GSA Keeps History Alive

GSA’s buildings help tell our nation’s story. Whether it’s a lighthouse in New England, the Nimitz Suite in 50 UN Plaza in San Francisco, or the Old Post Office in Washington, DC, preserving our nation’s historic buildings and putting them to new uses is a vital part of our mission to help build a more sustainable government. GSA’s National Capital Region (NCR) owns more than 100 historic properties, including some of the most significant buildings in DC and relies on the agency’s historic preservation program for technical and strategic expertise. Preservation planners work with architects and real estate specialists to promote the viability and integrity of historically significant federal buildings, often creating a master plan to guide development.

This is the old naval observatory on the historic Potomac Annex campus.
This is the old naval observatory on the historic Potomac Annex campus.

Looking Ahead

When the the U.S. Navy left their historic Potomac Annex campus in the District’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood in 2012, GSA acquired it to create a campus for the State Department. Planning is underway for a “Potomac Hill Campus” across 23rd St NW from State Department headquarters at the Harry S. Truman building. The campus will help the State Department centralize some of its operations that are currently spread among 63 buildings in the National Capital Region, improving efficiency and delivering on an Administration priority to make better use of federal property.

A Look Back

  • The site includes the Navy’s first Observatory (1842), a National Historic Landmark, and a complex of historic buildings that once housed the Naval Medical College and Old Naval Hospital (1903-1911), as well as early 20th century public health research facilities.

  • The East, Central, and South buildings were developed in 1904 as a Hygienic Laboratory that later became the National Institute of Health. When the institute moved to Bethesda in the late 1930s, GSA’s predecessor, the Public Building Service, moved a new agency, the Coordinator of Information into the East Building.

  • The Coordinator of Information, led by General William Donovan, was developed to coordinate intelligence operations during World War II, and expanded to become the Office of Strategic Services by 1942.

  • Potomac Hill continued its association with early intelligence operations when the Central Intelligence Agency began a four decade long tenure in 1946.  When the CIA moved to Langley in 1987, the State Department took occupancy of their buildings, maintaining “Wild” Bill Donovan’s office furnished with his medals, ribbons, and other effects.

    Potomac Annex Campus
    This is a map of the Potomac Annex Campus outlined in red.

Next Steps

The Potomac Hill Campus master planning process will explore a range of alternatives for meeting the State Department’s needs in a way that observes Potomac Hill’s unique history while it reflects a commitment to design quality. GSA is accepting public scoping comments on the project through July 21, 2014. For more information, visit www.gsa.gov/potomachill.

Related posts:

  1. Preserving American History
  2. GSA Commemorates African American History Month
  3. Historic U.S. Custom House Restored