The demise of the Navy Annex, built quickly in 1941 on the eve of U.S. entry into World War II, sheds light on a curious subspecies of Washington area structures: the temporary government office building.
“The old joke is there’s nothing in Washington as permanent as a temporary building,” said G. Martin Moeller Jr., senior curator at the National Building Museum.
Even by Washington temporary standards, the annex had a long life. The infamous Munitions and Main Navy buildings, enormous and ugly industrial-style buildings constructed during World War I on the Mall between the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument, were supposed to be torn down when the Great War ended but instead were not demolished until the Nixon administration. They lasted a little over 50 years, two decades less than the Navy Annex.
It will take awhile to tear down the annex on Columbia Pike, with its seven four-story comblike wings that were home to 6,000 workers in its heyday. An eighth wing was torn down in 2004 to make way for the Air Force Memorial.
“It was built to last, even though it was built to be temporary,” said Kevin Mahoney, the project manager for the Corinthian-DSI joint venture that was awarded a $10 million contract in August to demolish every trace of the annex and restore the grounds to green space by September.
A building of many uses
At a low-key demolition ceremony held recently at the annex’s main entrance, William Brazis, director of the Pentagon’s Washington Headquarters Service, which oversees the Navy Annex, paraphrased Ecclesiastes 3:3. “There’s a time to build, and a time to tear down,” he said, “and it is time to start tearing this building down.”
Not many tears were shed. “No one would tell you it was the most architecturally pleasing place,” Brazis said. “It was thrown up like a warehouse, and it showed.” Even its second official name — Federal Office Building 2, or FOB 2 — was inelegant.
Though perhaps never loved, the building proved quite useful over the years.
“There’s a tendency to underestimate the reluctance to tear down a temporary building,” Moeller said, “not because of any love for it, but because it’s there.”
Military headquarters in Washington were bursting at the seams during the buildup to World War II. The Arlington annex was part of an explosion of construction that also included the Pentagon, built by the War Department to house the Army headquarters.