Federal Trade Commission Building, Washington, DC

Building History

Issues of antitrust legislation, tariff reduction, and tax reform dominated the 1912 presidential race, which culminated in the election of Woodrow Wilson as the twenty-eighth president of the United States. Honoring his campaign promises, Wilson signed the Federal Trade Commission Act in 1914. The following year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) absorbed the duties of the Bureau of Corporations in the Department of Commerce. The FTC conducted investigations, published reports, and scrutinized industries such as meatpacking. It could challenge unfair competition and practices in trade and commerce.

The FTC occupied various sites in the District of Columbia during its early years. The Public Buildings Act of 1926 authorized Congress to fund the Federal Triangle project, a large-scale initiative to develop a 70-acre site between the White House and the U.S. Capitol with federal buildings executed in classical styles of architecture. At the urging of the American Institute of Architects, the U.S. Treasury Department turned over principal design responsibilities to private architects. Edward H. Bennett of the Chicago firm Bennett, Parsons and Frost oversaw the project and designed the final building, which would become the headquarters for the FTC.

In 1937, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt laid the building cornerstone with the silver trowel that George Washington used to lay the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol in 1793. In his speech, Roosevelt expressed hope that the ¿permanent home of the Federal Trade Commission stand for all time as a symbol of the purpose of the government to insist on a greater application of the golden rule to the conduct of corporation and business and enterprises in their relationship to the body politic.¿

Located at the eastern point of the Federal Triangle, it was originally called the Apex Building. Staff moved into the building on April 21, 1938. Over the years, the FTC's responsibilities expanded to include the enforcement of credit laws, oversight of the National Do Not Call Registry, and the development of policies concerning Internet fraud and privacy.

Congress designated the Federal Trade Commission Building as a contributing structure to the Pennsylvania Avenue Historic Site in 1966, and it was subsequently listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Architecture

The Federal Trade Commission Building is designed in the Classical Revival style of architecture. It is a refined style that conveys the dignity and stability of the federal government, which was particularly important during the Great Depression. The buildings within the Federal Triangle were designed according to principles of the City Beautiful movement, which espoused the use of formal arrangements, axial streets, and monumental, classical public buildings in city planning. Earlier in his career, the FTC Building's architect, Edward H. Bennett, was an assistant to prominent architect and planner Daniel H. Burnham, a pioneer in city planning responsible for the layout of the 1893 World¿s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, as well as designs for Chicago and San Francisco. Burnham¿s influence is evident in Bennett's work on the FTC Building.

Bennett¿s design emphasizes the relationship between the building and its site. It is located on a triangular parcel of land bounded by Pennsylvania and Constitution avenues and Seventh Street, NW; the building has an essentially triangular footprint with a semicircular portico at one end. An interior courtyard provides natural light to interior offices. The building has undergone few changes since its construction.

The seven-story building sits on a simple base of Mount Airy granite. The walls above are clad in large, smooth blocks of Indiana limestone laid in a regular pattern. Bays on the midsection of each elevation are divided by pilasters (attached columns) or colonnades that form a loggia (open-air, arcaded space). The seventh story is slightly recessed. The portico is supported by Ionic columns. Aluminum window and door grilles accent the exterior. The low hipped roof is covered with red terra-cotta tiles.

The interior spaces are relatively restrained; only public spaces and hearing rooms are afforded a measure of distinction. Three lobbies on the first floor share similar features. Floors are covered with large, dark green terrazzo panels with black borders. Walls are clad in Neshobe gray marble with black marble on fluted pilasters, and plaster covers the ceiling and cornice. The FTC Building was one of the first federal buildings in Washington to have an integral air-conditioning system and a basement parking garage.

As part of the building plan, the Section of Painting and Sculpture oversaw the design and installation of several significant works of art. Two bas-relief medallions with eagles are located on the northwest corner elevation. Officials requested that the artist, Sidney Waugh, develop a fresh interpretation on the symbol, and the resulting design is highly stylized, relating well to the building's other modern works. Large aluminum entrance grilles function as doors on the Constitution Avenue elevation. Images on the grilles, which were designed by William McVey, portray a continuum of commerce-related transportation methods. Depictions include Christopher Columbus's 14th-century ships, an 18th-century merchant ship, 19th-century clipper ship, paddlewheel steamship, early 20th-century ocean liner, and seaplane. Above the grilles are rectangular panels that represent foreign trade, agriculture, shipping, and industry, each executed by a different artist.

