Liberty Loan Building History

Liberty Loans

Liberty Loans were authorizations from Congress to sell U.S. bonds, or Liberty bonds, to help finance World War I. There were four Liberty Loan campaigns and one Victory Loan campaign between 1917 and 1919 resulting in about $21.5 billion raised from a little over 66 million people—an estimated one-third of the total population. The U.S. Department of the Treasury marketed the bonds heavily, organizing bond rallies that included popular movie stars, radio personalities, and musical acts. The audience for Liberty Loans expanded beyond wealthy investors to the everyday American. Buying Liberty bonds was seen as an essential symbol of patriotic duty.

The "Tempos"

In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson appropriated $500,000 for a new building in Southwest Washington, DC to accommodate the rapidly growing Liberty Loans program. A Department of the Treasury program, the Liberty Loan annex —as it was first called—was built next door to the new Bureau of Engraving and Printing factory, near the Tidal Basin.

Completed in 1919, the building was immediately overcrowded, hosting 1,800 works instead of the intended 1,200. A petition was made to Congress, requesting funding to add two additional floors to the original three-story structure. The Liberty Loan building was strong; one of the first reinforced concrete building in Washington, DC and capable of holding far more than its original load.

Typical of its era, the Liberty Loan building was intended as a temporary wartime structure. During World War I, the federal work force swelled, responding to the needs of a country embroiled in its first major international conflict. Current federal buildings were woefully inadequate, resulting in a building boom of temporary buildings throughout the Nation's capital. Nicknamed "tempos" these structures populated the National Mall for much of World War I and II.

In 1970, the last of the World War I tempos on Constitution Avenue was demolished, making way for the construction of Constitution Gardens. Today, the Liberty Loan building is Washington's sole surviving World War I temporary building.

The Changing Landscape

Throughout its 80-year history, the Liberty Loan building has experienced a cacophony of change, both inside and out. In 1927, the requested addition to the building was finally approved by Congress, resulting in a major overhaul of the existing structure. Two additional floors were added, as was a central elevator bank. The building finally received a formal front entrance on 14th Street, closing the alleyway entrance next to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

Changes to the building continued throughout the 20th century. Responding to the influx of motor vehicles in the 1930s and 40s, a decision was made to bridge 14th Street over Maine Avenue. Forever changing the landscape of Southwest DC the bridge had a direct physical impact upon the Liberty Loan building. Standing in the way of the necessary "clover leaf" exit ramps, Federal Highway engineers created a tunnel through the foundation of the Liberty Loan building in 1952 to allow west-bound traffic on Maine Avenue to exit onto south-bound 14th Street.

In 1966 the building was modernized with the addition of window air conditioner units and an exterior paint job. The last major renovation of the building occurred in 1985-1987, when a major systems overhaul and window replacement was completed. Long outliving its expected temporary lifespan, the Liberty Loan building has proven an adaptable building, evolving to meet the changing needs of the federal government throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.

Last Reviewed: 2019-09-05