Winder Building, Washington, DC

Vaulted corridor in Winder Building

Building History

Soon after the United States annexed Texas in 1845, Mexico broke diplomatic relations and the two countries went to war. As the United States faced an acute shortage of office space in its capital city, William H. Winder constructed a new building near the White House with the understanding that the government would lease it. While the building was not completed until 1848, too late for it to serve as a campaign center during that war, it would go on to serve such a purpose during later conflicts.

The government paid $21,875 annual rent for the building, which housed offices of the Departments of War, Navy, Treasury, and Interior. In 1854, the federal government purchased it for $200,000 at the recommendation of Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, after lengthy Congressional debate.

The building figured prominently in the United States' Civil War operations. From the offices of General Montgomery Meigs, the Quartermaster General's Department led the effort to supply the Union Army. The Navy Bureau of Ordnance and Hydrography, the Army Adjutant General, and the Army Corps of Engineers also operated there, and Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt coordinated the search for President Abraham Lincoln's assassins from his offices in the building. In 1865, the U.S. Signal Corps constructed a station on the roof of the Winder Building for flag communication with encampments around Washington. After the war, second floor space housed the Ordnance Museum.

Upon the 1888 completion of the State, War and Navy Building (now the Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building) across the street, many military offices and the museum vacated the Winder Building, and it was occupied by the Second Auditor of the Treasury. Military departments continued to occasionally use its offices, however, including the War Department during World War I, and the General Staff of the Army under Douglas MacArthur for eight years prior to the 1943 completion of the Pentagon.

In 1969, the Winder Building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Since 1981, it has housed the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.


Located in the shadow of the White House, Winder's Building, as it was known for many years in recognition of its builder, was constructed between 1847 and 1848 at the northwest corner of Seventeenth and F streets on a mostly residential block of brick, Federal style rowhouses.

Architect Richard Gilpin designed a simple, utilitarian structure in the Italianate style. When it was constructed, the five-story, 130-room building was lauded as being fireproof. The L-shaped building encompassed 209 feet on F Street and 101 feet along its Seventeenth Street facade. Its brick, stucco-clad walls rose above a marble base, with floors supported by brick arches resting on iron girders. An ornate iron balcony ran along the street elevations of the second story, and a classical, denticulated cornice encircled the building. The interior had decorative cast iron stairways. The building was among the first in Washington both to use cast iron beams, and also to have a central hot water heating system. Building occupants were not enamored of the technology, however, and lobbied for cast iron heating stoves to be added, complaining that "the rooms have been so cold that little or no office work could be done." Tenants also reported that the building was too tall, and the fourth and fifth stories were "excessively inconvenient as public offices." There was a privy for the occupants and a stable for horses and carriages in the rear courtyard.

In 1850, a small cyclone blew off the copper roof. Two years later, a minor earthquake caused the building to shake severely, and cracks began appearing in the walls. Despite growing concerns that it was not structurally sound-and complaints that its design did not favorably reflect the architectural taste of the nation-the government purchased and has continuously occupied the building since 1854, altering it many times. In 1871, F Street was lowered and the excavation exposed the foundation, which required basement window enlargement. The failing exterior stucco finish was completely removed in 1915-1916, after which the exposed brick was painted. During a 1922 renovation, the deteriorated iron balcony and brackets were removed, followed by window replacement that removed cast iron lintels and raised the window sill height by two feet on the second floor. In 1947, the only remaining interior cast iron stair, opposite the Seventeenth Street entrance, was removed except for one scissor flight between the first and second floors.

The nineteenth-century scale of the building's neighborhood remained largely unchanged into the 1960s. But in 1974, to make way for the Federal Home Loan and Bank Board Building, the government demolished significant buildings on the block, including 1820s to 1870s brick rowhouses, the 1882 Winder Annex, and circa 1880 Secretary of War stables. Ensuing public outcry charged GSA with violating the National Historic Preservation Act. GSA acknowledged fault and spurred development of its national preservation program to ensure future compliance.

