Old Washington (Treasury Building)

By James Croggon, The Evening Star, August 20, 1910 [pt. 2 p. 3]

From less than forty rooms three-quarters of a century ago and to near a hundred and fifty half a century ago, and to about seven hundred at present, the Treasury Department is adding on more rooms for its force and remodeling the main entrance to that portion of the building which half a century ago was looked on as one of the finest pieces of architecture in the capital of the nation.

The story of its evolution from the erection of the original building, which became the official residence of Oliver Walcott and his three dozen Treasury clerks in 1800 to he present is not without interest, and, needless to say, those who worked in that building never dreamed of such a building as the present one. This was a brick structure of two stories and basement, located at the southwest corner of 15th and F streets, the latter street been projected westward into the reservation, and, like the President's house and corresponding executive building occupied first by the War Department, faced south. The arrangement of the rooms, about sixteen on a floor, was the same in each. The Treasury building conained the offices of the Secretary and the controller on the second floor, while the auditor, register and treasurer occupied the first floor. The treasurer then had but four clerks and two rooms sufficed for the force now reprewsented by hundreds.

This building on the afternoon of January 20, 1801, came near destruction by fire. It was discovered in one of the room sof the register on the first floor, and burned to the floor above, but the citizens and clerks, with the fire engine purchased a few months before for the department, extinguished it before any serious damage was done. A fireproof building was erected in 1804 a short distance northwest of this building. In these buildings meetings of citizens were frequently held in the early days, and one church, Dr. Laurie's, long located on F street west of 11th, was organized here.

Destroyed by the British
In August, 1814, both the Treasury building and the fireproof building were destroyed by the British. What had been saved of the books and papers were assembled in the buildings on F and 15th streets and work was resumed. The walls of the larger building were found sufficiently strong to warrant its restoration, and about 1817 the department took possession and the offices were located as before. By this time the second controller and several auditors were authorized, but most of them were located in the other building. That west of the President's was firs known as the West and the Treasury as the East Executive building, but when about 1819 two other buildings were added the Treasury was the Southeast Executive building.

In March, 18i33, the third fire took place here, and the destruction of the building was complete. The offices were re-established in rented buildings on the site now covered by the Hotel Regent, at the southeast corner of Pennsylvania avenue and 15th street. By the act of July 4, 1836, the Prewsident was directed "to erect a fireproof building of such dimensions as may be required for the present and future accommodation of he department." The plans of Mr. William P. Elliot, long known as an architect and surveyor, were accepted. This was that portion of the building originally built of sandstone, with columns of the same material, the front of which has recently been granite-plated and the old columns replaced by more substantial ones. The work on that portion on 15th street was first completed, and by 1840 most of the offices moved therein, and as the west wing was completed the building was fully occupied.

Cost of New Structure
In the forties the Attorney General, first auditor, the third auditor, treasurer and solicitor were in the first story; he Secretary's office and those of the first controller and register were in the second story, and the general land office had been moved from the State Department to the third story. The cost of this building up to 1847 was over $670,000. The halls were supplied with furnace heat from the basement, but the fireplaces in the rooms were for wood and coal, mostly the former. Where now are the courts were the water closets and fuel houses. In the north court was an engine house, and though there was water which came by pipes from Franklin Square, there was at least one pump in the yard. The continuation of the building, and it seems that this was contemplated from the first, for the north end of the sandstone structure was closed by a temporary wall, was authorized by the act of 1853. The first appropriation was for $300,000, and under the plans of Thomas U. Walter, at that time architect of the Capitol, the work was carried on to completion, numerous additional sums being appropriaed, and about 1870 the building was completed. The aggregate was over $6,000,000. Repairs, alterations, etc., have probably cost well on to a million more.