“It was almost a little bit of remorse — is there something we can do to preserve a piece of this?” recalled Bill Brazis, director of Washington Headquarters Services, the Defense Department agency that manages the building. “It was the idea that we were losing a bit of history if we didn’t pause.”
They did pause. After raising the question up the chain of command and getting a nod of approval from then-Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, building managers agreed to spare a small swath of territory on the third floor, along Corridor 2 off the C ring.
The result is the “Pentagon Building History Exhibit,” which officially opened this month. Two offices, preserved and restored to earlier times, sit behind a plate-glass window along the corridor. Visitors can walk through a third display room stripped to its concrete slab and terra-cotta walls and stroll down a tiny stretch of original hallway, the only unrenovated segment left from the Pentagon’s 17 miles of corridors.
At 1,600 square feet, the exhibit is modest for a 6.5 million-square-foot building. At that late stage in the 17-year renovation, it was all that the planners dared take in a headquarters where military services and defense agencies jealously protect their territory.
“We had to strike a balance,” Brazis said. “We didn’t want to take operating space from people who need it. It was not in the cards to preserve a whole corridor or ring.”
The first room recreates the Pentagon of World War II, soon after it opened in 1942. The walls are a sickly green familiar to generations of employees; curators painstakingly matched the paint to the original color. Along the back wall, original windows overlook the concrete walls of a light well.
The room is populated by life-sized photo cutouts of Pentagon workers taken from historical photographs. “It was a tossup between mannequins and photos,” said Albert Jones, curator of historical exhibits for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, who oversaw the decor. “People have liked these. They look more authentic.”
At one desk, a secretary perched in her chair in front of a Royal typewriter and rotary telephone cheerily holds up a memo from the Army adjutant general’s office. Another secretary files papers, while a male colleague in a double-breasted suit chats on the phone. One fellow clasps a cigarette; stashed in his desk are bottles of whiskey and brandy — authentic empties that renovation workers found behind Pentagon walls.
The room includes an original Pentagon clock, one of thousands that hung in the building. A 48-star American flag stands in the corner, near a wall-sized map showing the world circa 1940 and various patriotic posters.