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General Services Administration Building

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1915–1917, Charles Butler with the Office of the Supervising Architect. F St. between 18th and 19th streets NW

The General Services Administration Building is the federal government's first frankly modern office building where function predominates over style. It was intended to house the scientific and technical staff of the Interior Department, such as the Geological Survey and Reclamation Service, leaving the secretary and his immediate deputies ensconced in the monumental old Patent Office Building (see DE15.2, p. 189). The building's location, far from the Mall and the White House–Capitol corridor, was viewed as another reason for designing a purely practical structure. As the building project evolved and the secretary increased his interest in the project and determined to locate his offices in it, the building took on monumental aspects.

The important feature of the General Services Administration Building is its E-shaped floor plan, with the back along F Street and the arms stretching south forming two open courts. This arrangement provided for abundant natural light to reach the offices located on the interior of the structure. On F Street, then a major streetcar route, three entrances were located, each corresponding to a wing of the building. Workers occupying offices in a particular wing were supposed to use their respective entrance in order to sort themselves out efficiently and to increase the ability of each bureau of the Interior Department to supervise their movements.

When the construction bid came in lower than the appropriation, Secretary of the Interior Franklin E. Lane persuaded the Office of the Supervising Architect to substitute limestone for the intended gray brick on the building's exterior. Thus, the building took on a monumental appearance. Three doors framed by pilasters, each with a modillion cornice above, mark the main entrance. Ernest C. Bairstow carved the eagle over the central cornice and executed the limestone panels in the sixth-story frieze and ornamental work at the F Street entrance.

The Interior Department made its headquarters here until 1936, when the new Interior building to the south was constructed. Thereafter, this structure served as Interior North, the office of the Federal Works Agency in 1939, and the General Services Administration beginning in 1949.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee
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Citation

Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee, "General Services Administration Building", [Washington, District of Columbia], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/DC-01-FB19.

Print Source

Buildings of the District of Columbia, Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, 216-216.

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