From time to time, I will post an blog entry by one of my staff, about a favorite building. Today’s entry is by Lucinda Philumalee, current MRED candidate and Historic Preservation degree holder.
Eisenhower Executive Office Building: Eyesore or Icon?
Located just west of the White House is a Federal building built in the Second Empire style that has been a staple of Washington DC since 1871. It was designed by a former Supervising Architect, Alfred Mullet, in the Second Empire style. Formerly known as the Old Executive Office Building, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building has been a source of strong opinion to many who encounter it.
Named for the Second French Empire, Second Empire architecture is a style that became popular in the mid-to-late 1800s and is distinctly European. While Second Empire residential buildings are located around DC, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building is the one of the few, if only, Federal buildings built in this style.
America’s most iconic Federal buildings were built in the style of Greek Revival, which became popular in the 18th and 19th century. DC was established as the nation’s capital in 1790; thus the built environment reflected what was prominent at the time. As a result, Americans have a predisposition of what Federal buildings should look like. Compounded with the fact that Americans are often turned off from anything that is iconoclastic with what they are used to representing the capital and the nation, the Second Empire Eisenhower Executive Office Building is often perceived with distaste.
President Truman described the Eisenhower Executive Office Building as the greatest monstrosity in America. Mark Twain called it the ugliest building in America. Perhaps most graphic, historian and author Henry Adams referred to it as Mullet’s “architectural infant asylum.” Likely it was sentiments such as these, along with the notion that it was an inefficient building that put it at risk for demolition in the 1950s, however those plans never came to fruition.
Once despised for its nonconformist style, opinions of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building have since neutralized. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the 1960s and designated as a National Historic Landmark shortly thereafter. While many other Greek Revival style Federal buildings require a second glance for identification, the Second Empire Federal building is undoubtedly the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and a DC icon.
Below are a few pictures; If you travel to DC you can make your own decision!
Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Phot from School of Architecture, Planning, & Preservation Visual Resources Collection
Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Picture form A. D. White Architectural Photographs, Cornell University Library, via The Commons.
Eisenhower Executive Office Building from the street. Image from the School of Architecture, Planning, & Preservation, Visual Resources Collection.