Veterans Affairs Building History

Site History

The Veterans Administration Building is a large Federal office building, fronting on Lafayette Square, continuously occupied by the Veterans Administration. The Veterans Administration Building was built in 1916 on the site of the distinguished old Arlington hotel which had been demolished in 1912 by private investors.

The building’s significance turns more on its history than on its architecture. The history of the building’s design development and acquisition of a partially completed project by the Treasury Department during the period of the Tarnsey Act’s repeal, are factors which lend significance to the building. The war emergency dictated that the Treasury was less interested in matters of aesthetics than in seeing to the building’s haste in erection. No technological significance is attached to the building.

Design & Construction

The impetus for the Classical Revival building dates to 1912 when a group of private investors demolished the old Arlington Hotel and engaged the Baltimore architectural firm of Wyatt & Nolting to design a new hotel for the site. By 1917, the plans for a hotel we abandoned in favor of an office building to be developed by the firms of Arlington Building Incorporated. As excavation and foundation work were nearing completion, American involvement in World War I placed sudden and enormous demands on Federal office space. As a result, the Treasury Department negotiated the sale of the partially completed project to the Federal government in 1918.

A redesign of the facades and other minor modifications adapted the building to the needs of the government. The lower portion of the building, extending from the basement through to the sixth floor, was occupied by the War Risk Insurance Bureau, with the upper floors devoted to the Railroad Administration. Despite a series of reorganizations, the Veterans Administration, a direct descendent of the War Risk Insurance Bureau, has continued to occupy the space.

The 11-story, V-shaped building is steel-framed and clad in limestone. The design is simple, even sparse, especially in the interior, indicating that speed of construction was important.

The Department of Veterans Affairs History

Preceeding the Continental Congress of 1776, a basis for veterans assistance existed even dating back to the late 1660s. Yet, the Continental Congress encouraged enlistements during the American Revolutionary War through the provision of pensions for soldiers disabled during war. Direct medical and hospital care once carried out by the nation now delivered through individual states.

The 19th century expanded the nation’s veterans assistance program to include benefits and pensions not only for veterans but also for their widows and familial dependents. In October 1988 and taking effect March 15, 1989, the VA was elevated to a cabinet-level executive department by President Ronald Reagan. President George H. W. Bush held this order by Reagan to high esteem then noting that the Veterans Administration was then renamed the Department of Veterans Affairs, and continued to be known as the VA.

GI Bill placed VA second to the War and Navy Departments in funding and personnel priorities. Modernizing the VA for a new generation of Veterans was crucial, and replacement of the “Old Guard” World War I leadership became a necessity

There are three sub-branches that work towards meeting the larger mission of the VA including, the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), Veterans Health Administration (VHA), and the National Cemetery Administration (NCA).

Last Reviewed 2016-06-30