“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”

Judiciary Square in Washington, District of Columbia — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)

The National Building Museum

Civil War to Civil Rights


— Downtown Heritage Trail —

The National Building Museum Marker image. Click for full size.
By Devry Becker Jones, January 26, 2018
1. The National Building Museum Marker
Inscription.  The nation’s only museum dedicated to American achievements in architecture, urban planning, construction, engineering, and design is appropriately housed in one of the most extraordinary structures in the nation’s capital.

Constructed between 1882 and 1887 in the style of an Italian Renaissance palace, the building was designed to house the Pension Bureau. The bureau, forerunner to today's Veterans Administration, managed thousands of pensions owed to Civil War veterans and to the families of those who died. It was designed by an engineer, Major General Montgomery C. Meigs, who had served the Union cause as Quartermaster General. General Meigs himself lost his son, John Rogers Meigs, in the Civil War. Some have called this building, with its symbolic parade of Union Forces, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial of the Pension Building's day.

Although modeled on Rome’s Palazzo Farnese, its provisions for light, air circulation, and fireproofing made it the federal government’s first modern office building. Built in red brick rather than the white sandstone and marble of other federal buildings, it was ridiculed by many at
The National Building Museum Marker image. Click for full size.
By Devry Becker Jones, January 26, 2018
2. The National Building Museum Marker
Civil War infantrymen march around the Pension Building, now the National Building Museum, in a 1,200-foot-long terra cotta frieze that surrounds the red brick structure. National Building Museum
the time. “It’s too bad the damn thing is fireproof,” said General William Tecumseh Sherman.

A 1,200-foot-long terra cotta frieze encircles the entire building, depicting all the Union forces in the Civil War—infantry, cavalry, and artillery troops, and naval, quartermaster, and medical personnel. Inside, massive 75-foot-tall columns, made of brick and finished to look like marble, punctuate a 300-foot-long Great Hall. A favorite venue for presidential inaugural balls, the Great Hall hosted its first for Grover Cleveland in 1885, even before the building was completed.

Threatened with demolition in the 1960s, the building was saved by citizen action. It became home to the National Building Museum by an act of Congress in 1980.

Major General Montgomery C. Meigs, above, designed and built the Pension Building with a great hall reminiscent of a Renaissance palace. He use 15½ million bricks. A recent view of the finished Great Hall, lower right.

The Great Hall decorated for the inaugural ball of President William McKinley in 1901.

A portion of the terra cotta frieze which encircles the building and honors the Union forces in the Civil War. Frieze by Casper Buberi.
Erected by Cultural Tourism DC. (Marker Number e.7.)
Topics and series.
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This historical marker is listed in this topic list: Notable Buildings. In addition, it is included in the Downtown Heritage Trail series list.
Location. 38° 53.836′ N, 77° 1.092′ W. Marker is in Judiciary Square in Washington, District of Columbia. Marker is on F Street Northwest east of 5th Street Northwest, on the right when traveling east. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 450 F Street Northwest, Washington DC 20001, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Discover DC / Judiciary Square (within shouting distance of this marker); National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); A Courthouse Reborn (about 500 feet away); Sitting in Judgment (approx. 0.2 miles away); Old City Hall (approx. 0.2 miles away); Daniel Webster (approx. 0.2 miles away); Senator Daniel Webster (approx. 0.2 miles away); Cristoforo Colombo (approx. 0.2 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Judiciary Square.
More about this marker. This marker replaced an earlier marker, with the same name and similar text and photos, numbered e.3, The National Building Museum, e.3.
Credits. This page was last revised on March 15, 2019. It was originally submitted on January 28, 2018, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. This page has been viewed 108 times since then and 16 times this year. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on January 28, 2018, by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia. • Bernard Fisher was the editor who published this page.
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Jul. 5, 2020