WASHINGTON - The National Mall here is getting crowded.
To protect the 2-mile strip of land between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial, a federal planning agency wants no more museums on the Mall.
"There are literally no additional sites on the Mall appropriate for a museum," said National Capital Planning Commission spokesman David Julyan.
Instead, the commission wants any new museums or memorials to be constructed in other parts of Washington.
The Mall now is home to the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History, the National Museum of Natural History, a number of art galleries and the National Air and Space Museum, among other buildings. Its attractions also include the Washington Monument and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
A World War II memorial is slated for a site near the reflecting pool between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. And plans have been approved for the National Museum of the American Indian, scheduled to open in 2002.
Health Museum proposed
Other museums, such as a new National Health Museum proposed by former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop and others, may have to settle for locations near the Mall.
Congress has approved $500,000 for planning for a health museum at "a spot on or near the Mall."
Koop worries that if the health museum is "too far away from the Mall, people won't go to it."
Lack of proximity to the Mall has hurt public attendance at the National Building Museum, according to Lisa Eddy Knapp, spokeswoman for the museum, located four blocks from the Mall.
"We definitely don't get as many visitors as the Mall museums," she said. Tourists are often "a little intimidated and not sure where to go" once they get off the Mall, she said.
The Mall formerly had a health museum - the National Museum of Health and Medicine, which traces its origins to an Army research project during the Civil War.
That museum was moved from the Mall in 1972 to its present location - 8 miles away at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center - to make room on the Mall for a modern art museum.
Carol Mahoney, spokeswoman for the Museum of Health and Medicine, said that during its peak years on the Mall in the 1960s, the old museum saw "as many as 400,000 to 500,000 people coming through" annually. But now it attracts only between 40,000 and 50,000 visitors a year.
The Hirshhorn Museum, which stands where the old Museum of Health once stood, gets about 1 million visitors a year.
There are no plans to combine the old museum with the new one that Koop is seeking. Koop said he wants a modern health museum with interactive exhibits that would use computer simulations to take visitors on tours of the human body, educational programs and a research center.
Mark Dunham, spokesman for the new health museum effort, said a Mall location is "very important" to the success of drawing tourists.
"Washington receives 20 million visitors every year," he added. "At the moment, those folks tend to go to the Mall. They have a set pattern ... for the attractions they visit."
Julyan said that the first part of the commission's plan to spread museums to other parts of the city will be to show that "the Mall is not the only address that works" and that the second part will be to determine what characteristics enable efforts to succeed off the Mall.
He added that groups planning new museums or memorials need to be convinced that they will not be alone if they build in other parts of the city. "They don't want to be isolated," he said.
According to Koop, "Washington is the hardest place in the world to build a museum because of all the loops you have to go through, all the problems with the federal government, Washington government" and various city planners.
"It takes a long time," Koop said.
Pub Date: 2/12/98