By Ruth Robbins
It has been years in the making, but for the first time since their installation in 1956, Chevy Chase Circle has a full set of new benches — and now, one of the major gateways to the nation’s capital and a neighborhood landmark has been transformed and restored thanks to a partnership between the National Park Service and the Friends of Chevy Chase Circle.
Funds for the repairs were obtained through a public-private grant initiative under the National Park Service’s Centennial Challenge program in 2016. Half of the $38,000 needed for the benches was contributed by the federal government, and the other half was obtained through the Friends of Chevy Chase Circle and the donations the group solicited from residents in both D.C. and Maryland.
All the work was completed by the National Park Service, which deployed a special unit from the National Mall’s carpentry shop. As this was a special assignment that required a particular set of skills, agency workers could be seen on the circle on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the month of April and into May. Not only did the existing concrete stanchions have to be re-drilled, but since the benches encircle the fountain and the backs of the benches are curved, installing the solid wood backings and seats required special techniques. The style of the benches is in keeping with a style of bench seen throughout the National Park Service sites in the District of Columbia and was reinstalled at the circle to maintain the historical nature and design of the park.
The Friends of Chevy Chase Circle group has been working to maintain and upgrade the circle, and some of those changes — along with the new benches — are in evidence now, even to the drive-by motorist. The 2,500 red and purple tulips enjoyed this spring were purchased last fall by the Friends of Chevy Chase Circle and then planted by the Park Service. Six new willow oaks were installed last spring, and for the first time in decades, the circle has its full complement of 30 trees encircling its outer perimeter.
Perhaps the Friends’ biggest project to date has been rehabbing the traffic “splitters” that sit immediately north and south of the circle. These two triangles in the midst of Connecticut Avenue were a weed-infested eyesore, and although there had been attempts in past years to remedy the problem, until the Friends of Chevy Chase Circle took it on, there had been no attempt to coordinate the north and south triangles into one consistent, landscaped design. With the help of Kristina Kent Gardens, the Friends of Chevy Chase Circle worked with the National Park Service on the south triangle and Maryland’s State Highway Administration on the north triangle to obtain permits to care for and landscape the triangles. Allium, Russian sage, coreopsis, veronica and two different species of grasses were installed, among other hearty and drought-resistant perennials. Through continued donations and the support of residents and businesses surrounding Chevy Chase Circle, a commercial landscaper has been hired and will maintain the triangles into the future.
The circle is a National Park Service property. It is through partnerships like the Friends of Chevy Chase Circle and its community board of volunteers that residents and businesses can bring to the circle the kind of upgrades and changes that they would like to see. For more information about the Friends of Chevy Chase Circle’s current projects or for contact information, visit FriendsofChevyChaseCircle.org.
Ruth Robbins is president of the Friends of Chevy Chase Circle.