Sidney R. Yates Building History

Bureau of Engraving & Printing

The Bureau of Engraving & Printing was founded in 1862 to enable the federal government to print stamps, U.S. currency and other official government documents in-house. Prior to 1862, official documents were printed by outside companies. Originally housed within the Treasury Department Building, the machinery involved in the printing process soon required a dedicated facility and in 1878 land was purchased from philanthropist William Corcoran near the southwest corner of the almost completed Washington Monument.

A "plain, substantial, fire proof building" was designed by Supervising Architect of the Treasury James G. Hill and constructed between 1878 and 1880. Built with repressed machine brick laid in Flemish bond, the masonry structure featured black sand mortar between the bricks, making for a striking visual contrast while hiding soot accumulation from the building's smoke stacks. Evolving to meet the ever changing demands of an active factory, the BEP building underwent numerous additions in the 1890s as the agency developed the land around the building into a complex of small support structures and out buildings. In 1888, due to the need for good lighting by which to engrave currency plates, BEP became one of the first government buildings to install electric lights, replacing its gas lighting system with 1,000 electric bulbs.

The Auditors' Complex"

Rapidly expanding in the wake of World War I, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing moved out of their original building in 1914, migrating to larger accommodations down the street. The new building, at 14th & C Streets, Southwest still functions as the BEP headquarters today and is one of two locations in the U.S. at which paper currency is printed. Following this move, the old building was temporarily utilized by a number of government agencies, including the IRS, General Supply Committee, and USDA.

While each of these agencies occupied space within the building, the primary occupants during this time were auditors from the departments of Navy, Treasury, and State, lending the complex of buildings its nickname: the Auditors' Complex. Several years after vacating the complex, engravers from BEP found their way back into the main building. In need of strong direct light to aid in the delicate task of engraving, the west side of the building was deemed an ideal location with its large windows overlooking the gleaming water of the tidal basin.

Sidney R. Yates Federal Building

Occupancy of the old Auditors' complex dwindled in the latter half of the twentieth century. By the 1960s, it was seriously underutilized and in need of major repairs and renovation. In 1966 the building was scheduled for demolition, however, due to a lack of funding, the demolition was postponed and in 1978 the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. At that time, the federal government began investigating potential reuse of the structure to help fill a growing need for additional federal office space in downtown Washington DC. Following a much needed modernization, the U.S. Forest Service moved into the building in 1990

In 1999 the building was named in honor of former Illinois Congressman Sidney R. Yates. Representing the Chicago lakefront wards, Yates was a major advocate for the arts and environment during his tenure in Congress. He also served as a council member of the U.S. Holocaust Museum, which is located next door to the Yates Building and also incorporates buildings from the old Auditor's complex.

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: 2022-04-19