The Equitable Life Insurance Company was founded in Washington in 1885. Following World War II, the industry entered an age of major expansion and significant profit as it invested life insurance funds in housing mortgages. During the 1950s, Equitable Life Insurance Company benefitted from an uptick in life insurance, and experienced success as a company, setting records in sales, gross income, assets, and stock prices. In 1956, the company purchased a tract of land on Wisconsin Avenue for a new headquarters building and hired architect Leon Chatelain Jr. (1902-1979), of Chatelain, Gauger and Nolan to design it.
Chatelain, an accomplished designer who worked in many styles, was comfortable working in the Colonial Revival. This building, designed with the expectation that it would be expanded, originally included the central, two-and-a-half-story, hipped-roof main block and connector wings extending to either side, and the whole set back from Wisconsin Avenue. In 1963, as expected, the building was expanded through the addition of end pavilions, using brick that had been manufactured in 1956-1958 in anticipation of the additions.
While scaled up, and deviating in several ways, the Equitable Building was clearly modeled after the Governor’s Palace; Chatelain had sent employees to Williamsburg to measure the prototype. Both buildings feature at their center a tall, five-bay-wide, central block with a steep hipped and dormered roof and a central cupola. Each building has large brick chimneys to either side of the roof, although the larger Equitable building features four, rather than the two of the eighteenth-century mansions. Although the Equitable Building’s structure is steel, its brick-clad walls are laid in a Flemish bond, with a generous use of glazed headers and rubbed and gauged bricks around the entry doors and windows.
In 1975, the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) purchased the property from Equitable and built a large rear addition (1978), designed by Carl Warnecke & Associates. At that time, Fannie Mae added the fountain that currently sits the apex of the circular drive. A large parking structure, also dating from 1978, is located at the west side of the property, beyond the addition, with a landscaped outdoor patio between them.
DC Inventory: November 16, 2017
National Register: July 29, 2019