Veterans Affairs Building History

Site History

The impetus for the classical revival Veterans Administration building dates to 1912 when a group of private investors demolished the old Arlington Hotel (1868-1912) and engaged the Baltimore architectural firm of Wyatt & Nolting to design a new hotel for the site. By 1917, the plans for a hotel were abandoned in favor of an office building to be developed by the investment firm of Arlington Building Incorporated.

As excavation and foundation work were nearing completion, American involvement in World War I created enormous and urgent demands for new federal office space in Washington DC. As a result, the Treasury Department negotiated the sale of the partially completed project to the federal government in 1918. The war emergency dictated that the Treasury was less interested in matters of aesthetic detail than in ensuring the building's quick completion. As a result, the finished building is an austere example of the late stripped classical style.

Design & Construction

Following the purchase of the partially completed building by the U.S. Treasury Department, a redesign of the intended facades and other minor modifications were made to quickly adapt the building to the needs of the government. The resulting building is an eleven story, V-shaped steel frame structure clad in limestone. The stripped classical design is sparse, especially in its interior, which was designed and quickly constructed to serve as utilitarian office space.

The lower portion of the building, extending from the basement through to the sixth floor, was occupied by the War Risk Insurance Bureau, with the five upper floors devoted to the Railroad Administration. The War Risk Insurance Bureau is the predecessor of today's Department of Veterans Affairs, which has continuously occupied the building since its construction.

The Department of Veterans Affairs History

From the beginning, the English colonies in North America provided pensions for disabled veterans. The first law in the colonies on pensions, enacted in 1636 in Plymouth, provided money to those disabled in the colony's defense against Indians. Other colonies soon followed Plymouth's example. In 1776 the Continental Congress sought to encourage enlistments and curtail desertions with the nation's first pension law. It granted half pay for life in cases of loss of limb or other serious disability.

The 19th century expanded the nation’s veterans assistance program expanded to include benefits and pensions not only for veterans but also for their widows and familial dependents. The modern VA was created in 1930, consolidating all of the various agencies involved in the administration of veterans' benefits and responding to growing demands from aging World War I veterans.

Signed in October 1988 and taking effect March 15, 1989, the VA was elevated to a cabinet-level executive department by President Ronald Reagan. Today, the VA is composed of three main branches including the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), Veterans Health Administration (VHA), and the National Cemetery Administration (NCA).

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