Matthew B. Gilmore
The National Archives (I) at Pennsylvania Avenue between 7th and 9th Streets NW https://www.archives.gov/dc-metro/washington is a superb public institution for researching Washington DC history. Contrary to perception it is not difficult to use, once you learn how to navigate the catalogs, reading rooms, archivists, and collections.
It is the home of one of the primary research sources for Washington history– the building permits (applications) (on microfilm) 1877-1949.* These are extremely simple to access–the National Archives is open M, T, W, Th, F,
AND Saturday 9 am to 5 pm.*
The microfilm publication number is M1116 District of Columbia Building Permits, 1877–1949, and Index, 1877–1958. 1,465 rolls. DP.
Rolls 1–40 contain a three-part index arranged by
1) square and lot number;
2) subdivision; and
3) street address.
There are two published descriptions of the permits collection (click the links below for the PDF):
This microfilm is extremely easy to find. Enter the Archives from the Pennsylvania Avenue researcher entrance. Sign in (with your researcher card). Go straight back through the research consultation/finding aids/computers area to the left–to the microfilm room. Head straight back and the building permit microfilm is on your left in cabinets 22A/1 through 24A/5. They also have a computer with the permits-to-build database (which indexes the “permit-to-build” for new structures, not repairs, additions, etc.)
NOTE: Building Permits Issued after September 7, 1949
Although M1116 includes an index to building permits issued through 1958, the permits themselves are in the custody of the District of Columbia Office of Public Records (DC Archives). https://os.dc.gov/service/district-columbia-archives You may review the permits by emailing the permit number to firstname.lastname@example.org. They will contact you to make an appointment. Permits issued between 1958 and 1995 are located at the Office of Public Records but must be requested at the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, Permit Records.
SEE ALSO House History Resources
*The copy of the microfilm held by Washingtoniana was purchased from the National Archives.