Hubert H. Humphrey Building History

Site History

The Hubert H. Humphrey Building is located on Square 577 in Southwest, Washington DC. The Square has the general shape of an irregular pentagon, with the full length of its south and west edges formed, respectively, by C and 3rd Streets. The remainder of the north and east edges are bordered by Independence Avenue and 2nd Street. The building’s proximity to the Capital and National Mall make this a prominent site within the city.

One of the challenges posed by the site was the Interstate-395 3rd Street Tunnel, which runs directly beneath the HHS building. This was one of the first projects in the District of Columbia to utilize air rights in order to construct over the tunnel and resulted in an early building nickname, the ‘Air Rights Building.’ The site design for the building also includes a large open plaza fronting Independence Avenue across from the National Mall. The building is set back from Independence Avenue allowing views of the Rayburn House Office Building and Bartholdi Fountain Park.

Design & Construction

Designed by architect Marcel Breuer, in association with his partner Herbert Beckhard and the architectural firm of Nolen-Swinburne and Associates, the HHS building was one of Breuer’s last projects before retirement and his second federal building in Washington DC. Breuer’s first federal project provided a headquarters building for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The Hubert H. Humphrey Building was constructed with precast concrete panels fitted into a poured concrete frame. Double and single window panes alternate, with each window placed in a deep recess to produce a monumental and modern box-like building. As the intended permanent headquarters for the former Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, its location pays homage to the location of the Bartholdi Fountain Park at the foot of Capitol Hill, to the west. In addition, it serves as a symbolic reminder of Senator Humphrey’s long association with the Capitol and with social legislation.

Hubert H. Humphrey

On October 23, 1977, Public Law 95-141 passed and renamed the South Portal Building in honor of Hubert H. Humphrey. A former Vice President and then serving U.S. Senator from Minnesota, Hubert H. Humphrey was the first living person to have a federal building named in their honor. The building’s dedication took place on November 1, 1977 and shortly thereafter on January 13, 1978, Humphrey passed away due to terminal cancer.

Throughout his life, Humphrey held a reputation as a versatile and effective legislator. He was known for his “Food for Peace” and disbarment proposals as well as his sponsorship of farm and welfare measures. First elected to the Senate in 1948, Humphrey was actively involved in the Civil Rights movement throughout his career. In 1961, he was elected as the Democratic Majority Whip. As Vice-President, he exercised his Congressional influence in support of Lyndon Baines Johnson’s Great Society domestic program. When Humphrey was re-elected to the Senate in 1970 and 1976, he was given the nickname ‘the happy warrior’ for his tireless efforts in sponsoring a bill to promote full employment through government planning.

Last Reviewed: 2020-09-17