Historical Significance

National Register of Historic Places Nomination, 1973

The Old Post Office, with its huge clock tower, has long been one of Washington’s favorite landmarks. In recent years the clock tower, which is visible from a distance of several miles, has received particular acclaim as an element of great vitality in the otherwise sterile skyline of the Federal Triangle.

Clock Tower with flagThe Joint Committee on Landmarks has designated the Old Post Office and Clock Tower a category II Landmark of importance, which contributes significantly to the cultural heritage and visual beauty of the District of Columbia. The Old Post Office is one of Washington’s few significant Romanesque Revival buildings on a monumental scale. It was the first federal building erected on Pennsylvania Avenue in the area now known as the Federal Triangle. Plans for the building were prepared in 1891 in the office of the Supervising Architect of the Treasury, W.J. Edbrooke. Many similarly styled Richardsonian-inspired federal buildings erected throughout the country in the 1890s were designed in Edbrooke’s office. At the time of its completion in 1899, the building with its 315-foot high clock tower was the third highest in Washington, exceeded only by the Capitol and Washington Monument. Its central enclosed court was one of the largest in the world.

Designed to house the U.S. Post Office Department as well as the Washington City Post Office, the building served as the headquarters of every Postmaster General from 1899-1934. It was there in 1908 that the observance of Flag Day was initiated by some employees who met on the second floor balcony overlooking the court and sang homage to the Star Spangled Banner. Every Flag Day a complete collection of state flags was displayed from the walls of the central court. Normally on display was the largest correctly proportioned U.S. Flag in existence. This flag, which hung down nearly seven stories from the skylight, was furled on Flag Day to avoid dwarfing the smaller State Flags.

In 1914, the Washington City Post Office moved to a new building adjacent to Union Station. The department remained in its headquarters until 1934 when the new U.S. Post Office Building across 12th street was ready for their use. The Old Post Office has since been shared by a number of federal executive departments and agencies.