As when it was constructed, the double doors of the building's main entrance face Seventeenth Street, and secondary entrances are in their original locations at each end of F Street. In the late 1970s, the Winder Building underwent an extensive rehabilitation project, during which a replicated cast aluminum balcony and stucco wall finish were reintroduced to the building's exterior. The smoothness of the new stuccoed walls is enlivened by an original rusticated first floor and a projecting belt course separating the fourth and fifth stories. The interior retains its historic character and materials, with features including barrel vaulted corridors, brick flooring, and a cast iron staircase with decorative balustrade.

Significant Events

William Winder constructs largest office building in Washington

Federal government purchases building

United States coordinates Civil War efforts from offices in building
Gas lighting installed

Winder Annex constructed to house military offices

Stucco restoration project completed

Building upgraded with water, electricity, telephones, and elevator

Due to deterioration, original brick floors, exterior stucco wall finish, iron balcony removed; windows replaced; and heating system replaced

After threatened with demolition, building listed in National Register of Historic Places

Nineteenth-century buildings near Winder Building demolished to make way for new building and open public space

Building restored and historic features reintroduced

Stucco restoration project completed

Building Facts

600 Seventeenth Street NW

Richard A. Gilpin

Construction Dates:

Landmark Status:
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places

Architectural Style:

Primary Materials:
Brick, Stucco, and Iron

Prominent Features:
Stucco-clad brick facade
Replica decorative balcony
Original decorative cast iron stair, vaulted interior corridors and wall partitions

Vaulted corridor in Winder Building
Vaulted corridor in Winder Building

Period of significance 1850-1874, 1825-1849 with specific significance years 1848 and 1854.

USTR's Winder Building The main offices of the United States Trade Representative are located in the Winder Building at 600 17 th Street, NW in Washington, DC. The historical significance of the building dates back to its construction in the mid 1800s and the role that it played for its Government inhabitants. Along with its lively history, the building is known for its beautiful architecture as well as the number of myths associated with its past use, many of which are depicted on the plaque shown above, including some erroneous statements. Building History The Winder Building was built in 1848 by proprietor, William H. Winder, and supervising architects, Richard A. Gilpin and H. D. Cooper of Philadelphia. Construction was not started on the building until Mr. Winder received assurances by the U.S. Army and Navy that they would occupy the space. A deal was made to lease the building as a trial for five years at $21,875 per year or $175 per room.

Initially, Congress was hesitant to appropriate funds for the purchase of the building, despite the fact that the Government was desperate for office space. Before the Winder Building was constructed, the Government was forced to rent rooms in private, non-fireproof homes because the current Government space was so limited. Westward expansion and the Mexican War accounted for the lack of immediate money and the need for space. However, after many appraisals and much persuasion by the Secretary of War, W. L. Marcy, and other military officials, the building was officially bought by the Government in 1854 for $200,000. (This reflects one of the erroneous statements on the plaque, which states that the building was purchased in 1852.) In 1969, the Secretary of the Interior determined the Winder Building to be a property of national importance. At the time of its nomination and appointment to the National Registry of Historic Places, the National Capital Planning Commission, described the Winder Building as "one of the few remaining pre-Civil War office buildings in Washington, probably the earliest and least altered one in existence." Speculators say that had the Winder Building not been occupied immediately by the Government, it would have most likely been sold as a hotel. Past Tenants The U.S. Government moved into the Winder Building as soon as construction was completed in 1848. The first organizations to inhabit the Winder Building were the Army

Ordinance Department, the Bureau of Topographical Engineers, and the Paymaster General. The Old Pension Office also was housed here and in several guide books the Winder Building is still referred to as the "Old Pension Building." Early on, Army and Navy offices, including the Navy's Engineer-in-Chief were located in the Winder Building. Offices of the Second Auditor of the Treasury and the Surgeon General's Bureau of Medicine and Surgery were later located in the building. Around the time of the Civil War, 1860-65, occupants of the Winder Building were the Quartermaster General and the Navy's Bureau of Ordinance and Hydrography and later, the Headquarters for the Bureau of Military Justice under Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt. In 1865, the Winder roof served as a signal station of the Washington detachment of the U. S. Signal Corps for communication via flag signals to military fortifications and camps around Washington. After the Civil War, the Winder Building was used exclusively by the War Department, and housed a museum for the display of an ordinance collection later dispersed when the War Department moved into the State, War, and Navy Building (now the Eisenhower Executive Office Building). The museum was filled with large collections of arms, relics of various wars, and other military articles. In 1888, the building was transferred to the Department of the Treasury, which later built a cafeteria/restaurant for its employees in 1896. The Winder Building was then occupied by the Second Auditor of the Treasury and his staff exclusively for many years.

