Washington DC History Resources

Matthew B. Gilmore

One Last Tempo: Liberty Loan Building

One Last Tempo: Liberty Loan Building

Matthew B. Gilmore*

[CLICK HERE for complete article: http://intowner.com/2018/11/30/one-last-tempo-liberty-loan-building/

Temporary Liberty Loan Building

Is the Liberty Loan Building [1] Washington’s last tempo? Well, yes and no, all depending upon your point of view. The General Services Administration touts it as such. Construction was begun during in 1918 before the Armistice, and it was officially designated the “Liberty Loan Temporary Building.”


But even as it was planned and designed, provision was made to convert it to a permanent office structure. Two additional stories were completed in 1928 and the Liberty Loan Building lost its temporary status. But it did, indeed, begin existence as a tempo. [2] A tiny sign announces “Treasury Department,” but the building virtually disappears into the much larger Bureau of Engraving ad Printing; this actually was intentional.

The First Tempos

With the entry of the United States into the World War the federal office space situation in Washington, already dire, surpassed the critical mark. Congress promptly appropriated $2 million for temporary office construction. Colonel Clarence S. Ridley, chief of the Office of Public Buildings and Grounds, promptly entered into a contract with the George A. Fuller Company, based on the strong recommendation of the Council of National Defense.

So much haste was called for that “Specifications need not be submitted for approval.” [3] George A. Fuller Company was already building offices for the War Industries Board and the Food Administration. The contract was signed by Fuller President Paul Starrett.

James Baird, Fuller’s Washington, DC vice president, managed the project. Baird was well-known in construction circles. Along with Starrett, he had supervised the construction of the Flatiron Building in New York City, and in Washington, the ongoing Lincoln Memorial construction, the Arlington Cemetery Memorial Amphitheatre, and the Commodore Hotel (today the Phoenix Park); he would go on to manage the construction of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Freer Gallery.


Ridley too had a distinguished career. He had served as senior military aide to President Wilson and worked with Baird on a number of DC projects, including overseeing construction of the Lincoln Memorial and the Arlington Cemetery Memorial Amphitheater, while managing tempo construction. (His career later took him to the Panama Canal Zone where he served as governor.)

With the $2 million which Congress appropriated, three office buildings (A, B, and C) were built for the Departments of War and Navy on the old railroad right-of-way across the Mall. Architect Col. Horace W. Peaslee designed the complex. He was also destined for a distinguished career, including as architect for Meridian Hill Park.

Stretching from B Street on the north and B Street on the south (today, Constitution and Independence Avenues, respectively), the site incorporated the site of the old Baltimore and Potomac Railroad station which had been demolished 10 years earlier and having been infamous as the site where Charles Guiteau assassinated President Garfield.But the construction materials used — and lack of a fire suppression system — so alarmed Richard M. Bissell, Sr., [4] of the National Board of Fire Underwriters and president of Hartford Fire Insurance, that he wrote to Secretary of War Newton Baker a rather impassioned letter raising his concerns in response to the official fire risk report. That report, he felt, stated the issues too blandly.

Despite such concerns, Building A was ready for occupancy in January, just three months after the contract had been signed on October 11th. Construction of the other buildings in the group was delayed due to the cold winter weather and was not ready until the spring. It was immediately apparent that the buildings did not provide all the space required for War and Navy office needs.


[CLICK HERE for complete article: http://intowner.com/2018/11/30/one-last-tempo-liberty-loan-building/

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