Born in Paris, Pierre L’Enfant joined the American colonists during the American Revolution to re-design and strengthen American forts. General George Washington liked his work so much that after the war he asked L’Enfant to plan the capital city for the new country.
The many open spaces, plazas, and parks we beltway residents enjoy can be attributed to the genius of the L’Enfant plan. Conceived to celebrate greatness and heroes, his plan brings our city continued grandeur through its continuing ability to add new monuments and memorials
Sadly, French geniuses often score poorly in the “plays nicely with others” department. L’Enfant was no exception. President Washington’s administration made requests of L’Enfant to submit updates to his plan, which were summarily ignored stating he would communicate only with the President. L’Enfant continued to ignore the committee, and was summarily fired… and unpaid for his services.
Being stiffed by the government only intensified Pierre’s already charming disposition. As years passed, his greatest talent was for getting fired from other jobs. Who could blame him, considering a newborn nation stole his capital city genius without so much as a kiss on the cheek. He died broke, interred in an unmarked grave.
But genius sometimes prevails. President McKinley discovered L’Enfant’s grave in 1901, dug him up, set his coffin in state in the Capitol Building, then buried him with full military honors. His final resting place on a hill in Arlington Cemetery offers a beautiful view of the city he designed, but was never paid.
Today L’Enfant café-bar is a social and gastronomic homage to the brilliant, the tempermental, and the French in all of us. When you visit, remember that it’s never too late for a great come-back.