During World War I, part of the building was occupied by the Army. The General Staff of the Army was a tenant from 1935 until the Pentagon was completed in 1943. In 1949, the U.S. General Services Administration, which is the building manager for many Government facilities, took control of the Winder Building from the Federal Works Agency, and has maintained it ever since. In 1958, the Winder Building was occupied by the Office of Emergency Planning, formerly the Office of Defense Mobilization. During the 1970s, the building was being renovated and was used by the White House. At the end of the Carter Administration, the Council on Wage Price Stability occupied the building for a short time. In 1981, the Winder Building became USTR's third home. It previously had been housed at 1800 G Street, and before that USTR had been located in what is now the Eisenhower Executive Office Building when USTR was created in 1963. Architecture The Winder Building is well known for its historic architecture. The building has 60,000 square feet of floor space, 130 rooms on five floors with 104 windows. When built, it was the tallest and largest office building in the District, measuring 75 feet in height and 210 feet in length on the F Street facade. The building was constructed to be entirely fireproof with a pitched wooden roof, sheathed in sheet metal. What architects find most exciting about the building, structurally speaking, is that it was the first building in the area to use central heating and the first to use cast iron beams. In theory, the existence of central heating was a triumph, but Winder's heating system was in reality, ineffective. As past tenants described, either the heat was "oppressive" or rooms were not heated at all. Early on, Congress purchased approximately 50 stoves to compensate for the disparity.

Another small error in construction was the durability of materials. In 1884, Adolf Cluss, an engineer, examined the building at the request of the Treasury Department and concluded, "Finally I call attention to the appearance of the fronts. The brickwork had been finished, many years ago, with a cement composition, then in vogue, which has proved worthless, has gradually worn off, and imparts to the ponderous building, the desolate looks of abandoned property." Despite the report of cracks in the walls in subsequent years, which was attributed to either careless construction or imperfect foundations, the stability of the structure was not only unquestioned but admired as an architectural achievement. At one point in the building's early history, the roof blew off during a storm, but the fourth and fifth floor tenants were unaware of this. Another rarity in American architecture is the wrought-iron tie which is found at the corners and cross walls of the building at every few rows of bricks, bracing the building together. Cluss delivered a word of warning: "All the floor beams are of cast iron. If one breaks and falls, with five tons of pressure, the falling beam may break every beam under it." Thus in 1884, it was recommended that no movable load should be placed over the outer ends of the building. Internal and external improvements have been made to ameliorate the original structural concerns since its purchase in 1854. That year, gas lighting was installed for fear of fire generated by night watchmen's use of candles. Twenty-three offices were carpeted. In 1855, cobblestones were placed in the courtyard and surrounding the stable, which was the equivalent of a parking lot. In 1857, interior walls were painted and some covered with marbled wallpaper. Dangerous bricks protruding from the brick floor were removed several times throughout the years and then relaid. The privy out back was redecorated, sewers were laid, and new water closets were installed. In 1884, after numerous pleas for an allotment of money and years of

Employees having to walk up to the fourth and fifth floors daily, Congress appropriated $6,500 for the installation of a water-hydraulic elevator. Initially, inhabitants were skeptical about the strength of the building and its ability to accommodate an elevator, but the shaft proved to actually lessen the pressure on the foundations and exterior walls. In 1976, as part of the bicentennial, the Winder Building received most of its modern improvements. Air conditioning, heat, and general ventilation were installed between the old exterior walls of the building and the new walls that are seen on the outside today. Those walls are approximately one-foot thick and are of solid masonry as was popular at the time of its construction. Pipes were placed by the windows causing the deep window sills. To satisfy the fire safety codes, the stairwells were enclosed in glass and sprinklers were installed throughout the building. An elevator room was added to the building (the older elevators had been in a different location). Doors were restored to replicate the originals. The wrought iron balcony that we see today was restored. The original balcony, which ran along the second floor, had been sold as scrap metal in 1922. Surroundings There were three other buildings in close proximity with the Winder Building before 1974, the most noteworthy of which being the Winder Annex. It was constructed privately in 1882 by order of the Quartermaster General with the intention of future military inhabitancy.

