Return to Naval Historical Center home page. Return to Online Library listing

DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
805 KIDDER BREESE SE -- WASHINGTON NAVY YARD
WASHINGTON DC 20374-5060

Photo # NH 91993:  Main Navy Building, Washington, D.C.  Sketch by George Gray, 1964

Online Library of Selected Images:
-- PLACES -- UNITED STATES -- WASHINGTON, D.C.

"Main Navy" and "Munitions" Buildings

For more than five decades, the "Main Navy" and "Munitions" Buildings dominated the scenery along Constitution Avenue west of the Washington Monument, in the Northwest quadrant of Washington, D.C. Erected in 1918 as "temporary" office buildings to support the vastly expanded World War I military, they were so spacious and useful that it required a 1970 Presidential command to force their demolition.

Main Navy and Munitions were first occupied in August 1918, a few months before the end of the "Great War". They held some 14,000 Navy, Army and Civilian personnel when the fighting ended. Among their inhabitants were the Secretary of the Navy, the Chief of Naval Operations and their staffs. The Navy's high command remained there until after World War II, when it was transferred to the Pentagon. At the end of their long careers the two buildings were home to most of the Navy's material systems commands, and their abandonment helped to fill a good many new office buildings in nearby Northern Virginia. Also in residence were the Navy Department Library and much of the rest of what is now the Naval Historical Center.

These two structures were very large and heavily-constructed, if not especially beautiful. Their fronts stretched for nearly a third of a mile down Constitution Avenue's south side, from 17th Street to 21st. A vehicle entryway at the foot of 19th Street separated the buildings. Main Navy had a large pedestrian entrance at the foot of 18th Street, while the Munitions Building's main entrance was at the foot of 20th. Their street facades were three stories high, with long east-west main corridors that branched at regular intervals into north-south wings, eight for the Munitions Building and nine for Main Navy. In the early 1940s, with the needs of World War II looming, the latter had an architecturally similar tenth wing constructed at its eastern end, while roughly-built fourth floors were grafted to the tops of all the wings. Other "wood and beaverboard" temporary buildings were erected behind the two structures and between some of the wings.

Much local controversy accompanied Main Navy's and Munitions' presence on what had been park land, and there was constant agitation for their removal. But they outlasted nearly all of the City's once-vast number of wartime "temporaries". Even when President Nixon ordered their end, most of the occupants greeted the news with a skepticism born of long experience. However, as warm weather arrived in 1970, so did a regular procession of moving vans, followed by wrecking crews. By year's end, the buildings were largely reduced to rubble. Their site is now occupied by Constitution Gardens park, with the Vietnam Memorial resting near the western end of what had once been the Munitions Building.

This page features selected ground-level exterior views of the Main Navy and Munitions buildings, plus miscellaneous views related to those structures, and provides links to other images of them.

For more images related to the Main Navy and Munitions Buildings, see:

  • -- Aerial Views;
  • -- Exterior Views -- Close-Up and Miscellaneous; and
  • -- Interior Views.


    If you want higher resolution reproductions than the Online Library's digital images, see: "How to Obtain Photographic Reproductions."

    Click on the small photograph to prompt a larger view of the same image.

    Photo #: NH 86656

    "Main Navy" Building
    , Washington, D.C.

    Architect's perspective drawing, probably prepared in 1917 as construction was being planned in response to the greatly expanded need for office space during the World War I emergency.
    Despite the designation of this structure as "temporary", it remained in use until 1970.

    U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

    Online Image: 116KB; 1200 x 415 pixels

     
    Photo #: 80-G-1024872

    Navy Department Building ("Main Navy")
    , Washington, D.C.

    View of the building's North face seen from just west of 19th Street, looking southeasterly from aross Constitution Avenue, NW, in late 1918 or early 1919. The structure had been completed and occupied a few months earlier.
    The Washington Monument is in the center distance.

    Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

    Online Image: 101KB; 740 x 520 pixels

    Reproductions of this image may also be available through the National Archives photographic reproduction system.

     
    Photo #: NH 78203

    "Munitions" Building
    , Washington, D.C.

    View from across Constitution Avenue, N.W., from just west of 21st Street, looking southeasterly, circa 1919. The nearly identical "Main Navy" building is just beyond, at the left.
    These structures, completed in 1918 as World War I temporary office buildings, were finally torn down in 1970-71.

    Courtesy of Commander Donald J. Robinson, USN (MSC), 1973.

    U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

    Online Image: 88KB; 740 x 465 pixels

     
    Photo #: NH 2679

    "Munitions" Building
    , Washington, D.C.

    View of the building's north and eastern facades, seen from Constitution Avenue, N.W., in 1918

    U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

    Online Image: 141KB; 740 x 615 pixels

     
    Photo #: 80-G-45405

    Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox


    Secretary Knox' funeral procession passes the Navy Department building on Constitution Avenue, Washington, D.C., en route to Arlington Cemetary, 1 May 1944.
    Mr. Knox had died on 28 April.

    Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

    Online Image: 128KB; 740 x 620 pixels

    Reproductions of this image may also be available through the National Archives photographic reproduction system.

     
    Photo #: 80-G-609132

    Navy Department Building ("Main Navy")
    , Washington, D.C.

    View of the building's main entrance, at the foot of 18th Street, seen looking south from across Constitution Avenue, NW, on 26 June 1947.
    Dark automobile in the left center has U.S. Park Police markings. Taxicab in the center belongs to the American Cab Company.

    Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

    Online Image: 74KB; 740 x 605 pixels

    Reproductions of this image may also be available through the National Archives photographic reproduction system.

     
    Photo #: 80-G-705798

    General of the Armies John J. Pershing
    , U.S. Army.

    Sailors with M1903 rifles march past the entrance of "Main Navy" building, on Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C., while participating in General Pershing's funeral procession to Arlington Cemetary, 19 July 1948.
    General Pershing had died on 15 July.

    Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

    Online Image: 121KB; 595 x 765 pixels

    Reproductions of this image may also be available through the National Archives photographic reproduction system.

     
    Photo #: 80-G-431936

    Admiral Forrest P. Sherman
    , Chief of Naval Operations

    Admiral Sherman's funeral procession passes "Main Navy" building on its way down Constitution Avenue, Washington, D.C., en route to Arlington Cemetary, 27 July 1951.
    Admiral Sherman had died at Naples, Italy, on 22 July.
    Photographed by AFC Paul Begley.

    Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

    Online Image: 119KB; 740 x 615 pixels

    Reproductions of this image may also be available through the National Archives photographic reproduction system.

     
    Photo #: 80-G-482803

    Navy Department Building ("Main Navy"),
    Washington, D.C.


    View of the building's central entrance, on Constitution Avenue NW, across from the foot of 18th Street. It looks south and slightly westward. Photographed on 23 June 1953, a few days before the end of the Korean War.

    Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

    Online Image: 76KB; 740 x 620 pixels

    Reproductions of this image may also be available through the National Archives photographic reproduction system.

     
    Photo #: NH 91993

    "Main Navy" Building
    , Washington, D.C.

    Pen & ink sketch by George Gray, 1964, depicting the building's main entrance, at 18th Street and Constitution Avenue, N.W.
    When the building was demolished in 1970, the letters "NAVY DEPARTMENT" over the entrance were removed for addition to the Navy's historical collections.

    U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

    Online Image: 202KB; 740 x 605 pixels

     
    Photo #: NH 936

    USS President Lincoln
    (1917-1918)

    Bronze plaque erected by the USS President Lincoln Club, 31 May 1921, in memory of those lost when the ship was sunk by the German submarine U-90 on 31 May 1918.
    When photographed (circa the later 1920s or early 1930s) it was exhibited in the main lobby of the Main Navy Building in Washington, D.C.

    U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

    Online Image: 120KB; 615 x 765 pixels

     


    "Main Navy" Building is seen in the left background of the following views of another subject:

    Photo #: NH 105367

    Bureau of Navigation, Navy Department


    Personnel of the Bureau of Navigation pose in front of the Pan-American Union Building, Washington, D.C., on 15 January 1919. Among those present is a large number of Yeomen (F).
    Panoramic photograph by Schutz, 613 14th St., Washington, D.C.
    From a camera location on 17th Street, NW, this photograph sweeps through approximately 180 degrees: looking south on the left, west in the center and north on the right. The northeast corner of the then-newly completed Main Navy Building is in the left background. In the right background is the south face of the Daughters of the American Revolution building.
    In the front row, center, above the letter "A" in "Navy", is Captain Harris Laning, Assistant to the Bureau Chief. A short distance to the right, marked with a small "x", is Yeoman First Class Edith M. Giovannoni, USNRF.

    Donation of Catherine L. Ambrogi, daughter of Edith Giovannoni Ambrogi, 2004.

    U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

    Online Image: 141KB; 2000 x 405 pixels

     
    Photo #: NH 105368

    Bureau of Navigation, Navy Department


    Bureau of Navigation personnel pose in front of the Pan-American Union Building, Washington, D.C., 15 January 1919. Among those present is a large number of Yeomen (F).
    Panoramic photograph by Schutz, 613 14th St., Washington, D.C.
    The northeast corner of the Main Navy Building is in the left background.
    In the front row, center, above the word "Dept.", is Captain Harris Laning, Assistant to the Bureau Chief. A short distance to the right, holding the arm of the lady in the light-colored coat, is Yeoman First Class Edith M. Giovannoni, USNRF.

    U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

    Online Image: 121KB; 2000 x 350 pixels

     


    For more images related to the Main Navy and Munitions Buildings, see:

  • -- Aerial Views;
  • -- Exterior Views -- Close-Up and Miscellaneous; and
  • -- Interior Views.


    If you want higher resolution reproductions than the Online Library's digital images, see: "How to Obtain Photographic Reproductions."


    Return to Naval Historical Center home page.

    Page made 22 September 2001
    New images added 31 December 2007