The National Union Building is in the heart of Penn Quarter!
Penn Quarter — the area north of Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the Capitol Building — saw some of Washington, DC’s earliest major construction projects. Our neighbors include several historic buildings: The General Post Office (1842, now the Hotel Monaco); Ford’s Theater (1863); the Patent Building (1867, now the National Portrait Gallery); the Pension building (1887, now the Building Museum). When the National Union Fire Insurance Company chose 918 F Street, NW to build their new headquarters, the area was already a vibrant downtown.
The building at 918 F Street Northwest would help launch the career of a 35-year-old local architect named Glenn Brown. The cast stone Romanesque facade has many beautiful details of this classical style: rustication, hierarchy of order in arches, and fluted pendants framing the building’s core where the original owners proudly displayed their name: National Union Building.
The building wasn’t just beautiful: for 1890 it was thoroughly modern. Responding to the owners need to ensure the building was fireproof, Brown built in steel, making this one of the earliest examples of steel framing in the nation, and possibly the first in Washington, DC. The building’s core was the elevator, already commonplace in multistory buildings in New York and Chicago, but relatively uncommon in the nation’s capital. Additionally, the original pipes throughout the building (you can see them on a visit!) demonstrate gas lighting was readily available at every floor.
The National Register of Historic Places recognized the National Union Building in 1990 as worthy of preservation. Along with several historic buildings on F Street, NW, the National Union Building adds to the charm and beauty of late 19th century architecture that makes the Penn Quarter DC’s historical and cultural downtown.