Make No Little Plans
— Federal Triangle Heritage Trail —
Across the street the Department of Commerce's Herbert C. Hoover Building anchors the Federal Triangle, just as the department - with its mission of promoting trade, supporting economic development, and strengthening the competitiveness of American companies - historically anchors the U.S. economy. Upon completion in 1932, the building was the world's largest office complex, covering almost eight acres and filling three city blocks with 3,300 rooms. It brought under one roof offices that had been scattered among 20 locations in Washington. The massive Hoover Building has six interior courtyards that bring light and air into offices. Exterior sculptures, plaques, and inscriptions illustrate the department's wide-ranging activities.
The monumental structure reflects the nation's prosperity when Louis Ayres of the New York firm of York and Sawyer designed it and when President Herbert Hoover laid the cornerstone in May 1929. A few months later, however, the world economy crashed, launching the Great Depression. Fortunately, construction on the Federal Triangle proceeded creating jobs that became harder to find as the depression deepened.
When the Commerce Department was founded in 1903, it took in the Census Bureau (established in 1790), Bureau of Navigation (1789), Lighthouse Service (1789), Patent Office (1802), Coast and Geodetic Survey (1807), Bureau of Steamboat Inspection (1838), and Bureau of Fisheries (1871). When the building was complete, it also housed the bureaus of Mines, Foreign and Domestic Commerce, and Aeronautics, as well as the Radio Division. Changing times have consolidated or eliminated many bureaus, but the department's mission of supporting the American economy remains constant.
You are standing in the Federal Triangle, a group of buildings whose grandeur symbolizes the power and dignity of the United States. Located between the White House and the Capitol, these buildings house key agencies of the U.S. Government.
The Federal Triangle is united by the use of neoclassical revival architecture, drawing from styles of ancient Greece and Rome that have influenced public buildings throughout the ages. Although each structure was designed for a specific government department or agency, they all share limestone fa?ades, red-tiled roofs and classical colonnades. Their architectural features, following traditions of the Parisian School of Fine Arts (?cole des Beaux-Arts), illustrate each building's original purpose. Most of the Federal Triangle was constructed between 1927 and 1938. However, the Old Post Office and the John A. Wilson Building survive from an earlier era, while the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center was not completed until 1998.
In 1791 Pierre L'Enfant designed a city plan for the new cpaital in Washington under the direction of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. The L'Enfant Plan overlaid broad avenues on a street grid with areas reserved for prominent buildings and parks. This area originally followed L'Enfant's vision as a center for businesses serving the municipal and federal governments. By the time of the Civil War (1861-1865), it had become a hodgepodge of boarding houses, stables, and light industry. This disarray, and the growing need for government office space, led to calls for redevelopment. In 1901 the Senate Park Commission, known as the McMillan Commission, created a new plan for Washington's parks and monumental areas and redefined the Triangle as a government center. In 1926 Congress authorized a massive building program that drew inspiration from classical architecture to create today's monumental Federal Triangle.
Make No Little Plans: Federal Triangle Heritage Trail is an Official Washington, D.C. Walking Trail. The self-guided, 1.75-mile tour of 16 signs offers about one hour of gentle exercise. Its theme comes from "Make no little plans, they have no magic to stir men's blood. Make big plans," attributed to visionary Chicago architect Daniel Burnham, chair of the McMillan Commission.
For more information on Federal Triangle buildings, please visit www.gsa.gov. For more information on DC neighborhoods and walking tours, please visit www.CulturalTourismDC.org.
Make No Little Plans: Federal Triangle Heritage Trail is produced by the U.S. General Services Administration in collaboration with the District Department of Transportation and Cultural Tourism DC.