The West Heating Plant, originally known as the West Central Heating Plant, was designed by consulting architect William Dewey Foster (1890-1958), working under successive Supervising Architects of the Public Buildings Administration, Louis A. Simon (1867-1958) and Gilbert Stanley Underwood (1890–1960). The project’s purpose was to supplement the supply of steam heat to federal buildings provided by an already overburdened Central Heating Plant, which was erected to support a New Deal construction campaign meant to address a fifteen-year backlog. A West Central Heating Plant (and the Central plant was, for a time, referred to as the East Central Heating Plant) was similarly meant to catch up to the demands of the vast expansion of the federal establishment during the Depression and to allow for future construction. It was essential to the expansion of another Underwood and Foster collaboration, a new War Department headquarters, which later became the Harry S. Truman Building, Department of State.
The heating plant was designed in 1940 and funded by Congress. The laying of pipes and some site work began in 1941, with the retaining walls and foundation laid in 1942. Work halted during World War II, when the War Production Board (WPB) diverted most steel to the war effort, and funds were diverted to other projects until 1946. Construction recommenced that year, with the local Charles H. Tompkins Company as builder. Completed in late 1948, the project’s cost nearly doubled original estimates, due to inflation and additional steam mains laid. Within a couple of years, people began to refer to the new facility as the West Heating Plant.
This monumental six-story building with its streamlined facades of buff-colored brick, illustrates a shift from the Art Deco toward a more minimalist version of the Moderne style. Its design successfully combines stylistic modern details into the design of a substantial industrial building. In 2014, the General Services Administration sold the property at public auction. The building was conveyed with a covenant that requires that any redevelopment of the property comply with the Secretary of Interior Standards for Rehabilitation. The current proposal to redevelop the site as high-end condominiums calls for the demolition of more than 65% of the historic building. These plans do not comply with the Secretary’s standards and should be modified to retain the historic structure and enhance it for a new use.
DC Inventory: November 2, 2017