Passing through the dining room last night on my way to the kitchen, I heard my IPhone ping letting me know that I had just received a text message.  When I picked it up, there on the screen was a push message from the Washington Post that read: “Trump Administration cancels plans to build new FBI headquarters to replace the agency’s crumbing building in Downtown D.C.”  Now I don’t know why I receive such messages from the Post.  I never singed up for them nor did I ask the Post to send them to me.  Just one of the mysteries of the internet age, I guess.  But they disappear (where they go I have not a clue!) after I read them, so fine.  But I have to admit that this one make me chuckle out loud.  Why?   Well, what went through my mind as the message registered in my brain went something like this:

“Okay, so Trump is pissed off at the FBI (And wasn’t there a new Comey - former FBI Director - tweet out of the blue from Trump for some odd reason?) for not halting the Russia Thing investigation so he’s taking revenge on the agency.”  I mean isn’t this Trump SOP? (Standard Operating Procedure)?  Such a tactic would have been one he learned as a New York developer, one that he used frequently and I’m sure that it served him well then.   But here in national Trumpland, the President doesn’t yet realize that treating the Feds like the New York Post or some New York Borough representative who voted against  his flashy new condo project in Queens, just doesn’t work in the arcane world of Washington politics.   Of course, no one can gainsay that the FBI replacement was cancelled over the Russian thing.  But I'm not betting that it's not the reason.  Revenge seems to be an ironclad Trump character trait. 

First: The J. Edgar Hoover FBI Headquarters Building fronts on Pennsylvania Avenue just about four blocks east of the White House.  Oh, but here’s a Pre-First:  Even the name of the building rankles Washingtonians since most of us hated J. Edgar to the core after we learned of Hoover's MLK antics.   We were thrilled when all those salacious stories about Hoover's cavorting around in women’s dresses and silk stockings emerged after his death.  Anyway, back to the building.  As an architect, the FBI Building stands as one of the most egregious and downright ugly concrete structures built in what is called the Brutalist Era of Architectural History.  We have others in your nation’s capital – the Housing and Urban Development Headquarters, the Hirshorn Museum to name two – but the FBI headquarters stands out for having all of the warmth of the iceberg that sank the Titanic and all the charm of a backyard garden slug sliding across your patio pavers

The J. Edgar Hoover Building was constructed in 1975 after a decade long design and much interrupted construction schedule.  Congress refused to continue funding the construction when the cost ballooned from an original estimate of $60 million to $126 million.   The building encloses some 2.8 million square feet of floor area and has pretty much passed its useful life.  This means that the building’s systems – HVAC, communications, security – are no longer able to fulfill their functions in an efficient way.  Reports of crumbling concrete, electrical failures and other failings have been popular local Washington scandal memes for over a decade now.

Occupying what used to be an entire downtown square in the heart of Washington, (it’s catty corner across Pennsylvania Avenue from Trump’s International Hotel), the FBI Headquarters is located in what can only be considered one of D.C.’s prime building sites and the GSA has estimated that the purchase the site would run about $2 billion.  This is for the land only.  GSA has already engaged developers in the replacement of the Hoover building on sites in suburban Maryland or Virginia.  Developers have already invested millions in preparing for GSA’s bidding documents so one would guess that these folks are not all that happy about the cancellation.  One of the potential bidders is Voronado Reality headed up by Steven Roth who served as a Trump economic advisor and co-owns a building with Trump. 

Once again as with the original FBI Building, Congress has recently rescinded funds for its replacement meaning that as time goes on the cost of the project will only increase.  But to us Washingtonians, the prospect of removing one of the most offensive buildings from our Downtown scene that now seems delayed once again, is disheartening.    We’ve lived with this monstrosity for way too long and remember when E Street slumped about 3 feet after the building was finished and we lost about 200 on-street parking spaces post 9-11 when all parking was stripped from the FBI Headquarters' surrounding streets.   On the other hand, since one never sees anyone entering or leaving the building; it sits like some mysterious edifice, empty and lifeless, quietly affronting our sense of propriety as the Nation’s Capital and constantly reminding us architects of the bad buildings that emerged from the Brutalist Movement.  To us, the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building looks nothing less than like a giant mausoleum where the ashes of folks who succumbed to the mysterious mechanizations of the building are stored for eternity.  It’s really that ugly. 

Have A Good Day!



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