The first building constructed by the federal government for Washington, DC, the Old City Hall began construction in 1820, after designs by architect George Hadfield. Construction proceeded fitfully due to the chronic underfunding of the local government—a financial situation represented in the building's economical brick-and-stucco construction, which contrasts with the major federal buildings nearby, which were made of stone. The central section was complete and occupied by the mayor and registrar by 1822, and the east wing followed in 1826, but the west wing was not complete until 1849.
While construction continued, parts of the building were leased out to various tenants, including the U.S. Circuit Court and the Recorder of Deeds office, which at the time was led by noted African American abolitionist and social reformer Frederick Douglass. Prior to the Civil War, trials of abolitionists and Underground Railroad workers occurred in this building.
In 1863, the federal government purchased the building from the DC government for use by the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia. The building was occupied for several decades by federal courts before being abandoned in 1910, with renovations taking place between 1916 and 1918. From 1922 and 1952, the building became the U.S. Courthouse; when the federal courts moved out, the building became the headquarters of the Selective Service System.
Shortly after being named a National Historic Landmark in 1960, the building was returned to the DC government. It currently houses the DC Court of Appeals.
DC Inventory: November 8, 1964 (Joint Committee on Landmarks)
National Register: October 15, 1966
National Historic Landmark: December 19, 1960