Department of Commerce Building - 14th Street NW facade
Standing on 14th Street NW, looking west at the main entrance of the U.S. Department of Commerce building.
In 1924, the Public Buildings Commission recommended that a new series of federal office buildings be built near the White House. The plan called for a complex of buildings to be built at "Murder Bay" -- a muddy, flood-prone, malaria-ridden, poverty-stricken region lacking in paved roads, sewer system, and running water and almost exclusively home to numerous brothels and an extensive criminal underclass.
After review by the Board of Architectural Consultants, the Public Buildings Commission gave final design approval on November 1, 1927, to the Commerce and Internal Revenue buildings.
The Commerce building is 1,051 feet long with 1,000,000 square feet of office space, and was the largest office building in the world at the time. Excavation began on November 21, 1927.
President (and former Commerce Secretary) Herbert Hoover laid the cornerstone of the Commerce building on June 10, 1929, using the same trowel President George Washington had used to lay the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol. The construction cost was $17.5 million.
Due to the formerly marshy condition of the soil and several submerged streams nearby, more than 18,000 pilings had to be set to construct the Commerce building. Water pressure from the submerged Tiber Creek made it too difficult to drive the piles. So a deep-sea diver descended into the underground Tiber Creek and drilled a hole 20 feet deep into the earth. A hose was inserted into the hole, and water pumped from the earth until the water table dropped and the driving of the piles could be accomplished.
The Neoclassical building opened opened on January 4, 1932. The finished building had 1,605,066 square feet of office space (more than 60 percent larger than originally planned), and its foundation was more than three feet thick in places in order to withstand the hydraulic pressure put on it by the submerged Tiber Creek. Water from the Tiber was utilized as an air conditioning system, to cool the building.