Environmental Protection Agency, East Building, Washington, DC

Environmental Protection Agency, East Building

Environmental Protection Agency East and West
Washington, DC

Building History

In the early twentieth century, the area of Washington, D.C., now known as the Federal Triangle was one of the city's most blighted neighborhoods. In an attempt to improve the city, the federally funded Senate Park Commission developed an urban redevelopment plan that incorporated the ideals of the City Beautiful movement. The 1901 McMillan Plan, as it came to be known, proposed that the triangular area between Pennsylvania Avenue, the National Mall, and the Ellipse be developed as an enclave of monumental, classically inspired federal buildings.

Implementation of the seventy-acre Federal Triangle project went unrealized until the passage of the Public Buildings Act of 1926, which authorized $50 million for the construction of new buildings in the District of Columbia. At the urging of the American Institute of Architects, the U.S. Treasury Department turned over principal design responsibilities to a Board of Architectural Consultants, comprised of private architects, who formulated an overall scheme for the Triangle and then divided design tasks for the individual buildings.

Arthur Brown, Jr., (1874-1959) received the responsibility to design a three-part building group facing Constitution Avenue that would house the Interstate Commerce Commission, Departmental Auditorium, and Department of Labor. Brown, a San Francisco-based architect who trained at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, designed the buildings between 1928 and 1931, and construction was completed in 1934. The Interstate Commerce Commission, which regulated carriers engaged in transportation between states, occupied the east building of the complex until the agency was abolished in 1995. The Department of Labor vacated the west building in 1979, after which it housed the U.S. Custom Service. In 2002, following a major modernization, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took occupancy and the structures became known as EPA East, the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium, and EPA West. The complex was listed in the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site in 1966.


The three-part building ensemble consisting of EPA East, the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium, and EPA West faces Constitution Avenue and is situated between Twelfth and Fourteenth streets in the Federal Triangle of Washington, District of Columbia. Conceived as a whole composition, the buildings in the Federal Triangle possess similar materials, tiled roofs, and an orchestrated rhythm of pavilions and colonnades. The Mellon Auditorium, with its Roman Doric temple front, is the central focus of the grouping and linked to the symmetrical east and west wings by narrow connectors with arched open portals. The complex was intended to be part of a U-shaped group, but while EPA East connects perpendicularly with the Ariel Rios Federal Building, the north arm was never executed.

Intended to be twin buildings, EPA East and West have seven stories plus basement and attic. Faced in Indiana limestone with a steel frame, the buildings have a rectangular plan pierced by central light courts. Each facade is divided horizontally into three horizontal bands. The rusticated base includes the first and second stories, with projecting end pavilions, rectangular windows topped by keystones carved with figural heads, and a central arched entrance. The third through sixth stories comprise the smooth-faced middle section. On the third floor, alternating windows have a balcony and balustraded balconet. The pavilions each have fluted Doric columns, supporting an entablature with a frieze that has alternating triglyphs and metopes carved in twenty-six varying designs. Pediments have elaborately carved sculpture groups representing the activities of the agencies for which the buildings were constructed. The top section includes the set-back seventh floor and is topped by a roof clad in variegated terracotta tile.

The interiors are richly finished with marble floors and limestone walls, aluminum and brass ornamental metal work, wood paneling, vaulted ceilings, murals, and bas relief. Lobbies have coffered plaster ceilings with decorative paint treatment. Requirements of the Interstate Commerce Commission, the first agency to occupy EPA East, influenced the interior design. Bisecting the central first floor corridor, the two-story rotunda has a marble floor with a star design at the center. Eight engaged Doric columns ring the room, supporting a heavy entablature from which ascends a coffered plaster dome lit by an oculus. Two large, nearly identical public hearing rooms flank the rotunda to the east and west, and have oak walls with window and door openings framed by pilasters. The commissioners' bench is of paneled wainscot, and behind it is a canvas mural with a United States map highlighted with trade locations and routes. Other significant spaces include the commissioner's suites with private offices and reception rooms, and the commissioners' conference room on the fourth floor.

Due to the less public aspect of the Labor Department and a decreased need for meeting spaces, the interior of EPA West is simpler than that of its counterpart. However, the executive office suite on the third floor has oak and birch paneled walls and oak parquetry floors with grey marble borders. Designed for the secretary of labor, the ceremonial office has a verde antique marble chimneypiece and high ceiling finished with oak beams.

Significant Events

McMillan Plan proposes development of future Federal Triangle area

Public Buildings Act of 1926 authorizes funding

Three building complex constructed

Pennsylvania Avenue Historic Site listed in the National Register

Department of Labor vacates and U.S. Customs Service occupies building

Interstate Commerce Commission dissolved

EPA occupies building

Building Facts

Constitution Avenue between Twelfth and Fourteenth Streets, Northwest

Arthur Brown, Jr.

