City Desk

Honoring Obama With Park Would Slight Stephen Girard!

Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham seems hellbent on naming a small Columbia Heights park after President Barack Obama.

That would require ditching the property's current name: 14th and Girard Park. Prosaic, certainly, but a name's a name, and tossing away a historic moniker to honor the latest hot thing is not a good precedent to set.

So what is the provenance of the name Girard?

Reader and local historian Scott W. Langill writes in, having done a spot of research:

I found a 1941 Washington Post article that reported that Harvard, Girard, and Kenyon streets were named for universities at a time when nearby University Place was the site of George Washington University. The earliest reference I could find in the Washington Post to "Girard Street" was in 1880....So evidently Girard Street/Park is indirectly named for Stephen Girard.

Girard College, as it happens, isn't a postsecondary institution, but a primary and secondary institution in Philadelphia serving kids from poor single-parent families. Girard the man was an early 19th-century financier who died the richest man in America, but gave nearly all his fortune away after death. Also, Wikipedia notes, Girard was influential in moving more governmental functions from his hometown of Philly down to Washington.

Worthy of a park naming, no?

Public domain photo of Stephen Girard, hosted at Wikipedia

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  • Craig Howell

    Um, no, actually. I believe his will specified that his school could only be open for white children. It took a major court case to break his will, on the grounds that it violated public policy, so the school could be integrated.

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  • Sarah

    I agree!

    Ditching old names for the latest hot thing by politicians always seemed like a low way to try to garner votes to me. They should stop worrying about names and do some real work.

    And while I love Obama, let's wait to see what the next 4-8 years bring before we start naming every school, park, street, etc. after him. I say we follow the same tradition that no living president appear on our currency before we get to renaming everything.

    As for the previous commenter re: Girard's will you have to look at his will with the light of the historical cultural norms at the time. I'm female and was also excluded from his will. I graduated from Girard College in the 90's, however. I don't begrudge the man for the way his will was written. I am, however, thankful for all that he did for this country and for being unbelievably generous with his wealth.

  • Omar

    I live at 14th and Girard, and am actually a 2001 graduate of Girard College in Philadelphia.

    Name it after Obama! Stephen Girard's legacy will live on because of his great philanthropic actions for children, for Philadelphia, and for this country. Naming it Obama Park would do nothing to denigrate his reputation.

  • http://yahoo girard

    my family haves been here for over 500 years and would like our family's name left alone from Obama. thank you fram a family member of the girards.

  • Evie

    I followed the links and learned quite a bit about Girard. He seems to have earned keeping his name right where it is. Nice article. It is nice to learn what these names mean. Keep the name Girard. Obama will have much named for him in the future.