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Public Health: 1914

Public Health: 1914

Washington, D.C., circa 1914. "U.S. Public Health Service and Geodetic Survey Library, B Street and New Jersey Avenue S.E." Where Charles Addams meets Edward Gorey. Harris & Ewing Collection glass negative. View full size.


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Institutional Mindset

One of the commonplaces of design is that architects can seldom do better than their clients demand. The Butler mansion looks as if Butler was raised in an orphanage, or at the least, a grimly expensive private school.

No Place Like Home

I'm usually a fanatic for historic preservation, but even I have to say that the Butler Mansion is the least homey home I've ever seen. It has "administrative building" chisled all over it.

Butler Mansion

The following 1931 article accompanied a similar photo. Incredibly, this building was constructed as a pair of private residences in 1889. The granite of the structure is from Cape Ann, Massachusetts, brought to D.C. as ballast in sailing vessels arriving to load coal. The building was purchased by the federal government for $275,000 in 1891.

To the left is the Richards Building, put up in 1871. Its first occupant was the Coast and Geodetic Survey. The government initially leased the property until finally purchasing it for $155,000 in 1891.

Washington Post, Dec 14, 1931

The above picture depicts the old Butler mansion, which once housed the United States Public Health Service, located at 3 B street southeast. It has since been razed.

The establishment was built by the late Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler, the stormy petrel of the Federal Army during the bitter years of the Civil war. After the close of the conflict he desired a place where he might retire from the turbulent strife of battlefield and public life, and write his colorful, if vitriolic memoirs.

Gen. Butler is best known to posterity as the military governor of New Orleans and for the harsh and tyrannical severity of his regime. In fact so bitter were the proponents of the Confederacy toward his rule that Jefferson Davis ordered him captured and hung as a common felon.

Long before his participation in the Civil War he was leader of the radicals in the Massachusetts Legislature, later being elected to Congress. He also served under Gen. Grant at Richmond and Petersburg.

Later the stately mansion was occupied by Chester A. Arthur, during the first few months of his administration, and after passing through many hands, became the home of the United States Public Health Service.

Washington Post, Feb 17, 1889

Gen. B.F. Butler has not lost faith in Southeast Washington. He has purchased the old Gulick mansion at 222 New Jersey avenue southeast, and is having it remodeled, making two complete houses. The cost of the work will be $10,000. The house No. 222 will be occupied by the niece of the General, and he will himself have an office room on the first floor. This house will contain thirteen rooms and will be heated by steam. The elaborate old marble mantels of the Gulick house are retained in the parlors, while mantels in the other rooms are of tile and antique oak. The hall is eight feet wide and extends back to the dining room, while the stairway leads from the front parlor door line to the second story landing. The newel posts, balusters and stair rails are of ash. The second and third floors are supplied each with bathroom. The first floor is four rooms deep, the second parlor to be occupied by Gen. Butler as an office room. The entire house will be heated by steam. the house No. 222½ will contain twelve rooms and will finished in a similar manner to the one just described. This house, it is understood, will be rented when ready for occupancy.


What do they DO with all the 'stuff' when they tear down a building this size?? I mean, look at that thing! HUGE stone blocks, giant slabs of concrete...where does it all go? It can't just go into the landfill, can it? When I see the modern Google version of these Shorpy sites I first wonder a) what in the hell were they thinking, and b) what did they do with the mountain of debris. Thank you and good night.

[C&D (construction and demolition) debris is one of the top landfill components. As for the "modern version" of what's there, I think the current building looks a lot nicer. - Dave]

Paging Dr. Frankenstein

What's on top of the building that looks like an old TV antenna? The box sitting near the lamp post is also a mystery to me.

[It's a wireless mast (radio antenna). The mailboxy thing to the right of the lamppost is labeled "waste paper." - Dave]

Now Longworth Bldg.

I am surprised by the prominence of the site of this building on Capitol Hill: It would seem that, at that time, public health and scientific exploration were held in greater esteem compared to today. This is now the site of the Longworth House Office Building.

Another location added to my Google Maps mashup of Shorpy D.C. architecture.

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