Observatory Hill Campus

Observatory Hill Campus

This 11.8-acre site containing 11 buildings, located on 23rd Street, NW, across from the Department of State’s headquarters, is identified on Pierre L’Enfant’s 1791 Plan for the City of Washington as Reservation 4.  One of the highest points in the city’s original plan, it was recommended by L’Enfant as an ideal location for a military installation to guard the city from attack by water. It was home to our country’s original Naval Observatory, completed in 1844, now an individual National Historic Landmark. The site has a rich history of military and federal activities including astronomy, oceanography, naval medical research and education, and intelligence operations. Home to the Office of Strategic Services when it was formed following the outbreak of World War II, it subsequently became the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency after the war.

Department of Defense’s Base Realignment and Closure actions identified the site as surplus in 2005, and the site was transferred to the Department of State for its consolidation efforts.  The CIA had moved to its new headquarters in Langley, VA in 1987, and U.S Naval medical activities still on the site moved to Bethesda, MD in 2012.  A Section 106 review began in the summer of 2014 under the auspices of the General Services Administration that focused on the creation of a master plan for site usage by the State Department.

The Committee of 100 has been actively involved in the State Department’s continuing review of development alternatives for the site, the latest of which is more respectful of the existing historic landscape and buildings. The Committee of 100’s position is that as many of the historic buildings as possible should be preserved and reused, and that new development on the site should be located and scaled to respect and complement the historic structures.  Meanwhile, at its October 2016 hearing, the DC Historic Preservation Review Board designated the site as the Observatory Hill Historic District.  The Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2017.

In the absence of Congressional funding, there has thus far been no development of the site.


icon C100 Comments HPRB Observatory Hill Historic District
October 27, 2016, Richard Busch
The Committee of 100 supports the recommendation of the DC Historic Preservation Office Staff Report, prepared by Ms. Anne Brockett and Dr. Ruth Trocolli, that Observatory Hill be designated an historic district in the D.C. Inventory of Historic Sites, and we further support its nomination to the National Register of Historic Places for listing as a district of national importance.
icon C100 Comments On Potomac Hill Development Alternatives Matrix Of Effects And Modified Alternative B
March 21, 2016, Nancy MacWood
The Committee of 100 on the Federal City offers comments in the ongoing Section 106 review for the development of a Potomac Hill Campus Master Plan.
icon 2015-06-04 C100 Nancy Witherell Potomac Hill Historic Nomination
June 4, 2015, Nancy MacWood
As a Consulting Party to the ongoing Section 106 Review of the Potomac Hill Campus Master Plan, the Committee of 100 on the Federal City supports the single comprehensive nomination for the site.
icon C100 Comments on Potomac Hill Campus Master Plan Section 106 Review
February 23, 2015, Nancy MacWood
The historic buildings on the Potomac Hill campus, including as much as possible of the existing plan, landscape and open space of the site, should be preserved and protected, and the scale, extent and design of any new construction on the site should respect these structures and not diminish their prominence and interrelationships.

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