Old Post Office Pavilion
Old Post Office and Clock Tower
Old Post Office Pavilion, located on Pennsylvania Avenue
|Built:||between 1892 and 1899|
|Architect:||Edbrooke, Willoughby J.|
|Architectural style:||Richardsonian Romanesque|
|Governing body:||General Services Administration|
|Part of:||Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site (#66000865)|
|Added to NRHP:||April 11, 1973|
The Old Post Office Pavilion, also known as Old Post Office and Clock Tower and officially renamed the Nancy Hanks Center in 1983, is a historic building of the United States federal government. It is located at 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue (the intersection of 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue), NW, in the Downtown neighborhood.
Built in 1892–99, its rustication, strong semi-circular arches, squat clustered columns united by a foliate Sullivanesque capital-frieze, make it the last major example of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture to be constructed in the District of Columbia.
Scarcely used as a post office, it has been rehabilitated today into office and retail space shared by the federal government and private businesses. The expansive interior atrium is now home to shops, federal offices, entertainment space and a food court.
National Park Service rangers from Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site provide tours of the Old Post Office Tower affording one of the most spectacular views of Washington from its 270-foot-high (82 m) observation deck. The tower includes an exhibit room depicting the building's long struggle for survival. Visitors can also view the Bells of Congress, replicas of those at Westminster Abbey and given by the Ditchley Foundation to the United States in 1983 to celebrate the bicentennial of the end of the Revolutionary War. The Washington Ringing Society sounds The Bells of Congress every Thursday evening and on special occasions. The official bells of the United States Congress, they are one of the largest sets of change ringing bells in North America. Free tours of The Old Post Office Pavilion Clock Tower are offered daily. More information is available by calling (202) 606-8691.
In 1880 Congress approved the building of a new post office. By legend, the site was selected by Senator Leland Stanford of California; the new post office was hoped to revitalize the seedy neighborhood between the Capitol building and the White House. It was designed by Willoughby J. Edbrooke, Supervising Architect of the Treasury Department in the Romanesque Revival style that Henry Hobson Richardson (died 1886) had popularized in the 1880s; construction commenced in 1892. Edbrooke later designed the Federal Court House and Post office for the Upper Midwest, now called the "Landmark Center" (1902) in St Paul, Minnesota.
When completed in 1899, the massive edifice was the largest office building and first building incorporating a steel frame in Washington. The steel frame supports floors and interior constructions, but the outer walls, five feet thick at their base, are still self-supporting. It was also the first federal building on Pennsylvania Avenue and the first government building to have its own power plant. Opening ceremonies were marred when the postmaster of Washington fell to his death down an elevator shaft.
During construction, however, the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago had popularized the classicizing formulas of Beaux-Arts architecture at the expense of Victorian forms. The Romanesque Revival arches on low clustered columns, rustication, and Sullivanesque foliate ornament made the building old-fashioned at its opening in 1899. The new structure was derided in the New York Times as "a cross between a cathedral and a cotton mill". The Old Post Office Pavilion was less than ten years old when cries were heard that it should be torn down. One local man, Nathan Rubinton, carved a model of the building by hand so that when it was torn down, people would remember how it looked.
In 1914, the District of Columbia Mail Depot was moved to a larger building constructed next to Union Station to take advantage of the many rail connections and known later as the General Post Office. Although only 15 years old, the building at 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue was now dubbed the "old" post office. In the 1920s, Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon's building commission developed the surrounding "Federal Triangle" complex and actively sought the building's demolition.
The office of the Postmaster General moved to a newly constructed office building in the massive on-going "Federal Triangle" building project between Pennsylvania Avenue and Constitution Avenue with its unified, distinctive, beaux arts/classical appearance and red tile roofs directly across 12th Street in 1934, and the fate of the "old" building (at 35 years) appeared to be sealed. The only reason that the Old Post Office was not razed then was a lack of money due to the Great Depression. For the next forty years, the building served as overflow space for several government agencies. As no particular agency was made responsible for it, the building fell into decay.
By 1962, the neighborhood around the building had also declined. President John F. Kennedy appointed a Pennsylvania Avenue Commission to study ways to improve the area; in 1964 it returned several recommendations, including demolition of the Old Post Office Building to allow completion of the original lay-out designed for the "Federal Triangle". In 1970 and 1971, demolition permits were issued and Congress appropriated the money for the building's removal.
But local citizens who had grown to admire the building's architecture banded together and formed "Don't Tear It Down", now the D.C. Preservation League  to save it. Nancy Hanks, the politically influential chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Arts, joined the effort and prevailed in convincing Congress to reverse its decision. In 1973 the Old Post Office was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and starting in 1976 it was extensively renovated, including scrubbing its blackened exterior with chemical cleaning solvents which lightened considerable back to its original appearance.
On February 15, 1983, the Old Post Office was officially renamed the "Nancy Hanks Center" in recognition of her devotion to the arts and the preservation of architecturally significant buildings. The building houses the offices of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation as well as the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, and formerly the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
An exhibit room in the renovated tower depicts the struggle for survival of the Old Post Office building. The same exhibit room used to house the model of the building hand-carved by Nathan Rubinton (1882-1958), but it was returned to the Smithsonian Institution, which had loaned the model.
The New York Times reported that as of 2011 the building was costing the government $6.5 million each year to operate. The General Services Administration, which manages the building, chose the Trump Hotel Collection to redevelop the building once again as the Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C.. The $200 million project will include 250 hotel rooms, a conference center, a spa, restaurants and a museum dedicated to the building's history.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2006-03-15.
- U.S. National Park Service: Old Post Office Tower
- Washington City Old Post Office architectural model
- Cooper, Thaddeus. "Old Post Office Building" at TourofDC.org.
- Shultz, Scott G. "America's Watchtower: Saving the Old Post Office," Cultural Resource Management No. 2, 1998.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Old Post Office Pavilion|
- Trump International Hotel, Washington, D.C.
- Old Post Office Pavilion management company
- National Park Service: Old Post Office Tower
- US General Services Administration: Old Post Office
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