Washington – Elaborate Public Buildings

The great public buildings used for Government purposes are among the chief adornments of Washington. To the eastward of the White House is the Treasury Building, extending over five hundred feet along Fifteenth Street, enriched by a magnificent Ionic colonnade, three hundred and fifty feet long, modelled from that of the Athenian Temple of Minerva. Each end has an elaborate Ionic portico, while the western front, facing the White House, has a grand central entrance. This was the first great building constructed for a Government department, and is the headquarters of the Secretary of the Treasury. Upon the western side of the White House is the most splendid of all the department buildings, accommodating three of them, the State, War and Navy Departments. It is Roman Doric, built of granite, four stories high, with Mansard and pavilion roofs and porticoes, covering a surface of five hundred and sixty-seven by three hundred and forty-two feet. The Salon of the Ambassadors, or the Diplomatic Reception Room, is its finest apartment, and is the audience chamber of the Secretary of State, who occupies the adjoining Secretary’s Hall, also a splendid room. This great building is constructed around two large interior courts, the Army occupying the north-ern and western wings, and the Navy the eastern side, where among the great attractions are the models of the famous warships of the American Navy. To the northward of the White House park and furnishing a fine front view is Lafayette Square, containing a bronze equestrian statue of General Jackson by Clark Mills; beyond, on the western side, is the attractive Renaissance building of the Corcoran Art Gallery, amply endowed by the late banker, William W. Corcoran, and containing his valuable art collections, which were given to the public. The foundation of his fortune was laid over a half-century ago, when he had the pluck to take a Government loan which seemed slow of sale. His modest banking house still exists as the Riggs Bank, facing the Treasury.

The most admired of the newer public buildings in Washington is the Congressional Library, on the plateau southeast of the Capitol, an enormous structure in Italian Renaissance, a quadrangle four hundred and seventy feet long and three hundred and forty feet wide, enclosing four courts and a central rotunda. It was finished in 1897, and cost about $6,200,000. Its elevated gilded dome and lantern are conspicuous objects in the view. This great Library, the largest in the country, is appropriately ornamented, and its book-stacks have accommodations for about five millions of volumes, the present number approximating one million, with nearly three hundred thousand pamphlets. The Pension Building is another huge structure, northwest of Capitol Hill, built around a covered quadrangle, which is used quadrennially for the ” Inauguration Ball,” a prominent Washington official-social function, which was adopted to relieve the White House from the former feasting on the inauguration night. This house, accommodating the army of pension clerks, has running around the walls, over the lower windows, a broad band, exhibiting in relief a marching column of troops, with representations of every branch of the service. Seventh Street, which crosses Pennsylvania Avenue about midway between the Capitol and the Treasury, has to the northward the imposing Corinthian Post-office Building, formerly the headquarters of the postal service. Behind this is the Department of the Interior, popularly known as the Patent Office, as a large part of it is occupied by patent models. This is a grand Doric structure, occupying two blocks and embracing about three acres of buildings, the main entrance being a magnificent portico, seen from Pennsylvania Avenue. The new General Post-office Department Building is on Pennsylvania Avenue, covering a surface of three hundred by two hundred feet, and having a tower rising three hundred feet. It has just been completed. The Government Printing Office, where the public printing is done, and the Treasury Bureau of Engraving and Printing, where all the Government money issues and revenue stamps are made, are large and important buildings, though not specifically attractive in architecture.