The Old Post Office Tower is a federally protected site offering picturesque views of the nation’s capital. From the 270-foot observation deck visitors are treated to a view overlooking several of the United States’ prized structures. The Capitol, White House, Washington Monument, Pentagon, Smithsonian museums, Supreme Court, and Lincoln Memorial are easily observed from the 12th floor observation level. On a clear day visibility may exceed 12 miles. National Park Service rangers are on duty at the lobby, ninth floor, and observation deck to educate visitors about the building and surrounding attractions.
History of the Old Post OfficeThe United States Government constructed the Postal Building between 1892 and 1899. The architect behind this masterpiece was Willoughby J. Edbrooke, better known for co-designing the Georgia State Capitol. Edbrooke took his inspiration from the famed architect H.H. Richardson’s design for the Allegheny County Court House in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Originally the building contained the U.S. Postal Department headquarters, the Washington, D.C.post office and the Dead Letters Museum. The Dead Letters Museum provided an interesting display of items that the U.S. Post Office was unable to deliver. Thousands of stored items were kept in the museum. Two noteworthy exhibits were a lock of hair from President Garfield’s assassin and a set of Benjamin Franklin’s account books.
The Old Post Office Tower faced potential razing in 1934 after the Postal Department Headquarters into one of the new Federal Triangle buildings. Locals considered the Old Post Office Tower unappealing due to changing tastes in architecture and the construction of distinctly different, neo-classical government buildings in the Federal Triangle area. The onset of the Great Depression and diversion of federal funds to more critical needs spared the Old Post Office Tower its first proposed demolition.
From 1935 to 1978, the Old Post Office building accommodated many government offices including the D.C. field office and training operations for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. By the mid- 1970s, disrepair, fires, and piles of trash were commonplace throughout unused building spaces. Metal sheets covered the glass atrium. The interior was so dim that one could not see the ceiling from the lower levels.
In 1970, Congress approved permits for a second attempt to demolish the Old Post Office Tower. Nancy Hanks, then chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, found this troubling. "Old buildings are like old friends," she testified before Congress. "They reassure people in times of rapid change. They encourage people to dream about their cities - to think before they build, to consider alternatives before they tear down."
Hanks’ testimony inspired concerned citizens to picket and protest demolition. In the end, the government saved the Old Post Office Tower and placed it in the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. President Ronald Reagan rededicated the renovated Old Post Office Tower in 1983 as The Nancy Hanks Center. When the Old Post Office building was reopening in 1983 following a complete restoration, it was renmaed The Nancy Hanks Center, and housed her National Endowment for the Arts, as well as other federal agencies related to the arts and humanities, including the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. Today, the Old Post Office is leased by the General Services Administration as a luxury hotel.
The Bells of CongressThe Ditchley Foundation of Great Britain presented a set of 10 change ringing bells to the U.S. Congress as a Bicentennial gift in 1976. The bells were cast at the Whitechapel Foundry in London (the same foundry that cast the Liberty Bell in 1752) in a ratio of three-fourths copper to one-fourth tin as replicas of those in London’s Westminster Abbey. The bells were originally intended for the U.S. Capitol, but structural issues made it necessary to survey other sites. Installation of the bells, which range in weight from 581 to 2,953 pounds, took place in 1983. The great seals of both countries decorate each bell.
Members of the Washington Ringing Society, a volunteer group based in the District of Columbia area, ring the bells on all federal holidays, days of national significance and state occasions, and conducts practice on Thursday evenings. The bells can be heard for a radius of three to four blocks around the building.
If You GoThe National Park Service provides tours of the Old Post Office Tower under an agreement with the building's owner, the General Services Administration. The tower is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week. The Old Post Office Tower is closed one day during the first week of every month for routine maintenance activities. Closures for 2023: Thu, Apr. 6; Tue, May 2; Mon, Jun. 5; Thu, Jul. 6; Thu, Aug. 3; Tue, Sept. 5; Mon, Oct. 2; Fri, Nov. 3; Tue, Dec 5. We are also closed on Christmas Day.
The Old Post Office Tower is located at the intersection of 12th Street and Pennsylvania Ave N.W. The 270-foot observation deck allows visitors an awe-inspiring view of the city. Entry is from the south end (rear) of the building, accessible via 12th Street. Enter at the door marked "Museum and Clock Tower" (next to the Starbucks).
Last updated: July 6, 2023