Link to Manhattan Project Was Tucked Away in Plain Sight
Paula DeSutter's curiosity about the history of her office suite in the State Department building in the District's Foggy Bottom area has led to the rediscovery of an important Manhattan Project landmark.
That history was marked this month with the unveiling of a plaque in the office where Army Gen. Leslie R. Groves led the World War II race to build the atomic bomb.
Although long known as the State Department's headquarters, the building at 21st Street and Virginia Avenue was constructed for the War Department. After its completion in June 1941, the building was occupied by various department and Army offices, including the Army Corps of Engineers.
A suite of offices on the fifth floor in the northeast corner of the New War Department Building, as it was then known, would become home to Groves, head of the Manhattan Project. But the exact location of the offices for Groves and his small staff, which at the time were numbered 5120 and 5121, had been lost to history.
When DeSutter, assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Verification, Compliance and Implementation, moved into her office on the fifth floor last year, she was intrigued by scuttlebutt that Groves had directed the Manhattan Project in the vicinity.
"I'd heard Groves may have had an office somewhere in the suite," DeSutter said.
She got a copy of Robert S. Norris's 2003 book "Racing for the Bomb," the definitive biography of Groves, which makes a persuasive case that the demanding, hard-driving general was the Manhattan Project's "indispensable man."
Norris, a senior research associate with the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington and a resident of Edgewater in Anne Arundel County, had searched unsuccessfully for the fifth-floor office and concluded that the space had been reconfigured and lost to renovation.
But thumbing through the book, DeSutter spotted a photograph that made her think otherwise. "I'm a poli-sci major, so I immediately went to the pictures," she joked.
On March 8, DeSutter telephoned Norris. "I'm reading your book," she told him.
"That's good," Norris recalls replying.
"I think I'm in General Groves's office," she said.