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Home arrow Working with Section 106 arrow ACHP Case Digest arrow Spring 2005 arrow District of Columbia: Reuse of the West Campus of St. Elizabeth's Hospital
District of Columbia: Reuse of the West Campus of St. Elizabeth's Hospital

Agency: General Services Administration
When it was established in 1852, St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, DC, was the first Federal mental health facility in the United States. The National Historic Landmark, which was founded by 19th-century mental health reformer Dorothea Dix, features a building designed by the Architect of the Capitol, landscaping by Frederick Olmstead’s design firm, a room where Lincoln stayed when he visited soldiers, and two Civil War cemeteries.

Today, the hospital operations are under city authority, but the west campus is owned by the General Services Administration, which plans to reuse its section to house Federal offices. The proposed project is seen as an opportunity to help revitalize the neighborhood.

A wing of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, Washington, DC
A wing of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, Washington, DC (staff photo)

The General Services Administration (GSA) is preparing a master plan to reuse St. Elizabeth’s Hospital’s west campus for Federal offices. Located on a hill in southeast Washington, DC, overlooking the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers, St. Elizabeth’s offers a panoramic view of the city and is an important asset in the Government’s real estate portfolio.

The National Historic Landmark was originally known as the Government Hospital for the Insane, a name that was later changed to its present name. As the first Federal mental health facility in the country, the hospital was established through the Civil and Diplomatic Appropriation Act of 1852, and admitted its first patients in 1855. Its campus includes two Civil War cemeteries where both black and white soldiers are buried.

Many legendary Americans were associated with the hospital’s early days. It was founded by Dorothea Dix, the leading mental health reformer of the 19th century. During a short period as a general hospital for Union soldiers, a room was reserved for President Lincoln during his frequent overnight visits to soldiers. In 1862, wounded General Joseph Hooker was admitted to the hospital. Finally, Architect of the Capitol Thomas Walter designed one of the buildings, and the 182-acre campus boasts landscaping by Frederick Law Olmstead’s design firm.

In 1987, the Federal Government retained ownership of the hospital’s west campus but transferred the hospital’s operations to the District of Columbia, which now ministers to about 600 patients. GSA sees the site as a premiere Washington, DC, property that can meet the needs of Federal agencies that require a large space.

It will be challenged by its plan to incorporate new uses of a historic landmark while managing an extremely significant cultural resource. In addition, security issues for the future Federal tenant must be factored into the plan. Finally, the project must consider its significant effect on the immediate neighborhood, which it is hoped will be revitalized by the project.

In February 2005, the ACHP met with the District of Columbia State Historic Preservation Officer to discuss initial consultation procedures under the Section 106 review process. Under its plan, GSA anticipates the first Federal tenant to move in to the property by 2010. In the meantime, however, in addition to developing its master plan for the project, GSA is currently establishing design guidelines and conducting a cultural resource survey and building, landscape, and archeology assessment.

As part of the Section 106 review process, the agency expects to produce a draft environmental impact statement on the project’s potential effects by January 2006, and has scheduled a public hearing on the proposed project for February 2006.

Staff contact: Hector Abreu Cintron

Posted August 31, 2005

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