Kennedy Department of Justice building - Washington DC
The Department of Justice Building is part of the Federal Triangle, first proposed by the McMillan Commission in its 1901 report on planning Washington DC. The Federal Triangle is a 70-acre area east of the White House, between Pennsylvania and Constitution Avenues. The plan called for replacing a 19th century residential and commercial area with monumental buildings in the Beaux Arts style of the early 20th century.
The Federal Triangle plan finally moved forward under the 1926 Public Buildings Act, directed by the Treasury Department (which handled federal buildings until superseded by the Federal Works Agency in 1939 and General Services Administration in 1949). The Department of Justice building was launched in 1931 under the architectural firm of Zantzinger, Borie and Medary of Philadelphia and in 1932 the George A. Fuller Company of Washington was awarded the construction contract, at a cost of $7,667,000.
The foundation was begun in late 1932, President Herbert Hoover laid the cornerstone on February 23, 1933, and President Franklin Roosevelt dedicated the completed building on October 25, 1934. Hence, the building is in large part a New Deal edifice. (The Public Works Administration (PWA) also provided supplemental funding for the windows – Washington Post, 1933).
The design is Neoclassical Moderne, which fits with the overall guidelines for the Federal Triangle but introduced Art Deco architectural elements, with the use of cast aluminum in place of bronze, streamline design and colorful decorative elements. The interior of the building is a feast for Art Deco enthusiasts.
The New Deal is responsible for an astonishing array of artworks embellishing the building, as the Treasury Section of Fine Arts commissioned artists to create 68 murals between 1936 and 1941 – for a total of $68,000 or one percent of the cost of the building. (See individual project pages on those artworks).
The sculptural elements on the exterior and inside are mostly the work of C. Paul Jennwein and the colorful concrete mosaics on the ceilings of the 9th and 10th Streets entrances were done by John Joseph Earley. It appears that those two artists were brought onto the project by the architects, so their work, like the building, is only partly attributable to the New Deal.
The Department of Justice building was named after former US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy in 2001.
“U.S. Department of Justice Building (Robert F. Kennedy Building), Washington, DC,” General Services Administration (accessed January 30, 2020).
“Federal Triangle,” National Register of Historic Places, National Park Service (accessed January 30, 2020).
“U.S. allots District jobs $412,034,” Washington Post, October 11, 1933, p. 15
U.S. Department of Justice, The Robert F. Kennedy Building: Celebrating Art and Architecture on the 75th Anniversary, 1934-2009, p. 43 (accessed January 30, 2020).
Federal Works Agency, Final Report, Section of Fine Arts, Public Buildings Administration, October 16, 1934 to July 15, 1943, p. 5.
Project originally submitted by Brent McKee - wpatoday.org on March 10, 2015.
Additional contributions by Richard Walker.
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