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If not for the unobstructed views of the low-slung skyline across the Anacostia River, visitors to St. Elizabeths could easily forget they were in the nation’s capital. Herds of regally antlered deer roam free, foxes are occasionally spotted, and a bald eagle is known to hang out in one of the trees. Civil War tombstones cling to a sloping hillside, their inscriptions worn almost beyond recognition by the the elements and the years. The only living people around all wear hardhats and reflective vests.
In a few years, the former mental-hospital grounds will look rather different. On the East Campus, Microsoft or another firm will likely anchor the centerpiece of what the mayor’s office hopes will be the East Coast’s largest technology center, alongside a mixed-use neighborhood of housing, retail, and public spaces. On the West Campus, separated by Martin Luther King Avenue SE, the Department of Homeland Security and the Coast Guard will make their new home.
I recently took a tour of the West Campus with two DHS officials. It’s got a long way to go before it’s ready to house two of the country’s top security institutions, but its current juxtaposition of past and future will, in a way, be a shame to lose. Let’s take a stroll around.
The imposing Center Building of the mental facility (viewed above from the front and back) will soon—-funding willing—-serve as the headquarters of DHS. For the time being, it still feels more like the antebellum Government Hospital for the Insane—-but without any lights.
This grand but dusty room will serve as the office for the Secretary of Homeland Security:
And this will be an office for a DHS staffer:
If that all seems hopelessly far away, the Coast Guard headquarters is considerably further along:
Then again, it had better be: In August, 3,700 Coast Guard employees will begin moving into St. Es; they’ll complete their move four to six months later. The Commandant—-yes, that’s what the highest-ranking Coast Guard official is called—-will join at about the midpoint of the move-in process. This will be the view from his office, of one of the largest green roofs in America and the Anacostia River:
Speaking of green: There will only be one parking space for every four regular-time DHS employees at St. Es. That’s something of a challenge, given that about three-quarters of the Coast Guard employees moving to St. Es currently drive to work alone. The Transportation Management Plan for St. Es aims to bring that figure down to 15 percent, through the promotion of carpooling and shuttles from the Anacostia and later Congress Heights Metro stations. Hopefully some of the employees will eventually choose to move into Ward 8, rather than commuting from Maryland and Virginia, where the vast majority currently reside.
I’ll leave you with one final image from St. Es. The future function of this building has yet to be determined, but it’s already got a claim to fame as the site of an iconic film. First person to name the film in the comments gets a free Washington City Paper t-shirt.