The picture above is the clock tower of the Old Post Office building at the corner of Pennsylvania Ave. and 12th Street in Washington, D.C. Calvin Cobb’s workshop is behind the clock faces – so in his shop, he says, time runs backward.
But in reality, time marches relentlessly forward, and for the Old Post Office, that means stepping into new life as a hotel. Donald Trump is in the midst of developing the former government building into a luxury hotel, slated to open in 2016. It certainly beats razing the 1899 Richardsonian Romanesque structure.
And I suppose Calvin would be pleased – presumably, there is actual woodworking going on inside the walls of his old workshop as workers ready the hotel space for visitors.
The building, designed by Willoughby J. Edbrooke, was D.C.’s main post office for only 15 years; in 1914, the postal service relocated to a larger building near Union Station. What then became known as the “old” Post office was saved during the 1920s/1930s redevelopment of Federal Triangle only because there weren’t enough funds to tear it down (or perhaps because enough people realized how politically inexpedient it would be to spend money razing a perfectly sound building in the midst of the Great Depression).
In the early 1970s, there was another attempt to tear it down, but it was quickly (in political time) squelched by an ardent group of preservationists; in 1973, the Old Post Office was added to the National Register of Historic Places. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, a multi-stage renovation project commenced that resulted in a mix of federal office space and three retail levels (and eventual addition of an annex).
But it wasn’t successful. By 2000, the vacancy rate on the retail space was 80 percent, the annex was closed and there was no income.
Since then, there have been several efforts to renovate the space, including the “Old Post Office Building Redevelopment Act of 2008” (H.R. 5001), which eventually led to movement (following a lot of maneuvering by various agencies including the General Services Administration (GSA)…which is too complicated to boil down into just a few sentences).
In early 2012, the GSA announced it has chosen the Trump Organization as the potential redeveloper for plans that included a conference center, restaurants and 250+ hotel rooms, as well as a small museum dedicated to the history of the building, and the agreement to preserve the historic integrity of the building. And the National Park Service retains control over the clock tower and observation deck.
So if all goes according to plan, you’ll be able to visit Calvin’s workshop when the space reopens – whether or not you can afford the room rates.
But you’ll be able to read “Calvin Cobb: Radio Woodworker! A Novel with Measured Drawings” well before the Old Post Office Building is once again open to the public.
We’re 99 percent there, and will have everything off to the printer within three weeks. Linda Watts is making the final corrections to the measured drawings and finishing up design work on the end papers. Illustrator Jode Thompson is putting the finishing touches on the drawing that will become the dust jacket, Roy is working on copy for the back of the dust jacket, and Chris and I are writing copy for the dust-jacket flaps.
By tomorrow evening, I should be able to export a soup-to-nuts PDF of the project for final review, then it’s off to the printer and then to you.
— Megan Fitzpatrick