I’ve lived in and around Washington all my life and thought I’d just about seen it all.
Then I took an elevator ride to the top of the Old Post Office Pavilion.
Up in the clock tower you get a very different view of the city — one 270 feet above it all, something not often found in our low-slung urban core, where every building seems as tall as the one next to it.
Looking east, I found myself following Pennsylvania Avenue right up to the Capitol. Magnificent. To the southwest, there was this obelisk of stone, the lower half encased in scaffolding. Could that be the mighty Washington Monument?
It looked stunted to me.
I’ve never quite understood why the Old Post Office Pavilion has not made a bigger impression on the city. It is a national historic landmark, with massive stonework and a soaring atrium that beckons you to look heavenward. The clock tower is more than 100 years old, the bells underneath are a replica of those at London’s Westminster Abbey and a bicentennial gift from the United Kingdom.
Yet even now, with so much change in the District, the Old Post Office’s food court is sleepy, the adjoining glass-topped annex abandoned. The government wants to pull out.
The edifice’s location is part of its problem. Surrounded by undistinctive federal offices, the building is close but not quite a part of the National Mall, and not quite central to the action around the Verizon Center.
Then again, that location is kind of a blank canvas for Donald Trump and his daughter Ivanka as they move toward converting the building into a luxury hotel, and pairing it with a grand new ballroom space. When you consider the FBI headquarters building just up the block might be transformed into something new, you begin to wonder if a “close-but” location begins to feel more like a destination, offering a fresh view from high above.