How GAO Built Its Dream House

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Chapter 6, A Proposal to House GAO in Southwest Washington

Congress considered alternate sites for a GAO building during the 1930s, including a square at the southwest corner of the Capitol grounds; space on the north side of Pennsylvania Avenue between 3d and 4-1/2 Streets N.W.; and Square 534, between B, C, 4-1/2, and 3d Streets S.W. (At the time, there were two B Streets in Washington. The one bordering the Mall on the north later was renamed Constitution Avenue, and the one on the southern border of the Mall became Independence Avenue). Square 534, the location of Willow Tree playground, received the most consideration, as planning officials worked out a tentative plan for a five-story GAO headquarters building with a basement for files storage.

The chairman of the planning commission wrote to President Roosevelt in support of the Willow Tree proposal. He asserted that "completing the acquisition of this square would clean up one of the worst and most historic slum neighborhoods in Washington." In the period before World War II, 4-1/2 Street, described as "obnoxious" by the local black civic association, was the border between segregated white and black sections of southwest Washington. From 1900 until an urban renewal effort cleared the area between 1954 and 1960, the Southwest section contained low-income housing and notorious alley slums. Willow Tree playground stood on the site of Willow Tree Alley, a block that so symbolized the worst of the slums that there was a carefully organized campaign to tear down its dwellings in 1913.

Although GAO agreed to a move to the Southwest section of the city, money remained tight and planning officials made no final decision on the Willow Tree site proposal. They continued to debate various options for a headquarters building. GAO's need to house records as well as employees was so great that in 1936, planners considered building a separate records storage building for it across the street from the Pension Building. This was the first time officials looked at Square 518, site of the present headquarters building, as a possible location for a GAO facility.

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