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Judiciary Square could become a D.C. historic district under new proposal

“Th[e] diverse building types and styles reflect layers of development that began in the early 19th century”

The D.C. Court of Appeals, at 430 E St. NW
bakdc/Shutterstock

The nonprofit D.C. Preservation League (DCPL) wants to have roughly 71 acres in Judiciary Square—the Northwest neighborhood housing local and federal courthouses—classified as a historic district. The Historic Preservation Office announced the group’s request on Tuesday.

The area targeted for historic preservation is approximately circumscribed by Constitution and Pennsylvania avenues NW and C Street NW to the south, Third and Fourth streets NW to the east, G Street NW to the north, and Sixth Street NW to the west, according to DCPL’s application. The central square itself, measuring 18 acres, is surrounded by five courthouses and the Pension Building, which today hosts the National Building Museum. (That building, constructed in the 1880s, was designed by Montgomery C. Meigs, a Civil War-era engineer.)

The overall site also contains land that originally featured in Pierre L’Enfant’s 1791 plan for the city. “These squares include single- and multi-family dwellings, commercial structures, federal and municipal government buildings, and one house of worship,” DCPL writes in its application. “Their diverse building types and styles reflect layers of development that began in the early 19th century.” The site’s architecture has Classical Revival and Italianate aspects.

Proposed Judiciary Square historic district
D.C. Preservation League, via D.C. government

“Judiciary Square and the four squares that lie to its south are bound together by landscaped spaces that include the National Law Enforcement Memorial and John Marshall Park, as well as John Marshall Plaza, which provides a clear visual axis between the National Mall and Old City Hall on the south side of Judiciary Square,” DCPL says. “These spaces contain statuary, fountains, and other artistic objects of note.” Among the government buildings in Judiciary Square is the D.C. Court of Appeals, at 430 E St. NW. Elliott Woods, once Architect of the Capitol, designed its current form in the early 1900s. A statue of Abraham Lincoln is outside.

The D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board still must hold a hearing on DCPL’s nomination of Judiciary Square. In other neighborhood news, D.C. lawmakers have proposed officially renaming One Judiciary Square, the District government building at 441 4th St. NW (which is not included in the application for historic designation), after late Mayor Marion S. Barry.