Construction Dates:

Landmark Status:
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site

Architectural Style:
Classical Revival

Primary Material:
Indiana Limestone

Prominent Feature:
Classical facades with Beaux Arts sculpture

The Interstate Commerce Building is the east wing of Arthur Brown's three-part building group. The group occupies roughly six acres and has overall dimensions of 250'x1000'. The group fronts onto Constitution Avenue and is situated between 12th and 14th Streets. Linking the Auditorium with the flanking ICC and Customs Buildings are narrow connectors of arched open portals topped by columns 45' in height. The ICC Building connects perpendicularly with Delano and Aldrich's New Post Office Building, the correspondent north arm of the larger building group which was never executed.

Having 7 stories plus basement and attic, the ICC Building has basal dimensions of 376'x242'. Its basic parti is that of a rectangle pierced by a central court of the same shape. Being primarily a light court, the court is without amenitity. The building is clad in buff colored limestone and has a terra cotta tile roof. Its emphasis is strongly horizontal, an effect exaggerated by the use of colossal Doric pavilions at the extreme ends of the main facade. This horizontality is enforced by a classical, tripartite division of the facades consisting of a 2-story rusticated base, a mid-section of three stories, and an attic consisting of a monumental cornice and set back 7th story.

The ornamentation program is perhaps the most complex of all Federal Triangle buildings and marks one of the last great efforts in American academic classicism. The exterior elevations, particularly at Constitution Avenue, are embellished with Beaux-Arts sculpture. Light standards, lanterns and sconces of large scale are associated with the building's six entrances.

The interior finishes include Indiana limestone, various marbles, aluminum and brass ornamental metal work and light fixtures, gold leaf, fumed oak wood work and paneling, cast plaster, quarry tile, terrazzo, and bronze. Monumental and processional spaces have groined or segmental vaulted ceilings, or coffered ceilings. Other ornamentation includes decorative painting, murals, and limestone bas-reliefs. At the core of the building, the central first floor corridor is bisected by a two-story rotunda flanked to the east and west by two large public hearing rooms. The elaboration of these great hearing rooms is repeated in five small hearing rooms, also at the first floor. Aside from the Commissioners' Suites, offices are simply finished and are of modular design, with metal and glazed partitions that may be moved as the redefinition of office space is required. The offices are set in long ranges and open directly on the corridors. The basement is devoted to service functions and the attic is unused space.

The Interstate Commerce Commission Building was designed by San Francisco architect, Arthur Brown, Jr., between 1926 and 1931 and built between 1932 and 1934. The building is one part of a 3 part building group (ICC, Customs, Departmental Auditorium) designed by Brown and is part of the large building group, the Federal Triangle.

The Federal Triangle project was the largest building program ever undertaken by the government; it was the first federally funded urban redevelopment project of this scope and, as such, provided a model for city planning in the 1930's through 1950's. The new buildings were to be designed to reflect the "dignity and power of the nation". Senator James McMillan introduced legislation in 1900 authorizing plans for developing an urban park system and for the siting of future Federal buildings. McMillan's plan proposed that the triangular area south of
Pennsylvania Avenue, north of the mall and east of the Ellipse be developed for Federal office buildings and museums. The plan of the Federal Triangle was tied to the passage of the Public Buildings Act of 1926 and, finally, in January, 1928 the Triangle Bill was passed authorizing acquisition of land and allocating funds. While design of many of the Federal Triangle component buildings were modified or aborted over time, the design of the ICC building remained little changed.

There was much discussion as to whether the ICC Building would be able to accommodate all the needs of the agency. The government began proposing alternate uses for the building thus delaying the architect's ability to proceed with the design. In June and July of 1930 there was discussion of assigning the building to GAO. In November, 1930 the building was finally assigned to ICC and Brown was able to proceed with planning interior spaces. Brown was in direct communication with George McGinty (Secretary for ICC) and through their correspondence and conferences Brown was able to arrive at placement.

Construction on the building was performed through contracts with various private firms under the direction of the Office of the Supervising Architect (a Federal division of the Treasury Department). The ICC building is distinguished from the Labor (Customs) Building, its almost twin, primarily by 2 large hearing rooms and associated ceremonial spaces which occupy the central court of the building. These spaces represent developmental changes in the design and were adopted at the late date of 1931. Of special significance is that the ICC (an independent Federal agency charged with the regulation of common carriers in interstate commerce) has continuously occupied this building since its completion in early 1934.

The significance of the building is largely derived from its architecture which is an extraordinary expression of classical revival style; and from its position in the Federal Triangle.

The Interstate Commerce Commission building is a component of the Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site (National Register #66000865).

Description Architect
1932 1934 Original Construction Arthur Brown, Jr.
Last Reviewed: 2021-08-30