National Naval Medical Center Tower - Bethesda MD
The Walter Reed National Military Medical Center began life as the National Naval Medical Center under the New Deal. Congress appropriated the funds in 1937 and President Franklin D. Roosevelt selected the site in Bethesda, Maryland.
Architect Paul Cret designed a magnificent Moderne building with a tower that still delights (though much obscured by subsequent additions to the complex). Construction began in 1939. FDR laid the cornerstone of the famous tower on Armistice Day 1940, and the center opened soon thereafter (probably some time in 1941, not 1940 as most sources say).
According to the official Center website, “The President’s vision was to establish a Navy Medical Center that housed medical care, Navy medical training, Navy research and a medical library in one location.”
Total cost was $4,850,000 (Post 1938). The funding either passed through the Public Works Administration (PWA), as with so many other New Deal medical and civil works projects, or the Treasury Department Division of Building Procurement, which handled all federal buildings at the time.
The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was involved in preparing the site for construction by, “Improv[ing] grounds…; erecting boundary fences; clearing areas of brush and undergrowth; excavating; filling; grading; fertilizing.” (National Archives)
The facilities were greatly expanded in 1960, adding two large wings to the central hospital building. But the tower of the Navy Medical Center is still the most notable structure at the site.
In 2011, the old Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the District of Columbia was closed and all its functions transferred to the site of the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda MD, becoming the joint Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
National Archives, Record Group 69, “Microfilmed Index to WPA Projects.”
National Archives, Record Group 69, Records of the Work Projects Administration, “Newspaper clippings file, 1935-1942.”
“Capital’s Biggest Building Program Promises A Boon By Spring: Expenditures May Reach $200,000,000,” Washington Post, November 27, 1938.
Carl Brauer, The Man Who Built Washington: A Life of John McShain. Wilmington, DE: Hagley Museum and Library, 1996.
Project originally submitted by Brent McKee on May 29, 2013.
Additional contributions by Richard A Walker, Sally Berk.
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