Clinton Building History

New Post Office Building History

McMillan Plan

The design of the Clinton building is best understood in the context of the 1901 McMillan Plan. Directing the development of the Federal Triangle, the plan called for a circular plaza on 12th street to be composed of two semicircular building facades. The hemicycle shape of the New Post Office was intended to match a corresponding structure on the opposite side of 12th Street. To complete this design, the Old Post Office would have been torn down and the IRS building expanded. However, in the 1960s the burgeoning American preservation movement lobbied to save the Old Post Office and the design was never completed.

The master plan for the Federal Triangle also called for creation of a Grand Plaza on the west side of the building. However, like the Circular Plaza, this idea was never realized in its original form. For years, the lot to the west of Clinton remained vacant, acting as a large parking lot. Finally, in 1997, the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center and Federal Building was completed, finishing development of the Triangle and creating a re-envisioned plaza to the west of the Clinton building.


Architects William A. Delano and Chester H. Aldrich intended their monumental building to rival the magnificence of public buildings in European capitals and drew inspiration from London County Hall and Place Vendome in Paris. Designed in the Classical Revival architectural style, the building has an unusual footprint of two semicircles placed back to back with side wings, resulting in the dramatic sweeping façade.

The exterior of the building is embellished with sculpture and bas relief panels designed by Adolph Alexander Weinman, which depict the significance of the postal service. On the building's western façade, a series of carved relief panels, entitled Primitive Means of the Transmission of Communications, illustrate the delivery of messages by carrier pigeon, drum signals, mirrors, and smoke signals.

The building had one of the first central air conditioning systems installed in a federal building, chilled drinking water, and the first central vacuum system in the country. In addition to technological advancements, the New Post Office was selected as one of the first buildings to be decorated by the New Deal's Section of Painting and Sculpture. American artists were commissioned to supply numerous murals and small sculptures, which decorate the corridors and Postmaster General's suite.


In 1971, the U.S. Postal Department became the U.S. Postal Service and shortly afterwards vacated the building. The building was later occupied by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and renamed to honor Ariel Rios, an ATF agent killed in the line of duty. Today the building serves as the headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency. In 2013 the building was renamed the William Jefferson Clinton federal building in honor of our 42nd president.

ICC-Labor Building History


An award winning student of the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, Arthur Brown drew heavily upon the classical architecture of Greece and Rome in his design of the three building complex along Constitution Avenue. The complex, which connects to the post office building on 12th street, is dominated by the departmental auditorium, which serves as the central focus of the complex with a monumental Doric façade. Along Constitution Avenue, there are five large pediment sculptures, depicting themes related to commerce and labor. These monumental works soften the severity of the austere façade and draw the focus upward. Peeking out from between the center columns, it is possible to catch a view of Washington Planning the Battle of Trenton, a bas relief located under Edgar Walter's Columbia pediment. Like other buildings in the Federal Triangle, Brown's trio is constructed of steel frames clad in Indiana limestone. The iconic red terra-cotta tile roof unites Brown's buildings and ties them to the rest of the Triangle. The auditorium, flanked by the William Jefferson Clinton building, encompasses nearly six acres and extends 1,000 feet along Constitution Avenue.


Currently occupied by the Environmental Protection Agency, the wings of the departmental auditorium were originally occupied by the Department of Labor and Interstate Commerce Commission. In 1975 the quickly growing Department of Labor relocated to a new building at 3rd and C Streets NW. Following the Department of Labor relocation, the US Customs Service joined the Interstate Commerce Commission in the complex. The Interstate Commerce Commission was created by the Interstate Commerce Act in 1897 under President Grover Cleveland. The ICC's original purpose was to regulate railroads, eliminate rate discrimination, and to regulate other aspects of common carriers. The agency was abolished in 1995 and the agency's remaining functions were transferred to the Surface Transportation Board.

Historical Events

Due to its large size and ornate architectural finishes, the Mellon Auditorium has played host to a number of important historical events. In 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty was signed in the auditorium, founding NATO. A decade prior, President Franklin Roosevelt read the first numbers of the nation's inaugural peacetime draft lottery inside the auditorium, less than a year before the United States entered World War II. In 1956, the building was scheduled to host a civil rights assembly which 30 southern Congressmen protested as "a mass lobby meeting, which is avowedly political in nature." The General Services Administration, with the consent of President Eisenhower, affirmed that the space was available for discussion of "nonpartisan social problems." Most recently on April 24, 1999, the Mellon hosted the 50th Anniversary celebration of the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty.

Last Reviewed: 2022-04-19