FBI Building History

Site History

The J. Edgar Hoover Building occupies two combined city blocks and the right-of-way of the 900 block of D Street in Northwest, Washington, DC. The site is bounded on the south by Pennsylvania Avenue, 10th Street on the west, Ninth Street on the east, and E Street on the north. During his inaugural parade in 1961, President Kennedy was struck by the poor condition of Pennsylvania Avenue, NW between the Capitol and the White House, known by many as “America’s Main Street.” In an effort to revitalize the area, the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation (PADC) was founded. A private/public partnership, PADC directed private and federal resources and initiatives along the avenue. Built in the 1970s, the FBI headquarters was placed directly across Pennsylvania Avenue from the Department of Justice headquarters building, facilitating easy communication and helping to revitalize the north side of the avenue.

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Design & Construction

Longest serving Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, lawyer, and criminologist, J. Edgar Hoover was born on January 1, 1895 in Washington, DC to Annie Marie Scheitlin Hoover and Dickerson Naylor Hoover. Hoover attended night classes at George Washington University while working as a clerk at the Library of Congress. After being admitted to the District of Columbia bar in 1917, his uncle—who was a judge—helped him land a job in the U.S. Justice Department. Within two years, Hoover became a special assistant to Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer. In this position, he was given the responsibility of heading a new section within the Justice Department’s Bureau of Investigation called the General Intelligence Division (GID). The GID was created to gather intelligence on radical groups, and was responsible for organizing the arrest or deportation of alleged seditionists. This led to the controversial “Palmer Raids,” in which Hoover and his associates arrested and deported left-wing radicals, especially anarchists, from the U.S.

Designed by the Chicago-based firm C.F. Murphy Associates, the building was constructed in several phases starting in 1967. The design for the building includes features typically associated with late modern Brutalist architecture: exposed concrete, deep window recesses, strong, powerful massing and monumentality. Combining asymmetrical elements and masses with repetitive and symmetrical bays, the design attempts to be both monumental and fitting within the urban neighborhood. The building was dedicated in 1975, although some areas were not entirely completed until 1977. The building was constructed by Norair Engineering and Blake Construction Company, both based in Washington.

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J. Edgar Hoover

The J. Edgar Hoover Federal Building was the first purpose-built headquarters of the FBI, the federal government’s chief investigative law enforcement agency. The FBI was founded in 1908 to address a perennial lack of detective personnel in the federal government. The late 1950s and early 1960s represented a pinnacle of the Bureau’s power and prestige and demonstrated the necessity of a permanent agency headquarters to house the massive depository of fingerprint records, custom built training facilities, shooting ranges and laboratory equipment essential to the agency’s function.

Advancing from assistant in 1921 to director of the Bureau of Investigation in 1924, Hoover emphasized modern technological investigative techniques, improved training, and obtained increased funding from Congress for the organization. During the 1930s, the FBI exploits against notorious gangsters, particularly John Dillinger, made Hoover a national hero. A string of high-profile gang arrests by the Bureau led to an expansion of power for the organization, and the Bureau became the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1935.

Unquestionably one of the most powerful men of his day, Hoover’s legacy is mixed. He greatly expanded and modernized federal investigations, however, his questionable methods, including illegal wiretaps, burglaries, planted evidence and blackmail, have tainted this legacy. Today, FBI Directors are term-limited to prevent another individual from amassing the type of power held by Hoover. J. Edgar Hoover died while still in office, on May 2, 1972.

Last Reviewed: 2018-02-15