Riggs Bank was a 168-year-old institution and one of Washington’s most well-known companies when it was acquired in 2005, in no small part because of its headquarters building across the street from the Treasury Department, a few hundred feet from the White House grounds.
After the sale, new owner PNC Bank replaced the Riggs name out front and turned it into a bank branch. Now the stately building at 1503-1505 Pennsylvania Ave. NW will enter a new chapter because PNC has put it up for sale.
PNC officials say the closure of Pennsylvania Avenue between 15th and 17th streets because of security concerns rendered the branch there unworkable. The branch has been closed since 2010, although an ATM still operates out front and the bank still hosts special events there occasionally. PNC, a unit of Pittsburgh-based PNC Financial Services Group, plans to close a branch on Massachusetts Avenue in Dupont Circle as well.
“When Pennsylvania Avenue was closed to through traffic, the Corcoran branch lost its viability for PNC as a retail bank location,” said Michael N. Harreld, regional president of PNC Bank, in a statement. “We are committed to finding a new owner for the signature branch of ‘the Bank of the Presidents’ who will honor the historical significance of the building and be able to use the location in a different way.”
Riggs was easily the largest Washington bank in the late 1800s when its officers began laying the groundwork for a new headquarters near the Treasury Department. Designed by New York architects York and Sawyer and completed in 1902, the five-story building is about as close as one can get to the grounds of the White House, and bank officials have long hosted presidential inaugural parade viewing parties there. The Ionic columns on its south facade resemble those at Treasury.
In 1922, Riggs added a western annex, and in 1986, it restored some of the building’s features to better match its original design, according to PNC.
The building has about 42,000 square feet of gross building area, but much of that can’t really be used for office space, thanks to design features such as a five-story, 60-foot atrium with interior balconies and a skylight. The D.C. government assessed it at $17.7 million this year.
Founded by William W. Corcoran in 1836, Riggs was run by Joe L. Allbritton for more 20 years and later by his son, Robert, now chairman and chief executive of Allbritton Communications, until its purchase by PNC. Before being acquired, Riggs weathered a series of scandals related to its banking businesses for international embassies, governments and political leaders. In 2004, the federal government fined the bank $25 million for money laundering.
Whoever buys the building won’t have an easy path to make broad changes to it, as it is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Changes to the exterior would require approval by the District’s Historic Preservation Review Board and the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts. Rebecca Miller, executive director of the nonprofit D.C. Preservation League, said she and the organization’s board will also consider trying to protect some of the building’s banking features inside.
“We would be looking at whether the interior should be protected,” she said.