Dwight Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Washington, DC

Building History

The Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB) was built between 1871 and 1888 as the State, War, and Navy Department Building, bringing these rapidly growing interrelated government departments together under a single roof.

Alfred B. Mullett, Supervising Architect of the Treasury Department, designed the building. It was built in four stages and replaced two existing executive office buildings that stood west of the White House. The south wing (1871-1875) housed the State Department. The east wing (1872-1879) housed the Navy Department. The north (1879-1882), west and center wings (1884-88) housed the War Department. In 1874 Mullett resigned as Supervising Architect because of difficulties with the Treasury Secretary and was succeeded by Orville Babcock (1875) and then William A. Potter (1875-1877). However, the last 11 years of construction was supervised by Colonel Thomas Lincoln Casey, an Army Engineer, who was assisted by Chief Designer, Richard Von Ezdorf.

The Office of the Superintendent of the State, War, and Navy Building was created in 1882 to provide building services for the Departments within the building. It was the first federal agency created solely to manage a building and, as such, was a predecessor of the U.S. General Services Administration. The Navy outgrew its space and left in 1918. The War Department outgrew its space and left in 1938. The State Department followed in 1947. In 1949 the building became the Executive Office Building to better identify its occupants, the Bureau of the Budget and White House staff. In 1955 President Dwight D. Eisenhower held the first televised presidential press conference in the Indian Treaty Room. The building has housed all Vice Presidents and their staffs, beginning with Lyndon B. Johnson. It has been associated with people, events, and decisions of great historic importance to the country.

In 1957 the President's Advisory Commission on Presidential Office Space recommended demolition and replacement with a modern office building. This recommendation was never implemented. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1969, the building is also within the Lafayette Square National Historic Landmark District. It was renamed the Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building in 1999 and rededicated in 2002.

Architecture

The Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building is located next to the White House at 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW and is surrounded by a decorative cast-iron fence set on a granite base. A major example of French Second Empire style architecture, it stands with the Capitol, the White House, and the Treasury building as a symbol of the U.S. government. Designed by Alfred B. Mullett a few years after completion of the nearby Treasury Department Building, Congress required that his design match Treasury's building plan and use of fireproof materials. However, it is set apart by its highly articulated gray granite facades with tiers of porticoes, paired Doric and Ionic colonnades, and dramatic slate-covered mansard roofs. These are characteristic features of the Second Empire style favored by Mullett and used to great effect.

Upon completion it was the largest office building in Washington. The granite walls are nearly four feet thick and supported on spread hydraulic concrete footings. The window frames, exterior roof sculpture, cornices, and roof trim are cast iron. The interior has ceilings eighteen feet high, and nearly two miles of corridors, lined with floors of white marble and black limestone. The Venetian-born and Austrian-trained chief designer, Richard Von Ezdorf, created a fireproof interior by using cast-iron structural and decorative elements in conjunction with brick and plaster walls. Installed in 1875, the hydraulic lift elevator was the first in any U.S. government building. Telephone and telegraph lines were installed in 1879 and electric lights by 1890.

Monumental curving granite staircases, lined with over 4,000 individually cast bronze balusters, are set below four skylit domes and two stained-glass rotundas. The State Department's south wing was the first to be occupied. It contains a library, the Diplomatic Reception Room, and the Secretary's office suite decorated with carved wood, Oriental rugs, and stenciled wall patterns. The State Department's elegant four-story library, now used as the Executive Office of the President Library, was constructed entirely of cast iron and completed in 1876. It is the largest of the three libraries in the building.

The Navy Department occupied the east wing. The office suite of the Secretary is decorated with elaborate stenciling, marquetry floors, and heavily decorated ceiling and wall moldings. The Indian Treaty Room, originally the Navy's library and reception room, has rich marble wall panels, encaustic tile floors, and gold-leaf ornamentation. The two-story room has hosted the signings of international treaties, presidential press conferences, and presidential ceremonies. The 800-pound bronze lamps in each corner represent Peace & War, Liberty, Arts & Sciences, and Industry.

The War Department occupied the north, west, and center wings. Its major interior spaces include the ornately finished War Department Library, constructed of cast iron like the other two libraries, and the Secretary's office suite. Like the east wing, the west wing contains a double staircase set below a stained-glass rotunda.

In 1982 the Preservation Office was established to develop a comprehensive preservation program for the building. This includes research, educational programs, the public tour program, and the formulation of a master plan for the building's continued adaptive use. The upgraded maintenance program has also included the restoration of some of the building's spectacular historic interiors to their original appearance.

Significant Events

1871-1888: The State, War and Navy Department Building (later the Eisenhower Executive Office Building) is constructed.

1898: In Room 208, the Secretary of State gives the Spanish Ambassador his credentials and passports as the U.S. declares war against Spain.

