The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Michael Milken’s foundation nears deal for building steps from White House

Riggs National Bank was headquartered at 1503-1505 Pennsylvania Ave. until PNC Bank acquired Riggs in 2005. (Olivier Douliery)
Placeholder while article actions load

Billionaire philanthropist Michael Milken is close to acquiring a prominent new Washington home for his growing charitable empire. 

The Milken Family Foundation is finalizing a deal to acquire the historic former headquarters of Riggs Bank, a stately building a few hundred yards from the White House, according to two sources close to the negotiations who spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal has not been finalized.

The foundation issued a statement confirming its interest in the property.

“The Milken Family Foundation is exploring having a meaningful presence in our nation’s capital consistent with its work since 1982 to improve K-12 education and medical research as it continues to celebrate and recognize outstanding educators and others who are making a difference in our lives,” said Bonnie Somers, a spokeswoman for the foundation.

PNC Bank, which owns the building, did not return a request for comment.

Milken rose to prominence making a fortune as a Wall Street junk bond trader. He then served time in prison and paid hundreds of millions of dollars in fines for violating securities laws after a crackdown by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Forbes has pegged his net worth at $2 billion.

He’s since put his energy into philanthropy. The foundation, which Milken founded with his brother Lowell, focuses largely on education and medical research, including some highly visible efforts in the Washington area. Last month George Washington University announced that it had received an $80 million commitment from Milken and media magnate Sumner M. Redstone, and that it would rename its school of public health the Milken Institute School of Public Health.

In announcing the gift, Milken told the Post then that he wanted to support efforts to fight chronic disease and conditions such as obesity, and was pleased to have a presence in Foggy Bottom, not far from the White House.

“We need to effect a change in leadership in prevention and wellness, and you need a presence in the area where health policy’s being made,” he said.

With the Riggs building he will be much closer. 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. It served as the headquarters for Riggs Bank until PNC acquired Riggs in 2005. PNC  closed the branch in 2010 and put it up for sale late last year. 

The D.C. government assessed it recently at $17.7 million.

Milken will also have local help in restoring and re-using the building, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and which is lined with Ionic columns resembling those at the Treasury Department nearby. The sources said that architecture firm Shalom Baranes Associates and developer Akridge have been advising Milken on re-imagining the building as foundation offices. Both are headquartered in the District.

Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz