Stewart Lee Udall Building History

The New Deal

Sworn into office in March 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt undertook an expansive program of government spending in order to create jobs and combat the effects of the Great Depression. Termed the New Deal, government programs included everything from building bridges and dams to painting murals and teaching music. One of the largest New Deal programs, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) originally fell under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior.

FDR appointed Harold Ickes as Secretary of the Interior shortly after is inauguration. Addressing the needs of a rapidly growing department, Ickes petitioned Roosevelt for a new building to house the Department. FDR agreed and the new Interior Headquarters building became Project No. 4 of the Works Progress Administration. The new building was not only built under WPA, but its construction was extensively photographed by WPA photographers and WPA artists filled its corridors with murals.


The last major work of Architect Waddy B. Wood, the Department of the Interior Building is a seven-story steel framed structure, clad in granite and limestone. Then Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes was closely involved in the construction of the building and personally selected Wood to design a building in the stripped classical style.

Quickly built between 1935 and 1936, the building boasts over 2,200 offices, each exposed to natural light, thanks to the multitude of windows allowed by the building's five interior courtyards. Although architecturally austere, the new Interior building was not without modern amenities. Secretary Ickes insisted upon the inclusion of a central air conditioning system, the first to be installed in a federal building. Other innovations included a central vacuum system, parking garage, fire proof design, and movable steel office partitions.

In addition to providing amenities for department employees, Ickes envisioned a building that would serve to reinforce the identity and mission of the department. To that end he included a library, Departmental Museum, and Indian Arts and Crafts Shop, which were all open to the public. He also personally approved and oversaw the installation of each WPA mural in the building, ensuring that the each artist represented a distinct aspect of the Department.

Stewart Lee Udall

The 37th Secretary of the Interior, Stewart Lee Udall's tenure from 1961 to 1969 was integral in defining the role of the modern Department of the Interior. He expanded federal public lands and enacted ground breaking environmental protection. Laws enacted during his tenure include the Wilderness Act, Land and Water Conservation Act and Endangered Species Preservation Act. In addition to adding countless national parks, monuments, and historic sites to the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, Udall pioneered new ideas for public space utilization; promoting the use of federal public space to host cultural events and venues.

The Department of Interior headquarters building was named in honor of Stewart Lee Udall's contributions as Secretary of the Interior in June 2010, just three months after his death.

Last Reviewed: 2017-10-03