DOJ Building History

The Site

The designers of the Federal Triangle originally intended for the Justice Department to be built one block east, on the current site of the National Archives building. However, when the Archives architect, John Russell Pope, got a hold of the plans, he fought to relocate the Archives building, insisting that its proper location was on the cross-axis of the city's monumental core, as originally envisioned by Pierre L'Enfant. Architects for the Justice building agreed to switch locations, taking the larger city block between 9th and 10th Streets, which provided a more suitable location for the expanding workforce of the Justice Department.

Historic images

The Building

In 1935 when work on the U.S. Department of Justice Building was completed, the 105 year old government division was finally provided its first permanent home. Although the Office of Attorney General was established by Congress in 1789 and the Department of Justice in 1870, the government's legal experts had been forced to occupy an ad-hoc succession of federal and privately-owned buildings. Designed specifically for the Justice Department by the Philadelphia architectural firm of Zantzinger, Borie & Medary, the building has housed the department's headquarters since its official dedication in 1934. One of the most unique features of the building is the concrete mosaic ceilings above the entrances, driveways, and porticos. John Joseph Early was the innovator behind these brilliantly colored mosaics in Art Deco patterns. For the Justice Department, he used white quartz, blue and yellow ceramics, black and red enamel, and gold. These rare substances were crushed and carefully screened for exact size. According to William Avery, one of the building's architects, the mosaics used in the Justice Department were the first mosaics ever made of American materials. Visible from the street, the mosaics are extremely durable and retain much of their original brilliance. Sculpture was also skillfully integrated into the fabric of the building. Sculptor C. Paul Jennewein created a unified design concept for the exterior and interior space, designing 57 sculptural elements ranging from carved limestone figures for the pediments to the Art Deco light fixtures. Sculptural figures and inscriptions were carefully chosen to provide a unifying theme reflecting the role of the Department in a constitutional democracy. Over the Constitution Avenue entrance, Jennewein designed a relief panel with a Latin inscription taken from Pliny's Epistle. It means "Everything is created by Law and Order."

The Aluminum

The neoclassical design that governed development of the Federal Triangle is expressed at the Department of Justice in a classical style enlivened by Art Deco detailing. Perhaps the most notable feature of the building's exterior is its extensive use of aluminum. Widely used as an architectural element starting in the 1920s, the use of aluminum on the Justice Building is extraordinary in its breath and imagination. It went beyond novelty to evoke, more than any other feature of the building, a feeling of total unity in design. While other Triangle buildings used aluminum, it was most commonly used in combination with more traditional materials, such as bronze. All of the exterior doors, window frames, railings, grilles, picture moldings, and light fixtures at the Justice Department are made of aluminum. In addition, the entrances feature sculptural aluminum doors that slide into recessed pockets.

print Share Icon Last Reviewed 2017-08-13