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Officers Barracks, east building
Officers Barracks for U.S. Arsenal, east building, 1920s.

Officers Barracks, east building 2008
Officers Barracks for U.S. Arsenal, east building, 2008

Officers Barracks, west building
Officers Barracks, west building, 1885. Demolished 1903

Map of the Washington Barracks
Map of the Washington Barracks, 1885. The Cluss officers barracks are in the center facing each other on opposites sides of the road through the fort.

Washington Penitentiary, 1865
Washington Penitentiary, 1865.


Officers Barracks for U.S. Arsenal: remodeling of east and west wings of the penitentiary (26)

Fort Lesley J. McNair, Four and One-half and P streets, SW
Constructed in 1869, west building demolished in 1903

After Cluss had constructed the powder magazines for the U.S. Arsenal (now Fort Lesley J. Mc Nair) in 1864, he was asked in 1869 to remodel the east and west wings of the penitentiary built in 1831 at this Fort.

This penitentiary was the first federal government prison.Charles Bulfinch, the designer of the original dome of the Capitol was the architect. The penitentiary grounds had become famous as the place of the trial and execution of the alleged conspirators involved in the Abraham Lincoln assassination.

In 1867-68, the original penitentiary was demolished. Cluss was hired to remodel the two wings added to the Bulfinch building, originally used as female quarters and laundry, into Officers' Quarters and the Commandants's Quarters. Cluss changed the style of the two buildings from their original Federal style to Renaissance Revival.

The two three-story buildings were refaced with bricks salvaged from the penitentiary and covered with Connecticut freestone. A two-story wing on the north side of each building, also constructed with bricks from the old penitentiary building, gave both buildings an "L" shaped appearance. Finished in 1872, the commanding officer occupied the west building, closest to the river, and other officers occupied apartments in the east building. The nearly identical front fašades of the two houses faced each other. Between the two houses, Cluss designed a circular park dividing the new main road from P Street through the fort, a much more attractive approach to the Arsenal grounds.

His east building, known as Building 20 and also as Grant Hall, altered during the 1940s, remains extant. The west building was demolished in 1903. Army historians believe that the east building was saved in 1903, because it was the scene of the Lincoln assassination trials. Those found guilty were executed by hanging in the courtyard that can be seen on one of the pictures on the right side.

The renovation of the entire fort in 1903 was carried out under the direction of the famous New York architects McKim, Mead and White. They changed the architectural style of the entire fort to a colonial or Georgian revival style. Probably, they would have preferred to remove both Cluss buildings, as they did not fit into the style they planned for the fort.

In his "Works of Public Import", Cluss also listed "numerous buildings for the Ordnance Department, U.S. Army, at the Washington Arsenal", which mostly have not yet been identified. The renovation of today's building 21 was one of these commissions.

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