For nearly all of its first quarter century, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System met in the U.S. Treasury building at 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Meanwhile, Board employees were scattered across three locations throughout Washington, D.C. With the implementation of the Banking Act of 1935 (Off-site Link), which centralized control of the Federal Reserve System and placed it in the hands of the Board, it became necessary for Board staff to be united in one building.
In the spring of 1935, the Board elected to use a national competition to select a design for its new building. World-renowned architects submitted proposals, including Paul Philippe Cret (Off-site Link), a Frenchman known for his design of the Organization of American States building (1908), the Folger Shakespeare Library (1929) and the Calvert Street Bridge (1935). His firm submitted more than 300 freehand sketches of his design concept, which so impressed the selection committee that Cret was awarded the commission.
The Federal Reserve Building’s pragmatic classicism captured the spirit of Depression-era and wartime Washington, D.C., a city determined to remain grand but with nothing to spare on the non-essential.
Cret’s design for the new Board building managed to combine a number of classic elements, while also exercising restraint. He oversaw every part of the building project and employed nationally recognized artists to complete the ornamentation of the building. Those artists included Sidney Waugh (Off-site Link), who designed the eagle sculpture above the building’s Constitution Avenue entrance and noted wrought-iron craftsman Samuel Yellin (Off-site Link), who designed and executed numerous railings, gates and fixtures throughout the building.
Construction began in 1935 and was, amazingly, completed in just two years. The four-story building (pictured above) has an exterior of Georgia marble and is in the shape of the letter H. The space on either side of the building's center forms east and west courtyards. The interior has a two-story atrium with dual staircases and a skylight etched with the outline of an eagle. The atrium floor is marble and its walls are travertine. The largest meeting space is the two-story Board Room.
The pristine Federal Reserve Building was dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on October 20, 1937. It must have been a very proud moment for Chairman of the Board Marriner Stoddard Eccles (Off-site Link), who served as chairman from 1934 until 1948 and then remained a Board member until 1951. Perhaps he might have been even prouder 45 years later if he had lived to see the building renamed the Marriner S. Eccles Building (Off-site Link) posthumously in his honor.
“I dedicate this building today to progress; to progress toward the ideal of an America in which every worker will be able to provide his family at all times with an ever rising standard of American comfort.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt
President of the United States
Address at the Dedication of the Federal Reserve Building
You can view photos (Off-site Link) of the Eccles Building, or groups of 10 or more can schedule a tour. Scroll through the May FedFocus article “Fed Facts: Wherever you roam, let the Fed add education to your vacation” to learn more about visiting Federal Reserve Bank buildings.
SOURCE: Federal Reserve History (Off-site Link)
SOURCE: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (Off-site Link)
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