Le Droit Building aka International Spy Museum

International Spy Museum

Click on the photo to see it in entirety.

Washington, DC’s Le Droit Building was constructed in 1875, designed by James McGill in the Italianate commercial style of the period, and intended for office use (nps.gov).  The building was designated a historic landmark through the National Register of Historic Places, which is probably what saved the building.  It was purchased by the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation in 1991, but never refurbished under the urban renewal plans.  PADC ceded the building to the General Services Administration in 1996.

Courtesy Historic American Buildings Survey, photographer Anico Hoachlander

Courtesy Historic American Buildings Survey, photographer Anico Hoachlander

…the oldest continuously operating office building in Washington, DC…the facade is crumbling and its interior has decayed into a heap of building- and fire-code violations…the General Services Administration  decided to shut down the building rather than pay for the safety improvements. (Michael Schaffer, Washington City Paper, 1996)

In 1997, GSA sought bids for the purchase and redevelopment of the building and other historic structures in the block.  The Library of Congress described the building as

…illustrating the earliest phase of F Street’s great age of development as the leading shopping and business street in Washington, with great architectural interest.

By 1996, however, it had deteriorated into a series of adult book stores, artists’ studios, and varied other storefronts.

Courtesy Historic American Buildings Survey, photographer Anico Hoachlander

Courtesy Historic American Buildings Survey, photographer Anico Hoachlander

The Historic American Buildings Survey, completed sometime after 1963, described the building as an exterior of brick in the American bond style, painted gray and with light gray trim, acknowledging that it was most likely not the original color.  At that time, the first story had been “modernized” with glass window fronts and doorways.  They further described

A post Civil War store and office building, picturesque and attractive in character, with rhythmic fenestration and well-developed display windows, mostly in its original state…a particularly interesting version of a High Victorian Italianate building…unusual for its length and two-level shop front.

The International Spy Museum opened in the building in 2002, and houses a collection of world-wide spy gadgets, and includes an interactive experience.  The museum has been criticized for its glossing of the CIA’s spy activities and glamorizing the industry.  But then, James Bond not withstanding, folks just love to play Covert Affairs.

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