By Laura Knott, Regional Directors at Commonwealth Heritage Group, Inc.
Commonwealth’s historical landscape architects are happy to report that the Center Building project is almost finished! The project to rehabilitate the oldest building at St. Elizabeths Hospital began in 2014; five years later, this beautiful building, constructed in 1853, is poised to house the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Other buildings in this historic hospital campus are also targeted for rehabilitation with the goal of consolidating all of the departments’ offices. Our staff documented historic landscape features around the building, including walls, sidewalks, drainage structures, fences, and trees, and developed detailed construction drawings so that they could be repaired, replaced, or reconstructed.
St. Elizabeths Hospital is a National Historic Landmark that is historically significant for its siting, development, and use as a therapeutic, scenic setting for patient treatment. The Gothic Revival-style Center Building was designed in a modified Kirkbride Plan, specific to mental hospitals of that period, and constructed of bricks formed from local clay fired on-site. It was erected on a plateau in the Anacostia hills surrounding the core of Washington, D.C., on a site that offers panoramic views and unique vantage points toward the National Cathedral, the Washington Monument, and the U.S. Capitol. Of particular note are St. Elizabeths’ large historic trees, original brick walkways, and Victorian garden ornaments from the site’s period of significance, 1852 to 1960.
Ownership of the Center Building was transferred to the U.S. General Services Administration in 2008. Commonwealth served as subconsultants to Shalom Baranes Associates and Grunley Construction Company to provide landscape architectural services and Section 106 compliance review for the completion of the design and construction phases.