Two nearly identical allegorical sculptural groups called Man Controlling Trade are located at the east ends of the two avenue elevations. Michael Lantz designed the sculptures in the Art Deco style. In each, a muscular man holds a rearing stallion, symbolizing the enormity of trade and the government in its role as enforcer. The sculptures have become the agency's informal logo.

Significant Events

1914: Federal Trade Commission established

1926: Public Buildings Act of 1926

1937: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt lays cornerstone

1938: Construction completed and building occupied

1966: Designated a contributing building within the Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site and listed in the National Register of Historic Places

Building Facts

Location: 600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

Architects: Bennett, Parsons and Frost

Construction Dates: 1937-1938

Architectural Style: Classical Revival

Landmark Status: Contributing building to the Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site

Primary Materials: Granite and Limestone

Prominent Features: Part of Federal Triangle development initiative; Colonnade; Man Controlling Trade sculptures

Federal Trade Commission Building, Washington, DC

The Apex site occupies the Northwest block bounded by Pennsylvania Avenue to the north (313' frontage), 6th Street to the east, Constitution Avenue to the south (280'), and 7th Street to the west (193'). The block is formed by a rectangular grid of streets (Constitution Avenue was originally known as B Street, the term "avenue" being reserved for diagonal axes) at all but the north side where the diagonal of Pennsylvania Avenue lends an aspect of irregularity to the block.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) building, or Apex Building as it was originally known, is a seven-story structure, roughly a right-angled, open triangle in parti, with its hypotenuse at Pennsylvania Avenue and its apex enlarged as an apsidal and principal façade. The FTC building has an essentially triangular parti with an enclosed central court and an apsidal east end or apex. Occupying an entire block, the building is bound by three rectangular grid streets and one diagonal avenue, the site plan having determined the outer form of the building. An enclosed court provides light for the inner range of offices; the plan of each floor being that of a double-loaded corridor. The triangular form is modified somewhat by a chamfered northwest corner, making for a fifth elevation. The five major elevational components are: 6th Street (the apex), Pennsylvania Avenue, Northwest (chamfered) Corner, 7th Street, and Constitution Avenue. The street facades match in number, if not in elaboration, at the light court. The low, hipped roof is clad in red terra cotta tile.

The building sits on a simple base of Mount Airy granite, with the walls from the first or ground floor through to the roof of Indiana limestone. The stone is laid in a regular pattern, with large, smooth-surfaced veneer blocks, each approximately 4'-6" long and 2'-0" high. The stone is laid with thin mortar joints, the whole appearance one of smoothness and subtlety. Aluminum is the principal decorative metal used at the window and door grilles and other details. A tripartite division of horizontal elements is effected: the two-story based terminates in a limestone course; the pilastered and colonnaded shaft or middle portion extends from the third floor stone course, or stylobate, to the cornice which occurs in place of a sixth floor at the street elevations; and the capital or upper portion includes the seventh or attic story, pulled back from the lower façade. A light well extends around all but the apex elevations. Extending approximately 4'-0" above ground, it is faced with granite and is interrupted only for the entrances and curved east end.

Federal Trade Commission Building, Washington, DC

The significance of the Federal Trade Commission building relies more on its architectural and related design considerations than on its historical associations or its advancements in building technology.

Architectural Significance

The architectural significance of the Federal Trade commission building is linked inextricably to that of the larger Federal Triangle complex. The issues of siting, building form and size, materials, architectural style, and landscape were all largely pre-determined by the Board of Architectural Consultants for the Federal Triangle. Only in examining this group of buildings as a whole can the intentions of a particular component be properly considered. Just as each of the Triangle buildings conforms to a greater scheme, so too does it express the individual intentions and innovations of its architects.

Following are the principal points of architectural and design related significance for the Federal Trade Commission Building.

