This seven-acre public park, named in 1824 for a French marquis who fought in America’s Revolutionary War, is surrounded by some of D.C.’s most historically significant buildings. In addition to the White House, the Square is adjacent to the Old Executive Office Building, the Department of the Treasury, and the Renwick Gallery.
Set directly across the street from the White House, the park here was part of the White House grounds during Thomas Jefferson’s administration, but set apart when John Adams approved the plans for Pennsylvania Avenue. Formally landscaped in 1851, the Square features walking paths and formal hedges, as well as four horse-mounted monuments to foreign heroes of the American Revolution.
The Square’s proximity to power turned it into a fashionable 19th-century address for political luminaries like Martin van Buren, John Milton Hay, and Henry Brooks Adams; the latter two lived in adjacent row houses, which were renovated in 1927 to create the Square’s famous Hay-Adams Hotel. In the 1950s, several of the Square’s original houses were demolished to make way for proposed office buildings, but this tide was stemmed in 1970, when the park was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Since 1981, Lafayette Square has been the site of the world’s longest running peace vigil, a volunteer-driven campaign that consists of two yellow signs heavily inscribed with anti-nuclear slogans.