Site that led to CIA’s formation nominated for landmark status

By Daniel J. Sernovitz, December 23, 2013, Washington Business Journal, Breaking Ground

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A push is on to save a cluster of government offices in Foggy Bottom that once served as the headquarters for the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner to the modern-day Central Intelligence Agency.

The D.C. Preservation League has nominated the site known alternatively as the Potomac Annex and Navy Hill for landmark status with the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board. The effort comes as the State Department is planning a consolidation that would move hundreds of workers to 24th and E streets NW from sites across the D.C. area.

The State Department, which already occupies space in the buildings, wants to remake the roughly 11.8-acre campus as part of a larger growth plan. While that process unfolds, the preservation league is lobbying for the office complex to be listed as a D.C. and national landmark to protect its historical significance.

Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., backs the designation and has sent letters to MayorVincent Gray and D.C. Planning DirectorHarriet Tregoning urging them for support. The preservation league stepped in at the behest of the OSS Society, an organization that seeks to preserve the memory of the OSS.

Created under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the OSS played an important role in American intelligence during World War II. OSS Society President Charles Pinck said he was surprised to learn about plans for the campus and hopes the landmark nomination will help ensure the buildings can be preserved.

“Those buildings aren’t just historic, they were also heroic,” Pinck said. “For us, it represents the birthplace of our American intelligence and special operations community.”

GSA spokesman Dan Cruz said his agency is used to working with buildings that are either on the National Register of Historic Places or are eligible for listing. He said it will try to reuse as many of the existing buildings on the campus as possible before considering other options.

A CIA spokesman declined to comment, and a State Department spokeswoman referred questions to the GSA.

The OSS lasted until April 1945, when President Harry Truman ordered the agency to be disbanded. Not long after, in January 1946, Truman signed a law establishing the Central Intelligence Group, which evolved into the CIA in September 1947.

The OSS was just one of several federal agencies that grew out of the Foggy Bottom campus. The complex first emerged as the home of the federal Public Health Service, an agency charged with caring for sick and injured seamen that later evolved into the National Institutes of Health. Most recently, it served as the Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.