How Donald Trump got his new hotel

 
Sam Smith
 
If Donald Trump’s new buddy, Mitt Romney, is elected president, the developer can visit him from his new hotel just four blocks away from the White House (and twelve blocks from the Capitol). The Government Services Administration has just announced that it will be turning over the grand late 19th century Old Post Office Building to Trump.
In 1971, the building had been slated to be torn down, but local citizens responded with anger, led by a fledgling group dedicated to the then still novel idea of historic preservation that went by the even more novel name of Don’t Tear It Down. The forerunner of the Progressive Review – the DC Gazette –  was also on the case,  with Val Lewton pessimistically reporting a rally near the building:

|||| A USIA worker stumbling past the circling picketers asked politely if any of the protesters had ever worked in the dirty old building. A girl in a white mini skirt said she had ridden on the ‘marvelous’ open iron grilled elevator.(It is rumored that the Postmaster General was so proud of these elevators that at the building’s inaugural, while showing them off to the press, he stumbled and fell to his death down the elevator shaft.) A disbelieving tourist stopped: “Who wants to save that thing! ‘

No one cared, it looked dirty, the squat brooding columns of its portico were caked with black soot; and in the evening tired government workers wait in front for the buses to take them to their manicured lawns across the bridges in Virginia. Of course, when it’s hot, or it rains the shelter of its broad, deep arches are welcome; but the day was bright and the building looked grey and uninviting.

It may be hard to imagine the old building transformed into a multipurpose dream building. But it could happen. It could become as John Wiebenson (Associate Professor of Architecture, Maryland University) said in the lone speech at the rally: “A place for government workers to drop out of file cabinets for awhile. ” …
But who can imagine this gaunt old maid of a building putting on a new face and strutting down the aisle a bridesmaid once more? So considerations other than historic, or aesthetic, or nostalgic will probably prevail and what seems most permanent in art–bricks and mortar and carved stone – will be the first destroyed. And the Old Post Office Building, once a landmark, will become another footnote and photo in the “Guide of Architecture in Washington.” ||||
In fact, that was just what the Pennsylvania Avenue Commission had proposed six years earlier. But Don’t Tear It Down and John Wiebenson, who would soon join the Gazette to contribute what was then the only urban planning comic strip in America, would have none of it.
Aside from agreeing on the principles, I had another reason to be fond of the building. Over a decade earlier I had gone there as a radio reporter to interview an Assistant Postmaster General after news broke that his agency was blocking the delivery of some magazines. His office was the grandest I had seen in Washington short of the White House. He directed me from his desk the grand distance across the room to two immensely comfortable leather chairs under church sized windows. As I sat down, I noted behind his chair a large, messy pile of girlie magazines, playing, I assumed, the dual role of evidence and distraction. That memory would return many times as I dealt with the inconsistencies of public officials.
 Some months later, under the headline “The great Post Office robbery” we ran a piece from Don’t Tear It Down that noted
|||| The Post Office currently provides the government with over 215,000 square feet of office space With normal maintenance it can continue to serve as an office building. Restoration to its original elegance would cost less than 25% of the cost of the proposed IRS building and would provide over 60% of the space of the new building.
While there are significant cost advantages in saving the Post Office, the issue is not simply economics. The Post Office should be saved for what it does and can contribute to the vitality and life of Pennsylvania Avenue. It is the only significant example left in Washington of American Romanesque architecture, a style which has been termed the first creative contribution of American architects. The buildings intricate carvings, elaborate arches and deeply relieved walls leading to its turrets and great tower, provide a rich complex of textures and shapes. The heavy stonework of the Post Office rises from the very roots of Victorian Washington, providing concrete expression of the confidence of its generation.||||
In the end, the building was saved and the city’s preservation movement gained a life that would last for decades.
The only problem was finding tenants and it was this frustration that ultimately led to its most recent and most ironic change.
I don’t begrudge it, though, because, when you think about it, having Trump in the Old Post Office is far better than it would have been to have the Old Post Office in the dump.
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