1930: State, War and Navy Department Building is renamed the Department of State Building.

1949: The Department of State Building is renamed the Executive Office Building.

1955: Eisenhower holds first-ever televised Presidential press conference in Room 474.

1957: Advisory Commission on Presidential Space recommends demolition to build a modern office building.

1969: The building is designated a National Historic Landmark.

1971: The building is added to Lafayette Square National Historic Landmark District.

1982: Preservation Office created to oversee restoration of interior public spaces and certain significant offices.

1999: The building is renamed in honor of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

2002: In a public ceremony on the east steps, the building is rededicated by President George W. Bush.

Building Facts

Architects: Alfred B. Mullett, Supervising Architect of the Treasury Department, and Richard Von Ezdorf, Chief Designer

Construction Dates: 1871-1888

Landmark Status: National Historic Landmark, part of the Lafayette Square National Historic Landmark District

Location: 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, next to the White House

Architectural Style: French Second Empire

Primary Materials: Gray granite with cast-iron details

Prominent Features: Coupled Doric and Ionic colonnades; mansard roof with cast-iron trim; stained glass skylights; monumental spiral staircases; three cast-iron libraries of two-, three-, and four-stories

Dwight Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Washington, DC

The Old Executive Office Building, currently known as the Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building, was built from 1871 to 1888 in order to house the growing staffs of the State, War, and Navy Departments. It was constructed wing-by-wing, gradually replacing the existing executive offices which flanked the White House from 1799 to 1820. Designed by Alfred B. Mullett in the French Second Empire style of architecture, it was the largest office building in Washington with 4 1/2' thick granite walls, 18' ceilings, and nearly 2 miles of black and white marble corridors upon completion in 1888. Almost all of the interior details are of cast iron or plaster. The use of wood was minimized to insure fire safety, since at the time of construction a series of fires displaced the State Department as well as necessitated the construction of the Treasury Building.

Monumental curving staircases of granite are lined with over 4,000 individually cast bronze balusters and capped by four skylit domes and two stained glass rotundas. Completed in 1875, the State Department's south wing was the first of the four main wings, which make up the OEOB, to be occupied. This wing was entirely the work of Mullett. It contains an elegant four story library (Rm. 308), the Diplomatic Reception Room (Rm. 212), and the Secretary's office decorated with carved wood, Oriental rugs, and stenciled wall patterns (Rm. 208). The State Department's Library, now called the White House Library, was constructed in 1875 entirely of cast iron. Located in the upper story, attic, and cockloft levels of the South center pavilion, the Library was completed in 1876 and is the largest of the three eventually constructed. It is the least elaborate library, retaining Mullett's quiet classicism. The Navy Department's occupied the East wing. The office of the Secretary is decorated with elaborate stenciling, marquetry floors and heavily decorated ceiling and moldings (Rm. 274). The Indian Treaty Room, originally the Navy's library and reception room, cost more per square foot than any other room in the building because of its rich marble wall panels, 800-pound bronze lamps, and gold-leaf ornamentation (Rm. 474). The two-story room has hosted the signing of international treaties, press conferences, and presidential ceremonies. The bronze lamps in each corner represent War & Peace, Arts & Sciences, Liberty, and Industry.

The War Department occupied the West wing which was completed by 1888. Von Ezdorf designed all the interior spaces, including the richly decorated War Department Library (Rm. 528) and the Secretary's office (Rm. 232).

The building is bounded by four roadways: Pennsylvania Avenue to the North, 17th Street to the West, State Place on the South and West Executive Avenue on the East. The site includes landscaped areas of grass, trees and annual planting beds and is surrounded by a decorative cast iron fence on a granite base.

The site and building are not open to the public due to the nature of the governmental activities which occur within.

Dwight Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Washington, DC

The building was built in phases between 1871 and 1888. It is within the Lafayette Square National Historic Landmark District and also is individually listed as a National Historic Landmark.

The Old Executive Office Building, currently known as the Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building, is located next to the White House at 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. It represents the heavy tide in growth of industries and cities in the late 19th Century. As one of the best examples of French Second Empire architecture in the country, it was criticized for its extravagance. Constructed wing-by-wing beginning in 1871, the building housed three departments: State, War, and Navy. Associated with the Gilded Age of the 1870s and 1880s, it is praised for evoking a by-gone day - "an epoch in American architecture." It has become a period and a symbol, and its very flamboyance has been recognized as a vital part of Washington's history. In this sense the building, in its granite strength, stands with the Capitol, the White House, and the Treasury building as a reminder of Washington as the seat of the U.S. government. Designed a few years after completion of the nearby Treasury Department Building, it clearly drew on the basic building configuration, materials and design elements of the Treasury Building, but the design was refined and embellished, presenting a much more elaborate decorative result. It is one of the few remaining examples in Washington of the Second Empire style, and is recognized nationally as one of the best examples remaining today. An aesthetic issue which has been constantly debated for years, it was criticized for its architecture due to "extravagance and frivolous ornamentation" as early as 1874, soon after the south wing began to display intricate detail of the style.

