Internal Revenue Service, Washington, DC
The Internal Revenue Service Building, built between 1928 and 1936, was the first building to be constructed within the Federal Triangle. The Federal Triangle project was the largest building program ever undertaken by the government; it was the first federally funded urban redevelopment project of this scope and, as such, provided a model for city planning in the 1930's through 1950's. The new buildings were to be designed to reflect the "dignity and power of the nation". Senator James McMillan introduced legislation in 1900 authorizing plans for developing an urban park system and for the siting of future Federal buildings. McMillan's plan proposed that the triangular area south of Pennsylvania Avenue, north of the mall and east of the Ellipse be developed for Federal office buildings and museums. The plan for the Federal Triangle was tied to the passage of the Public Buildings Act of 1926 and, finally, in January, 1928 the Triangle Bill was passed authorizing acquisition of land and allocating funds. There is correspondence to indicate that there was a plan drawn for this building as early as 1926, before the master plan for the Federal Triangle was formulated. According to the "Unified Architectural Composition Plan" publicized by the Commission of Fine Arts in July 1927, IRS was to form half of a "Great Circle" measuring 500' in diameter at the intersection of 12th Street and the former C Street. Because the IRS Building was to be used as a bureau and not as a departmental headquarters, originally planned sculptural bronzes and stonework were not included, therefore separating the unadorned IRS Building from its neighbors in appearance.
The IRS was founded in 1872 but was a minor section of the Treasury Department until the income tax law was passed in 1913; by the 1920's the IRS had 6000 employees housed in temporary wood frame structures generally considered "fire traps"; the need for permanent headquarters was generally recognized not only because of the appalling working conditions but because of the constant threat of fire to the tax records. A month after the Public Building Act was signed the decision was made to proceed as soon as possible with IRS and the Department of Commerce due to the threatening conditions. The building was first occupied June 1, 1930 having been completed 16 months ahead of schedule (the contractor received a $30,000 bonus for early completion). The building was equipped with a synchronized system of 861 clocks, the largest system of its kind at the time of construction. In addition to being synchronized the system had a conduit system related to the fire alarm and the watchman's system. 1400 telephones were installed.
When the 18th Amendment (Prohibition) was repealed in 1933, the work of the IRS increased sharply and more office space was needed. An extension was begun (the northeast sections) in February 1934. The general form and exterior appearance of the extension duplicated the exterior detailing of the main building and completed the symmetry of the facade.
It was intended that the IRS Building be completed on the site of the 19th century Post Office building but plans were delayed for social, political and economic reasons until the late 1960's when proposals were made to complete the Federal Triangle. By this time the Urban Renewal program (initiated by the concept of the Federal Triangle) was in full practice and public outcry against the destruction of historic properties was beginning. The preservation movement in Washington took as its first major issue the demolition of the Old Post Office. A struggle ensued between Federal plans and citizens' groups. The 1966 Historic Preservation Act provided a legislative boost to the citizens groups and the group, named "Don't Tear It Down" was able to save the Old Post Office building. The IRS Building, therefore, was never "completed" and the look of the Federal Triangle was adapted to include the 19th century Post Office Building.
The Internal Service Building is a component of the Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site (National Register #66000865).
- Architect: Simon, Louis A.
- Construction Dates: 1928-1936
- GSA Building Number: DC0022ZZ
- National Register of Historic Places Landmark Status: National Register Listed