Washington DC History Resources

Matthew B. Gilmore

“Dignified, restrained, and well-proportioned”: the Making of the District of Columbia Municipal Building

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Matthew B. Gilmore*

Recently Mayor Bowser was quoted saying, “Sometimes people exaggerate, but it’s probably the worst building in our entire portfolio,” referring to the Metropolitan Police Headquarters in the Henry J. Daly Building. This is quite a comedown from its heyday when it first opened. “A dignified, restrained, and well-proportioned unit” was how the Washington Board of Trade described the new Municipal Building (as it was formally named) in 1942, awarding citations to its architect, Municipal Architect Nathan Wyeth, and builder D.M.W Contracting.

The May 4, 1941 Evening Star announced that District agencies would soon be moving into the new “City Hall” which would open for business on May 19th. On May 18th the headline read “Police will occupy air-conditioned quarters today” and the lead “Washington’s police headquarters neared the close of its biggest moving day in more than 10 years today as criminal records were trundled half a block to the new Municipal Center where police will hold forth in plush air-conditioned suites.”

Plans to move other agencies into the building were frustrated by the War Department occupation of half the space. It had been a very long, 15 year journey for District officials to get this building built. Today it is known as simply Police Headquarters or the Henry J. Daly Building or 300 Indiana Avenue.

1941 View of the Municipal Building. photo--Peter Sefton, Municipal Building nomination to Historic Preservation Review Board.

Its fate today remains unknown. While continuing to suffer from critical deferred maintenance, options have been discussed for several years — news reports or rumors of some property swap deal have swirled since 2012 — but nothing new has been made public. In seemingly unrelated news much has been made of late of the deadness of Pennsylvania Avenue east of the White House (“the nation’s main street”) spawning ongoing planning efforts led by the National Capital Planning Commission, as outlined in its “Pennsylvania Avenue Initiative” to enliven (“curate”) it.

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This entry was posted on February 18, 2016 by in Uncategorized.
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