Alfred B. Mullett, Supervising Architect of the Treasury, became the reluctant designer. Because he and his staff were loaded down with a backlog of plans for other Federal buildings in most large cities, Mullett was reluctant to take on an additional task of designing the Executive Office Building. However, he was persuaded by then Secretary of State Hamilton Fish who was set under legislation of 1871 to the task of constructing a building with accommodations for the State, War, and Navy Departments. At least seven architects submitted proposals for the project, but Mullett's gained an extremely favorable consensus at the time of the design. The ground-breaking for the south wing on June 21, 1871 began a construction task that went on without interruption for nearly 17 years. The south wing was completed in December of 1875. The east wing construction was begun July 14, 1872 and completed April 16, 1879. The north wing construction lasted from July 17, 1879 until December 23, 1882; while the west and center wings were begun March 31, 1884 and finished January 31, 1888. Most delays in construction stemmed from unforeseen difficulties which hampered stone and metal contractors. However, in 1875 Mullett resigned due to difficulties, largely financial, with the new Secretary of the Treasury, Benjamin H. Bristow. Mullett had 3 successors: William A. Potter (1875), Richard Von Ezdorf (chief designer) (1876), and Colonel Thomas Lincoln Casey (1877).

Potter assumed the position at the War Department in March 1875 at Mullett's departure. At this time the south wing was near completion and the only other existing wing was the east wing which would be under the authority of the Navy in three months time. Contrary to Potter's "lame duck" position, Colonel Casey as a builder was a master of efficiency, thoroughly familiar with heavy masonry construction, and best known for reducing costs without sacrificing quality. He built the north wing for 43% less than the south wing, and the west wing cost nearly 34% less than the east wing.

The Austro-Venetian aristocrat Richard Von Ezdorf is credited with the much of the interior decoration of the Building. Hired in 1873 as an architectural draftsman under Mullett, he was transferred in 1876 to the War Department to work on completion of the building. He addressed the central issue of fireproofing through the use of cast-iron structural and decorative elements while still retaining the more quiet classicism of the Mullett regime. Born in Venice's famed Palazzi Balbi, Von Ezdorf was a more aristocratic and refined designer than most American architects. His intricate and elaborate designs appeared straight out of the baroque palaces of Austria and Germany. In direct opposition to the progressive architectural tendency of the day, he exhibited a divorce of the interior and the exterior. His major contribution to the building was an adjustment, in a refined way, of the various historical revival styles to the technological demands of cast-iron.

1882 saw the creation of the Office of the Superintendent of the State, War, and Navy Building, a government agency with the purpose of furnishing building services to the Departments within the building grounds. A lineal ancestor of GSA, it was the first federal agency created solely to manage a building, and it did so until 1925 when it was merged with the office of the Commissioner of Public Buildings and Grounds. In 1933 it was then transferred to the Department of the Interior. August 30, 1949 was the assignment of the new name, the Executive Office Building, in order to identify its occupants, mainly the Bureau of the Budget. Over the years it has had at least 14 names in official and semi-official use.

On May 31, 1957, the President's Advisory Commission on Presidential Office Space recommended demolition and construction of a White House office building on the site, because the building was too costly to operate and a modern office building would offer more efficient space. However, President Truman's opinion illustrated the next turn in the evolution of the public attitude. Truman was quoted as saying "...I think it's the greatest monstrosity in America." President Kennedy shared a similar sentimentality when it came to the building; a common respect for the symbolic quality of the building appealed to him.

Major renovations and steps for preservation have been actively pursued since 1981. This upgraded maintenance program has also included the restoration of some of the building's spectacular historic interiors. In 1983 the OEOB Preservation Office was instituted to oversee the effort and to develop a comprehensive preservation program, which includes restoration, research, educational programs, the public tour program, and the formulation of a master plan for the building's continued adaptive use.

Year
Start
Year
End
Description Architect
1871 1888 Original construction in three phases Mullett, Von Ezdorf, Hatch
1939 New Elevator Cabs Not Known
1939 New Copper Roof and Exterior Repairs Not Known
1961 Roof repairs, repointing and cleaning Not Known
1961 Remove Six Ornamental Chimneys Not Known
1972 Exterior Lighting Not Known
1983 Restore Rm. 274 (Vice President's Office)
1991 1995 Roof Replacement and Restoration of Roof Elements Quinn Evans/Architects
1993 1994 Rehabilitate Wooden Windows Einhorn Yaffee Prescott