Saturday, July 5, 2014

A history of the Old Post Office Tower building in Washington, DC

The Old Post Office is a beautiful piece of architecture that sits off the National Mall in Washington, D.C. A structure that has housed offices, eateries and shops throughout the decades, many visitors have passed through this vintage building each year, myself included. 

Birth of the Old Post Office Tower Building

The building was constructed by the U.S. Government between 1892 and 1899 and was the home of the Post Office until the early 1930s when the agency relocated. It was designed by Willoughby J. Edbrooke, a well-known architect who co-designed the Georgia State Capitol and several other notable buildings in the United States. Currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it's hard to believe this remarkable structure, which stands at 315 feet, was almost razed, not once, but twice. It is the third tallest building in the U.S. capital city.

Old Post Office building in downtown Washington in Federal Triangle

Deterioration of the building


Over its first few decades, the building had steadily declined. The Post Office moved out of the building in the early portion of the 1930s and the condition of the building worsened from there. Additionally, it seems at the time there was no desire to upkeep the building. The National Park Service (NPS) states in an informational flyer: 

"Locals considered the Old Post Office Tower unappealing due to changing tastes in architecture and the construction of distinctly different government buildings in the Federal Triangle area."

Previously slated to be demolished

The first consideration of demolition took place back in 1934, however, due to the repercussions of the Great Depression, the building was spared. The idea of dismantling the Old Post Office Building was revisited again in 1970. However, a strong advocate came from a woman by the name of Nancy Hanks who fought for its survival.

Old Post Office Building

Over the next several decades, the building was used by multiple government agencies for a variety of purposes. By the mid-1970s the Old Post Office building was in poor condition and the idea of demolition had already been revisited and approved by Congress in 1970. Hanks, then chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, fought against the razing of the Post Office, testifying to Congress, "Old buildings are like old friends", and provided additional testimony that stirred other people to join the mission to save the Old Post Office.

Old Post Office is saved


As a result of the campaign spearheaded by Hanks, the Old Post Office Tower was eventually placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and was renovated. It also was subsequently rededicated by then-President Ronald Reagan, The Nancy Hanks Center. Since then visitors have been welcomed to tour the historic tower by taking elevators to the top. Once atop, visitors are treated to spectacular views and can also get a close up view of The Bells of Congress.

Bells of Congress were a Bicentennial gift from the Ditchley Foundation

Over the last 40 years, people also came to the building to eat, shop or listen to live entertainment. There were still some offices in the building as well as appearing to be used as storage, however, this is currently about to change.

The next chapter

If you're walking around downtown, you might notice some changes going on. As of May 1, 2014, the Old Post Office is temporarily closed and tours of the tower suspended. The souvenir shops and eateries are now gone as The Trump Organization has currently taken a long-term lease on the property and will be turning it into a luxury hotel. Once work is completed, NPS will resume tours of the tower. (Update: tours quietly recommended in early 2017).

For more information on the Old Post Office Tower building and for the latest updates, visit the National Parks Service website. The ride to the top gives some spectacular views, I look forward to the tower's reopening. 

View from Old Post Office Tower in Washington DC
View from the top of the Old Post Office building

View from Old Post Office Tower in Washington DC
Views of Washington Monument and surrounding area

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