Andrew Carnegie Foundation funded the Denver Public Library (1910), which was designed as a three-story Greek Revival temple with a colossal Ionic colonnade across it front; inside it featured open shelves, an art gallery and a children's room. Monuments capping vistas were an essential feature of City Beautiful urban planning: in Denver Paris-trained American sculptor Frederick MacMonnies was commissioned to design a monument marking the end of the Smoky Hill Trail. The bronze Indian guide he envisaged was vetoed by the committee and replaced with an equestrian Kit Carson.

^ Daniel M. Bluestone, Columbia University, (September 1988).Detroit's City Beautiful and the Problem of Commerce Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. XLVII, No. 3, pp. 245-62.