Restore, Reuse, Repurpose
For our renovation of the Riggs Bank Hall space, it is important that we incorporate elements of the original structure into the new Visitor Center. We engaged with several different kinds of building treatments, such as preservation, rehabilitation, salvage and adaptive reuse of original building materials in order to accomplish this goal. Through our renovation process, MCAAD is adding to this building’s already complex history. We want to ensure that future generations have the opportunity to engage with and understand the building's history through its architecture, while also creating a new space that is inspiring and fosters innovation and community.
History of the Bank Buildings
In 1840, William Wilson Corcoran, formerly a leader at the Second Bank of the United States, and George Washington Riggs, a neighbor of Corcoran’s and part of an influential New York banking family, founded the banking firm, Corcoran & Riggs. It went on to fund significant events in U.S. history, including the expansion of the Capitol building in the early 1860s. As a result of representing numerous presidents, beginning with John Tyler and including Abraham Lincoln, Riggs Bank eventually earned the nickname “Bank of Presidents.” The Riggs National Bank building was constructed on 1503 Pennsylvania Ave in 1899 by architects York & Sawyer. An addition was built in 1922 by Appleton Clark, and is now known as 1505 Pennsylvania Ave.
The American Securities and Trust Bank was founded in 1889 and built its headquarters next to the Riggs National Bank building in 1904, on 1501 Pennsylvania Ave. It was also designed by architects York & Sawyer and intended to appear as one building. The bank became a major player in Washington DC real estate and finance, and financed a number of buildings in the Federal Triangle. Notably, the bank was the first to have a “Ladies Department” in a DC financial institution.
Secrets in the Walls
Knocking through the walls of 100-plus-year-old buildings has led us to some surprising and fascinating discoveries of objects and artifacts that have been left behind the walls over the years. Click on the pictures below to explore our findings.
Unearthing a former foundation
The foundations left after a building’s destruction can serve as a kind of archeological resource, giving insight to who and what was there before. Before our building at 734 15th St NW's modern-day structure was built in 1937, another building occupied its place, and our construction team recently uncovered that foundation. We are currently digging into the details of what this smaller building was and will update as we learn more. As of now, we know that in the early 1900’s the now-defunct Washington Herald newspaper was headquartered in the building. This makes sense given that DC’s “newspaper row” was just around the corner at 14th St and Pennsylvania Ave. Even as the landscape of our street changes, clues like this unearthed foundation point us to the rich history and activities of the buildings that came before ours.
A Foiled Advertisement
Sometime after its opening in 1899, the Union Trust Company which sits adjacent to our buildings on 15th St NW painted their name above the windows of their top floor. But when 730 15th St was built, the view was obscured. Sometime after 1930, the Union Trust Co. re-painted their advertisement vertically, close to the sidewalk. Yet again, when a new 734 15th St. was built, this sign too became invisible, as it directly bordered the new building. After nearly a century of invisibility it was recently uncovered by our construction team along the perimeter of our building!
Hidden Note by Foreman John Kernekin, 1953
This note was found behind a plaster pediment in the ceiling of 1503 and signed by John Kernekin in August 18, 1953. The note identifies Kernekin as a "painter, decorator, and foreman" on the project. He worked for Edward W. Minte Co. as a painter and interior decorator. He lists the union he was associated with, Union 368, which was the Washington DC & Maryland worker's union for Commercial Painters, Drywall Finishers, & Wallcovering Installers. Learn more about the union on their website.
Hidden Note by Foreman Ray Gammon, 1966
In the same spot as Kernekin's note, we found time reports and work notes in the wall of the building from other members of the Minte team. Edward W. Minte Co. was an interior design company based in Washington, DC that worked on the American Securities and Trust building (1501) and Riggs Bank (1503-1505), including the intricate, plaster rosette ceiling. The ceiling work was completed in the 1980's, so the scope of their work on the spaces spanned multiple decades.
This Weekly Time Report from Edward Minte Co. was found behind a plaster pediment in 1503, next to the note from 1953. The backside of note lists the painters from Union 890 that worked in the building on November 18th, 1966. Union 890 is the Virginia worker's union for Commercial Painters, Drywall Finishers, & Wallcovering Installers and it is still active today.
We found abandoned windows in a wall during our construction of the 1501 building. In the historical photo, we can see that these windows lined the mezzanine balcony of the bank hall. Instead of removing these windows, during a previous renovation construction crews simply covered them in plaster to be made into a solid wall.
Advertising Riggs Bank
We discovered the original exterior wall of the Riggs Bank building on Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, DC that had been painted to advertise the bank before the neighboring building was expanded and covered the wall. Rather than painting over the text, they simply built up around it, leaving it for us to discover decades later.
