The Old Post Office in Washington DC

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The Old Post Office building in Washington, DC, constructed between 1892 and 1899, was designed by Willoughby J. Edbrooke, the Supervising Architect of the Treasury Department.  Purpose-built to house the Post Office, it is considered the last significant building of the Romanesque Revival style constructed in Washington DC.  It was also the first building in the city to incorporate a steel frame to support the interior structures of the building while exterior granite (Vinalhaven, ME) is load-bearing and tapers from 5’ thick near the foundation to approximately 1’ thick at the eave of the mansard roof.

In the 1880s Congress approved the building of a new post office.  Planned to be a grand edifice to act as an anchor to revitalize the neighborhood between the Capitol and the White House, the construction dragged on for seven years.  By the time it was completed the Beaux Arts style of architecture had gained favor making the newly completed Post Office appear almost immediately outdated.  In fact, the new structure was derided in the New York Times as “a cross between a cathedral and a cotton mill”. The post office moved into the new headquarters when it was completed, but in 1914, the Mail Depot was moved to a larger building constructed next to Union Station, leaving the purpose built landmark underutilized.  Since the 1920s the massive structure has served as overflow space for various government agencies.

In the 1920s the building commission of the Treasury Department was actively developing the surrounding Federal Triangle complex and promoting the building’s demolition.  This act was only suspended by the deepening depression: the government could not afford to tear the building down.  Given its mixed use and orphan status with no government agency directly responsible for its upkeep, the Old Post Office slowly fell into disrepair.  In 1964 the Pennsylvania Avenue Commission, organized by President John F. Kennedy, recommended that the building be demolished to make way for the completion of the Federal Triangle.  By the early 1970s, demolition permits were in place and the funds for the demolition were appropriated by Congress.

The building narrowly avoided the wrecking ball again when a preservation group led by Nancy Hanks, the then chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Arts, prevailed upon Congress to reverse its decision.  The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, treated to an extensive renovation beginning in 1976 and officially renamed the Nancy Hanks Center in 1983.

In early 2012 The Old Post Office building was deemed surplus building stock by the General Services Administration, which entered into a long-term lease agreement with The Trump Organization, whose plan is to rehabilitate the building as the Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C.  Vertical Access worked with Robert Silman Associates for the Trump Organization to complete the due diligence survey in advance of the lease of the property.  In August 2012 a VA team completed a thorough exterior survey of the tower and areas of the main building.

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