Used mostly for office space, the Winder Annex was directly adjacent to the main building on the lefthand side facing Seventeenth Street. While the Winder Annex was a separate building, it echoed the Winder Building's style. At one time, each floor of the Annex was physically connected to the Winder Building, but it eventually became privately owned. Next to the Winder Annex, a federal-style townhouse, known by the name of Nichols Café and built exclusively for use as private dwellings, had been erected in 1830. Later the Nichols Café became a restaurant serving local workers throughout the early part of the 1900s. The Washington Loan and Trust Company built a bank located on the corner of 17 th and G Streets in 1924. This bank later became part of Riggs National Bank in 1954 until it was vacated in 1965. In 1969, the Winder Building was enrolled on the National Register of Historic Places as a landmark, but the three other buildings were excluded from the register. In 1974, a case was brought against the GSA by Don't Tear it Down, Inc., a citizen's group, to prevent the demolition of the Winder Building and the three other buildings for construction of a new office building ( Don't Tear it Down, Inc. v. General Services Administration , 401 F. Supp. 1194 (D.D.C. 1975)). While it was later determined that the Winder Building would not be demolished, the Advisory Council on Historic Places sought to place the surrounding buildings on the historic register, making it more difficult for GSA to tear them down. After ignoring past complaints on this matter from the Advisory Council, GSA agreed on March 1, 1974, that it

Would not demolish the buildings until the matter was submitted to a full Council meeting two months later. Despite this promise, and before legal status was confirmed on this issue, GSA began demolition two days later on Sunday, March 3, 1974. The action was followed by a number of restraining orders, but ultimately the case against GSA was dismissed as moot after GSA took responsibility and apologized for its past actions. As mitigation for the demolition of the other buildings, the GSA allotted money toward the modernization of the Winder Building. While the loss of the other buildings is unfortunate, the money allotted to the Winder Building's modernization restored the building to what it is today. Myths One of the unique aspects of the Winder Building that makes it so significant is the number of myths associated with the building. This can be seen on the plaque placed at the front entrance of the building and described above. Despite the fact that only a small number of these myths have actually proved to be accurate, they still add to the building's overall mystique. It was once thought that during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln would visit the Winder Building to receive telegraphs about the progress of the war from the southern and western battle areas as well as view military parades from the building's exterior iron balcony. However, it is documented that the telegraph machines were housed in the Telegraph Office of the Old War Building and that the military telegraph did not have even one line to the Winder Building.

Another unproven myth is that Lincoln kept some of his horses and carriages in the stables positioned behind the Winder Building. It is also believed that President Lincoln visited confederate soldiers who were being held in a dungeon-basement inside the Winder Building. However, according to research, there was never a prison in the basement, nor was anyone ever incarcerated in the building. It is only documented that civilian suspects were questioned in the building's basement. Another myth that has never been proved is that four successive commanding generals of the Union Army (Scott, Halleck, McClellan, and Grant) occupied offices in the Winder Building. Yet, for the most part, most generals during that time were headquartered in what was the Grant Building on the southwest corner of 17th and F Streets. Documents do show, however, that following Lincoln's death, the building was the site of the entire investigation surrounding his assassination, including the place where evidence was amassed. Without the famous inhabitants, myths, and the beautiful, historic architecture, the Winder Building would not have as much significance as it does today. And while USTR, as its current inhabitant, has begun to outgrow the building (recently housing some employees in a building across the street), USTR is proud to be part of Winder's history. * * * * * Historical Note: This document is intended to provide a general historical overview and, thus, lacks source document citations. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, however, does possess many of the source documents from which this overview is derived. Drafted August 2000. USTR gratefully acknowledges the invaluable contribution to the research and drafting of this overview by two college interns: Lindsay Bellows (Smith College) and Ethan Titelman (University of Pennsylvania).

Description Architect
1848 Original Construction
Last Reviewed: 2017-08-13