Hoover Building History
One of the first government buildings within the Federal Triangle, the Department of Commerce served as the precedent for later buildings constructed in the Triangle under the Public Buildings Act. An outstanding example of the monumental neo-classical style of architecture, its form is a simple rectangle punctuated by six symmetrically based interior courtyards. Its design was copied in other Triangle buildings and is derived from the strong forms of the City Beautiful Movement as first seen at the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. Designed by the New York architecture firm of York & Sawyer, when it was completed in 1932, it was proclaimed the largest office building in the world with over 3,300 rooms and 1.8 million square feet of office space. It covers 8 acres and its length exceeds that of the U.S. Capitol. It also boasts 5200 windows, 1.5 million bricks, 99 acres of plastering, two tons of copper nails, and 25 tons of bronze hardware.
Created by Congress in 1903 as the Department of Commerce and Labor, the Commerce Department experienced rapid growth in the early twentieth century. The need to provide a permanent home for the long dispersed bureaus and divisions of the department ensured that the Commerce building was the first departmental headquarters to find a home in the redeveloped Federal Triangle.
The design and scale of the building's exterior and its placement at the base of the Federal Triangle symbolized the Department's function as anchor of the nation's economic strength. Renamed the Herbert Clark Hoover Department of Commerce Building in 1981, it has served as the headquarters for every Commerce Secretary since its completion in 1932.
Spanning 3 city blocks, the austere facade of the Commerce Building is adorned with many different forms of architectural decoration, which enliven the building and speak to the functions of the department. The center section of the building's 14th Street facade contains a dramatic Doric colonnade of twenty-four fluted columns, each forty-two feet tall. The roof line is crowned with a repeating series of alternating carved eagles and torches. Clusters of large, bronze octagonal lamps mark the main pedestrian entrances to the building.
Adjacent to many entries are bas-relief panels depicting the Commerce Department's numerous bureaus and inscription panels with quotes pertaining to commerce. On the building's 15th Street façade, pediment sculptures created by James Earle Fraser illustrate the department's role in Fisheries, Aeronautics, Mining, and Foreign and Domestic Commerce. Granite urns flanking the Constitution and Pennsylvania Avenue entrances combine American patriotic symbols of stars and eagles with Renaissance decorative elements, such as garlands, to suggest the fruitful abundance of the nation's commerce.