The United States Navy Memorial, on Pennsylvania Avenue NW between 7th Street Northwest and 9th Street Northwest in Washington, D.C., honors those who have served or are currently serving in the Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and the Merchant Marine.
The Navy Memorial mission is to honor, recognize and celebrate the men and women of the sea services and the important contributions made by them while serving in the United States Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine. The Navy Memorial serves to educate and inspire the American people about the vital role that the Sea Services play in our national security and the rich maritime history of the United States.
The National Park Service, through its National Mall and Memorial Parks administrative unit, provides technical and maintenance assistance to the foundation. The memorial is adjacent to the Archives station of the Washington Metro and the National Archives building.
Associated with the memorial is the Naval Heritage Center. The Heritage Center is open 362 days a year, closing only on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. The Heritage Center offers unique space available for rent. The event/meeting space includes the gallery deck with full view of the memorial exhibition area and can hold up to 400 guests for standing receptions.
For U.S. sea services, The United States Navy Memorial is the triumph of a centuries-old dream. In the early days of America’s national independence, architect Pierre L’Enfant envisioned a memorial in the nation’s capital “to celebrate the first rise of the Navy and consecrate its progress and achievements.” But it was only in the twentieth century that L’Enfant’s vision was realized.
Pennsylvania Avenue, “America’s Main Street,” the boulevard that links the U.S. Capitol and White House, the scene of many parades, pageants, and national memories, was chosen to be the location.
After President John F. Kennedy—himself a Navy war hero—inspired the redevelopment of Pennsylvania Avenue, another Navy war hero, Admiral Arleigh Burke, proclaimed in 1977 that “we have talked long enough about a navy memorial and it’s time we did something about it.”
In the spring of 1977, Burke—World War II war hero and former three-term Chief of Naval Operations—started to recruit a group to form the private, non-profit U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation. The following year, the foundation, led by Rear Admiral William Thompson, USN (Ret.), started to work on the five steps necessary in the building of a memorial in Washington: enabling legislation, design, site selection, fund raising, and construction and maintenance.
Congress authorized the memorial in 1980, with the stipulation that funding come solely from private contributions. In March 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed Public Law 96-199, which authorized the memorial as a part of a larger Department of the Interior bill.
Although a number of sites in Washington, DC, were possible, the foundation teamed up with the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation to use Market Square as the site for the memorial. The foundation and the corporation jointly selected Conklin Rossant of New York as architects.
By December 1985, the foundation had raised enough funds to warrant a go-ahead approval from the Secretary of the Interior, and construction got underway the following month. (The foundation staff and Board of Directors had raised $18-million by opening day of the visitors center, and fund raising continues today, to retire remaining construction debt and support educational programs undertaken by the foundation.)
By August 1987, Stanley Bleifeld completed work on The Lone Sailor statue as construction of the memorial neared completion at the site.
The memorial was dedicated on October 13, 1987.
From late 1987 to mid-1990, two buildings were constructed on the memorial’s northern perimeter. The eastern of the two buildings was selected for the memorial’s visitors center. The building’s shell was sufficiently completed by September 1989 to allow construction to begin for the interior of the Visitors Center. The visitors center opened in June 1991 and was formally dedicated on October 12, 1991.
During the summer of 2006, the water in the fountains of the Navy Memorial was colored blue due to the presence of chemicals added to the water to fight algae growth. According to a spokesperson for the memorial, the algae has been surprisingly difficult to remove, and that they “figured it was better to have blue water than to have an algae-encrusted memorial.” The blue water was gone by the end of the summer.
The United States Navy Memorial is home to the Memorial Plaza, which features Stanly Bleifield’s famous statue, The Lone Sailor. The Lone Sailor—a tribute to all personnel of the sea services—overlooks the Granite Sea, a map depicting the world’s oceans, using an azimuthal projection centered on Washington, DC. Surrounding the Granite Sea are two fountain pools, honoring the personnel of the American Navy and the other navies of the world. The southern hemisphere of the Granite Sea is surrounded by 26 bronze high reliefs commemorating events, personnel, and communities of the various sea services.
Adjacent to the Memorial Plaza is the Naval Heritage Center, which features the Arleigh Burke Theater, several rotating exhibits about the sea services, and several Navy Log kiosks, for easy registration on the Navy Log. The Naval Heritage Center also features daily screenings of the films At Sea and A Day in the Life of the Blue Angels. The Media Resource Center provides a library of printed, audio and video historical documents on the Navy. The Navy Log room has touch-screen kiosks to register and search for Sea Service members and veterans.
From April 2011 through March 2012, the Naval Heritage Center featured the Year of Naval Aviation, with the gallery deck filled with paintings and other works of art depicting aviation in the Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard from 1911 to the present day. From April 2012 and March 2013, the Naval Heritage Center celebrated the Year of the Chief, the senior enlisted rank. Exhibits and presentations between April 2013 and March 2014 will focus on the Year of Military Women.