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Volta Bureau

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1894–1896, Peabody and Stearns. 1537 35th St. NW
  • Volta Bureau

Alexander Graham Bell's achievements in science and his interest in advancing the education of deaf children are both evoked by the Volta Bureau. With the $10,000 Volta Prize he won in 1880, Bell established a laboratory at the rear of his parents' house at 35th and Volta Place. His patents for a telephone and a phonograph record yielded additional funds that helped to endow the Volta Bureau for the Increase and Diffusion of Knowledge Relating to the Deaf.

Bell commissioned the prestigious Boston firm of Peabody and Stearns to design the building, which incorporated his laboratory, on a lot just north of his parents' house. Its design probably was derived from the Volta Temple at Lake Como, Italy, named in honor of physicist Alessandro Volta. The long, narrow building that houses the Volta Bureau has a Composite distyle in antis porch fronting on 35th Street. The massive columns support an entablature surmounted by a high parapet punctuated with balusters. Terracotta bands crisscross the yellow brick building. A major renovation of 1948–1949 closed the soaring interior spaces with a floor of offices. Because of zoning restrictions, a facility such as the Volta Bureau could not now be built in residential Georgetown. Like the quiet nineteenth-century public school edifices, however, the Volta Bureau demonstrates how well institutional and residential buildings have coexisted throughout much of the city's history.

Writing Credits

Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee


What's Nearby


Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee, "Volta Bureau", [Washington, District of Columbia], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of the District of Columbia, Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, 412-413.

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