A Maker's Mark
Our crews discovered a maker’s mark, bearing the name “Barber & Ross," on one of the steel beams which is original to this structure. The company is located in Leesburg, VA and is still active today. Over the decades, Barber & Ross has flourished in the DC area and their work can be found in many buildings across the district, even in the U.S. Capitol.
The Original Vault
We found a piece of the original vault from the American Securities and Trust building at 1501 Pennsylvania Ave NW. We thought it was removed during the 1930’s, but they left the floor in place and buried it for us to find 90 years later along with some railroad ties which were used to keep the floors level and support weight distribution. You can see the original location of the vault in the historic building plan.
Leaving His Mark
This signature was found near the attic of the 1503 bank building. Signed "Chas A. Vose," this individual notes his occupation as "Electrician," and date, "1900." Our team is doing in-depth research to find out more about Mr. Vose and his work as an electrician as the District was becoming electrified, so stay tuned for more updates.
Rooms Under the Sidewalk
We found the remnants of rooms that were once under the sidewalk and extended under the road on 15th Street. You can see the infilled brick arch that once led to spaces including a file room, officer's room, booth room, and coal storage rooms. The rooms were located outside the red outlines seen on the floor plan.
Our team made openings in the infill brick arch to see if the spaces were still open but the area was filled in with debris. This area below the sidewalk falls into public space (called sidewalk vaults), and while many older buildings in the city used this area – usually for loading in coal or goods into the basements, the building owner was required to pay rent to the city. So as part of the bank's 1929 renovation these functions were moved to the 730 building – the safe deposit box viewing rooms moved into the basement of 730 building and the coal chute was moved to be accessed from the alley. It was likely deemed an unnecessary expense at that point, or it could have been required due to increase demand for city utility space – we don’t know for sure.
1970s Name Cards
We discovered some name cards of old staff members in a recessed pocket below the mezzanine wood sill on level 2. After doing some research, we found out that these name cards are from the late 1970s.
Our construction team discovered some newspaper dating to Dec 8 & 9, 1953. The Times-Herald newspaper was located up on the roof of 1505 while doing some demolition of terracotta and stuffed in the area where there was previously some mechanical units. The Times-Herald was sold to the Washington Post in 1954. Front page news includes: School Segregation court cases, Big 3 (WWII) talks post-war, some very shocking deaths in the DC area. You could get your own TV for under $100, your very own car for less than $1000, and flight to Dallas for $60, John Wayne in ‘Hondo’ as this weeks feature film.
Meet the Team
Over the years, from the original architects on, many individuals have dedicated their time to creating these magnificent spaces. Meet some of the people working on our current renovation.
With a project this complex, there is always a lot of activity on-site. Click the images below to see some of our major milestones.
We installed four mega columns at the corners of 1503 Pennsylvania Avenue, connecting the foundation to the new glass enclosure at the top of the historical bank buildings. With the columns standing almost 70 feet tall, their installation was truly a feat of engineering.
Excavation under the Bank Halls
We completed our excavation for the future auditorium space under 1503 Pennsylvania Ave. We dug down more than 30 feet, which translates to roughly 2-3 stories deep.
Acclimating Wood Floors
Wood floors need to acclimate to their new environment before installation in order to avoid warping issues down the line. The wood takes about a month to adjust to the humidity levels in a space before installation, ensuring that they will not expand or compress later once the floor has been laid. What looks like a pile of wood chips here is actually the pieces of our floors acclimating to the humidity before installation in MCAAD's new conference center.
These rows of metal cylinders - called micropiles - are essential to our building process. They are driven 90 feet into the ground in order to give the building more support beneath the foundation as we build up and add more weight to the original bank building structures. By the time we are done, we will have hundreds of micropiles invisibly supporting our Visitor Center.
We completed of the installation of steel supports for the mezzanine in 1501 Pennsylvania Ave. This mezzanine will connect all three buildings on the second floor, creating a unified experience for future visitors.
Theatre Concrete Pour
Our 250-seat theater will be a vital part of the MCAAD Campus for both the visitor experience and events. We had to excavate 90 feet down underneath the original foundations of the 1503 bank hall building to fit it into the lower-level complex.
Mezzanine Concrete Pour
The concrete has been poured for the new mezzanine on level 2 of our campus which will connect all 3 bank hall buildings and provide additional exhibit and event space across the visitor center. The 1501 bank hall features the most considerable changes to the interior space.
A forest of steel is being added to the top of our 1503 and 1505 bank hall roofs. It is the framework of the 5th and 6th that will house exhibits and a beautiful glass pavilion. The steel and glass construction will also allow light to shine through to the original glass laylights of the 1503 Riggs Bank Building that were previously covered up during WW2.
Step into the Site
Watch our crews hard at work on our site and track the incredible progress they make.
The President’s Backyard
Our Visitor Center is situated just 1,500 feet from the White House in the historic Lafayette Square neighborhood. Read more about our neighbors and the history these buildings have witnessed.