One of the outings we had while the boys & Amanda were here was to the Old Post Office Pavilion on Pennsylvania Avenue.
The Old Post Office building came to be because of an 1890 decision to consolidate government offices into a central location. The City Post Office would be in the basement and first floor and other Government offices including the Post Office Department would take up the other floors.
The building was designed by Willoughby J. Edbrooke who was the “Supervising Architect” of the Treasury from 1891-1893, a position responsible for all federal government building projects at the time. The Old Post Office took 7 years to complete under 5 different supervising architects. Construction started by driving 4,000 piles of Virginian pine 20 feet deep into the ground in 1892. The building was the first steel & iron frame building in DC. It has granite masonry walls 5 ft. thick which are self-supporting while steel girders support interior floor beams. The granite veneer came from Vinalhaven in Maine. The building has Romanesque arches, Romanesque Revival columns, capitals, moldings and spandrels. There is even a dentiled cornice reminiscent of the machicolation used in medieval fortifications! There are Byzantine sculptural capitals, French Gothic dormers & sculpture and French Renaissance detailing!
There is a 9-story light court with enormous skylight and in the building’s renovation in 1983 they added a glass elevator to give access to the observation deck above the clock.
In 1899 the Post Office Department began moving into the building. One of the tourist recommendations in the early 1900’s was to visit the Dead Letter Office which had a museum where you could see all the mail and packages which had gone astray – this apparently included stuffed alligators, human skulls and a lock of Charles Guiteau’s hair (Guiteau shot & mortally wounded President James Garfield in 1881). The City Post Office remained in the building for 15 years.
The building came under threat in 1928 when Congress voted to buy all the private property around the Post Office Building, demolish everything and build Federal Buildings. The Post Office Building was saved by the Great Depression when funds for the demolition could not be found. In the 1960’s the building came under attack again – this time from the President’s Council tasked with making recommendations to clean up Pennsylvania Avenue. The Council recommended the building be torn down but that the Clock Tower should be saved. That led to the “Don’t Tear It Down” campaign in 1970, formed to save the building.
In 1971 a Senate Committee hearing decided to preserve the building and in 1973 the Old Post Office Building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The building was subsequently renovated and re-opened in 1983 as “The Pavilion at the Old Post Office” with Federal offices on upper floors and the basement level opened up to make a concourse of shops & restaurants. In 1976 the Ditchley Foundation of Great Britain had presented the US Congress a set of English ringing bells as a symbol of friendship and these were placed in the Clock Tower in 1983 and are rung at the opening and closing of Congress and on national holidays.
The National Park Service now operates tours up the Clock Tower and it’s worth going up for the view -and it’s fun going up in the glass elevator though it doesn’t carry many at a time – I think the limit was 9.
The Washington Monument is the tallest structure in DC but it is still closed due to the damage it sustained in the earthquake last year. The Clock Tower of the Post Office Building is the second tallest structure.
Recently the GSA called for proposals to redevelop the building and chose the Trump Organization as the successful bidder. From the GSA press release: “The Trump Organization proposal calls for converting the Old Post Office to a luxury hotel with more than 250 rooms, along with world renowned restaurants, a spa, and conference facilities, while preserving and enhancing all of its historic features.”