The Building as a Component of the Federal Triangle Complex

The Federal Trade Commission building is a component of the larger Federal Triangle complex, designed in the late 1920's and 1930's by a select group of America's foremost architects. Known collectively as the Board of Architectural Consultants, these architects had a well-established reputation for having designed major public buildings in classical or other Beaux Arts derived styles. Additionally, each member had made important contributions to the advancement of the profession of architecture. These criteria were judged by the government as essential in the selection of private architects to carry out a program for federal architecture that was to be based on the ideals of the Senate Park Commission Report of 1902. Significantly, this report was published just at the time these private architects, having completed their studies at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, were entering into practice. Thus, the architects selected to design the Triangle buildings were chosen as sympathetic to the established Beaux-Arts design principles which were applied to federal building in Washington for some fifty years following the publication of the Senate Park Commission Report. The resulting success of the Federal Triangle represents one of the nation's greatest lasting architectural ensembles.

The "Stripped Classic" Style and the FTC Building

The Federal Trade Commission building is significant as it was the last building completed within the Federal Triangle. In simplistic terms, the Triangle development progressed on eastwardly. Toward its western end, the Triangle includes such buildings as the Italian Renaissance inspired commerce Department (1927-1932) and the French Classic New Post Office (1931-1934). These buildings were conceived as architectural showcases for the burgeoning federal government, rich in classical symbolism to suggest the achievements, strength, and projected longevity of the nation. These early buildings contain lavishly finished public spaces and executive suites. By contrast, the Federal Trade Commission building reflects the relative austerity of the period 1937-1938. Earlier schemes for a Beaux Arts derived building were literally shorn of ornament and simplified in form to achieve a design of greater economy, both in actuality and in symbolism. The "stripped classic" design of the FTC Building expresses the prevailing austere image of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs. Erected during the worst years of the Depression, the building's budget was twice reduced with the result that the interiors display a simple but refined functionalism. The exterior, too, is a frank expression of economic considerations, in which a classical vocabulary of ornament is reduced to its most essential elements resulting in an enhanced sense of form over detail.

Bennett Parsons & Frost, Architects

Bennett Parsons & Frost, the Chicago architects selected to design the building, were somewhat unusual in that their firm specialized in city planning and had designed few major buildings as independent projects. Bennett, the partner in charge of the project, was a protégé of Daniel Burnham and a figure of great importance in the development of city planning as a profession. Bennett had been selected in 1926, even before the formation of the Board of Architectural Consultants, to advise the government on its plans for the Federal Triangle. It was Bennett who proposed the first overall site plans for the 70-acre complex and who served as landscape architect for the entire project throughout the 1920's and 1930's. In his position as chairman of the Board of Architectural Consultants, he exerted considerable influence in many aspects of the complex and its individual buildings and site features of such detail as the effects of various types of street lighting and the design of sidewalks. The Apex Plaza at the 6th Street side of the Federal Trade Commission Building is an important example of the firm's more usual work, that of designing public spaces. The FTC building stands out as the most important building project of a leading American design firm.

Importance of the Architectural Sculpture Program

The severity of the "stripped classic" style of the building is used as a foil for the architectural sculpture program. For the four overdoor panels and the eagle medallions, sculptors were selected on an individual basis. Chaim Gross, Robert Laurent, Concetta Scaravaglione, Carl Schmitz, and Sidney Waugh stand among the leading sculptors of the period and their designs for this building are all noteworthy. By contrast, the two major components of the architectural sculpture program, the equestrian groups sited at the apex plaza, were the result of an open national design competition in which hundreds of designs were submitted. Michael Lantz's sculptures of "Man Controlling Trade" are extraordinary emblems of American art in the second quarter of this century.

Historical Significance

The historical significance of the building derives from its continuous occupation by the Federal Trade Commissio, an independent agency created in the trust-busting atmosphere of 1914 with the goal of preventing unfair methods of competition in commerce. The FTC experienced its greatest period of growth under the administration of President Franklin Roosevelt. While some functions of the Commission are contained within other local and regional offices, the Federal Triangle building remains the administrative base for the Commission. Since its completion, the building has housed the chief administrative offices and public hearing rooms of the Commission.

Technological Significance

The Federal Trade Commission Building does not exhibit any singularly important technological features nor construction techniques. However, it does stand among the relatively early instances of a federal building in Washington incorporating an integral air conditioning system and a basement parking garage.

Year
Start
Year
End
Description Architect
1931 1938 "stripped classic" style Bennet Parsons & Frost
1937 1938 Original Construction Bennet, Parsons & Frost