The White Elephant on Pennsylvania Avenue

The Old Post office building in Washington DC was built in 1899 just as steel frames, elevators and electricity were being incorporated into building design. Washington DC has long had an effectively 9 story limit on the height of buildings, a 1910 rule still in effect today. The 315 foot tall Old Post Office Pavilion and clock tower is the tallest occupied building inside the District

History of the Old Post Office Pavilion

(Google Earth)

As soon as it was built, Congress realized they had made a huuuuge mistake. The construction was shoddy, the design was poorly thought out and the building was not strong enough to hold itself up if used as designed. Governments almost never admit they make mistakes, especially Congress.

Part of the reason the building was constructed was the hope that it would create an economic boom in the area. The DC post office lasted only 15 years as occupant. If you have spent time in DC outside of the tourist areas, you know the wealth and affluence falls off quickly, the further you get from the cash cow called the US government and the tourist areas.

The Post Office is located between 11th & 12th NW on Pennsylvania Avenue. Donald Trump snuck in an advertisement in the middle of the debate, indicating he would be living on Pennsylvania Avenue, even if he lost.


The government has tried several times to demolish the building. Then it got trapped by its own laws when it was declared historic. In typical government think, the GSA accepted the idea that if you had a largely unusable building, the way to solve that was to make the building bigger!, adding on an Annex.

When Barack Obama took office, he directed the GSA to try to dispose of useless property, including the old post office  pavilion.   You could imagine with all of the politics and the historic preservation aspects how unattractive this property is.   Donald Trump offered in 2012 to rent the property for 60 years at $3 million a year. He also pledged to invest  $200 million to renovate the building to turn it into a luxury 260 room hotel, and do it with his own money plus a personal guarantee.

The Trump international Hotel opened for business on September 12, 2016. If you want to stay there during the inauguration, you’re out of luck. The first available opening is January 24th. Prices start around $650 a night, and the Trump Suite can be yours for $21,500 a night.

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1 Response to The White Elephant on Pennsylvania Avenue

  1. Fred Stiening says:

    A little bit more Washington DC trivia. Before Union Station was built in 1907, the Baltimore and Potomac railroad had its passenger station at 6th and B Street (now Constitution Avenue). That was where President McKinley was shot. Much of what is the Washington Mall today was railroad yards. The Federal triangle (Where the post office is) was the location of Central Market, where fresh produce and meat was brought into the city.

    In the 1920s, Congress decided to tear down the entire Federal Triangle, including the Old Post Office. The Central Market was razed, the Southern Railway Headquarters was torn down and moved to 15th and K Street. Then the Depression hit and people got frugal. They decided to leave the Old Post Office. Tearing up the remaining railroad tracks took until about 1934 and required invoking eminent domain.

    Another piece of trivia. You may be aware that Washington DC had a streetcar system. It was peculiar because it was saddled by a rule that it could not put up overhead wires, so there was a tunnel between the rails where the power was located. What I just learned was why the streetcar system was dismembered. It had just purchased some of the last streetcars made using the 1930 era PCC design streetcars. The reason was that the transit workers went on strike for 45 days in the mid 1950s. As a result, Congress passed another law requiring the streetcar system to convert to buses within 8 years. This was back before “home rule”, where Congress directly micromanaged the District.

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