Jul 10, 2023 - Development

Plan to build a swanky new D.C. archives building moves forward

A rendering of the D.C. archives building

Concept design of the entrance on Van Ness Street NW. Renderings from NCPC filing

Precious American artifacts would have a new $72 million home under a proposal being advanced in D.C.

Why it matters: Items such as the original wills of Frederick Douglass and Alexander Graham Bell, and the birth certificate of Duke Ellington have long sat in a windowless Mount Vernon Square building. Others are scattered across multiple city buildings.

Driving the news: Concept designs for a modern four-story D.C. Archives and Records Center complete with a curved glass facade were approved last Thursday by the National Capital Planning Commission, the Washington Business Journal reported.

  • The center would be built on the campus of the University of the District of Columbia in Van Ness.

📜 Zoom in: The public center will have a research center holding city records, jazz archives, exhibit space, and a 300-person multipurpose room.

  • Mayoral records will stretch to the dawn of home rule, starting with Walter Washington elected in 1974, the D.C. state archivist Lopez Matthews told Axios.
  • One macabre relic: An electric chair from the D.C. jail.
  • Sunlight won't reach the storage rooms.
A curved glass facade of the building in a rendering
A curved facade is part of the concept. Renderings from NCPC filing

What they're saying: "It's a high-tech building. It's got to be like a Smithsonian," former D.C. government spokesperson Bill Rice, who has advocated for a permanent archives home since the early 2000s, tells Axios.

Flashback: D.C. has some artifacts dating back 2,000 to 3,000 years, WBJ previously reported.

  • Hunting camps, fire-cracked rock, projectile points, and hammerstones were found on the banks of the Anacostia River after the cancellation of a freeway project in 1996.
  • About 40,000 artifacts were found during four digs.
  • They are stored in an "obsolete" warehouse on Naylor Court NW, WBJ reports.

What we're watching: Construction could start as early as spring 2024 if other agencies give final approval.

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