Though it is a beloved landmark in Washington, D.C., many visitors do not know that the Old Post Office Pavilion is more than a preeminent example of the Richardsonian Romanesque design. Its 315-foot clock tower is also part of the National Park Service. Free tours are available daily—offering wonderful 360-degree views of Washington, D.C., from the observation deck.
The grand Romanesque arches, massive rough stone, and stately clock tower of the Old Post Office Pavilion on Pennsylvania Avenue have watched over the nation’s capital and grand events such as presidential inaugural parades since 1899. Proudly placed at 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue when Congress approved a new post office in 1880, there were high hopes that this building would signal a new era for the nation’s capital city… hopes that have remained unfilled even now, more than 100 years later.
Construction on the new post office didn’t begin until 1892. When the building was completed in 1899, the Victorian era of architecture had faded and the brand new building was already considered out of fashion. The post office moved out in 1914, making the building officially “old” after only fifteen years. Saved from destruction by a lack of funds in the Great Depression, it housed federal workers for years, but never lived up to the dream of revitalizing the area. In the 1970 demolitions permits were issued, but local citizens banded together to save it.
Though the building was saved, it continued to languish despite redevelopment efforts in the late 1980s which added a food court and retail space in the magnificent interior covered courtyard. Still, much of the building, including the new rear annex, stood empty. The New York Times reported that the building was losing millions of dollars every year and the General Services Administration sought redevelopment proposals.
Of the many proposals received, the winner, announced in February 2012, was a plan by Donald Trump to turn the building into a luxury hotel. Trump and the federal government must finalize the terms of the agreement, which include both how the building will be used and also how the historic character will be protected. In the proposed plan, the land would be leased from the government by Trump and the clock tower would remain open to the public under the management of the National Park Service. The Old Post Office is part of both the National Mall and Memorial Parks unit of the National Park Service and also the Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site.
If You Go
While the lines to visit the top of the Washington Monument are often long, the wait can be much shorter to go to the top of the much lesser-known Post Office Tower. However, the Washington Monument has been closed since an August 2011 earthquake damaged the structure. It is possible this may bring more visitors to the Post Office Clock Tower, so it is wise call ahead at 202.606.8691 to learn more about expected wait times. And don’t even think of parking on the street for your visit. Parking is at a premium in this busy metro area. Arriving by Metro is recommended!