History of the Main Interior Building

Inception Phase—Through Design

The Department of the Interior was the first building in Washington, D.C. authorized, designed, and built by the Roosevelt Administration. Construction began in April of 1935 and was completed in December of 1936 - a record time for the building of a federal structure of its size and complexity.

Plans for a new building to contain the principal offices and agencies of the Department were realized during the first term of Secretary Harold L. Ickes. When Ickes was sworn in on March 4, 1933, as the 32nd Secretary (1933-46), the Department had outgrown the old Interior Building (now the General Services Administration Building), between E and F Streets and 18th and 19th Streets, NW.

Even with offices in 15 additional buildings around Washington, D.C., employees were overcrowded and morale was low. Acutely aware of problems resulting from rented offices scattered throughout the city, Ickes undertook the task of finding a more suitable arrangement.

In November 1933, President Roosevelt gave Secretary Ickes permission to take over the soon-to-be finished Interstate Commerce Building in the Federal Triangle. However, this required an Act of Congress. Since that seemed highly unlikely, FDR Recommended that funds be appropriated for a new building to be specifically designed and constructed to meet the requirements of the Department. In 1934 the Administrator of Public Works, with the approval of the President, allotted $12,740,000 for a new Interior building. Three sites were considered: the first was on the Mall facing constitution Avenue between 12th and 14th Streets, NW (today, the site of the Museum of History and Technology, Smithsonian Institution): the second was a cluster of small lots on the east, west, and north sides of the old Interior Building; and the third was just south of the old Interior building and Rawlins Park.

On March 21, 1934, the third proposed site just south of the existing structure and Rawlins Square was selected. This plot, including the area between 18th and 19th Streets and C and E Streets, NW represented one of the few double-block sites in the city where an intervening street (D) could be eliminated for development.

Waddy B. Wood, a prominent Washington, D.C., architect was selected to design the new Interior Building. Mr. Woods's work was concentrated in a rapidly growing city; his designs centered on the historic styles; and his philosophy was one that disdained attempts against the traditional as forced and wasteful.

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