Lafayette Building History

Site History

The Lafayette Building is located on a prominent site in downtown Northwest Washington, DC, facing Lafayette Park and McPherson Square and one block from the White House. The building occupies approximately two-thirds of the block bounded by the diagonal of Vermont Avenue on the west, I Street on the north, 15th Street on the east and H Street on the south.

The Lafayette Building is a highly developed example of the last phase of the Stripped Classical style, illustrating the continued preference for classically derived modernism in the nation’s capital. In 1947, the federal government assumed ownership of the Lafayette Building. Designated a National Historic Landmark in September 2005, it is established in close proximity to numerous historic districts in Washington, DC. The Lafayette Building is a component of the Fifteenth Street Financial Historic District.

Design & Construction

Designed through an architectural collaboration between Holabird & Root of Chicago as well as their former associate A.R. Clas of Washington, the building is an excellent example of the Stripped Classical style that was popular amongst government and public buildings in Washington. It was admired for its simplicity and direct, businesslike character. The 12-story limestone-clad office building was not only among the earliest government office buildings in Washington to be centrally air-conditioned but also one of the first to include a built-in garage. Notably, the Lafayette Building was unusual among government buildings due to the incorporation of a row of commercial store along its 15th Street elevation.

Original Tenant Agencies

The Lafayette Building was privately developed with the intent that it be leased to the Federal government. The Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) was created by President Herbert Hoover in early 1932, during the darkest days of the Great Depression. With the American banking system near collapse and an election coming up in November, Hoover abandoned his deepest personal convictions to create an institution that would use government funds to subsidize the private banking industry. The RFC Act of January 22, 1932 authorized the corporation to make emergency loans to private banks, building-and-loan societies, railroads, and agricultural stabilization corporations.

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