It sounds so alliteratively familiar. The “Barry Building,” rolling off the tongue as if it’s been around for decades.
But no, it’s new.
On Thursday, in a small ceremony limited in size due to the pandemic, the District will officially rechristen its old One Judiciary Square office building at 441 4th St. NW as the Marion S. Barry Building. The designation follows the 2018 dedication of a Barry statue outside of the John A. Wilson Building on Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
“Marion was one of the founding fathers of Home Rule,” says Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. “He was quite a presence.” Mendelson proposed the One Judiciary renaming in 2019 and had unanimous support from the D.C. Council. The Council approved the bill this past summer and Mayor Muriel Bowser signed it in August.
“This is phase one,” says Cora Masters Barry, the late mayor’s widow. In addition to the renaming Thursday, the Marion Barry Jr. Legacy Foundation is planning a massive mural in the expansive lobby, highlighting not only Barry but “people, places and programs,” depicting the growth of modern-day DC.
“When you walk into that building, you’ll be able to remember and, if you can’t remember, you’ll be able to learn” about that time, Barry says. “You think about development, the thrust for statehood. You think about Julius Hobson and Hilda Mason. Those people should not go by the wayside.”
But the mural is still an idea. Its proposed artists, design, costs and subject matter are dependent on more discussions between the foundation and the District government.
Mayor Barry died in 2014 and he remains both the subject of praise and the target of intense criticism for his drug abuse and government corruption during his four terms as mayor. “While Marion Barry was at times a divisive figure in the District and nationally,” reads the Council’s report on its legislation, “his legacy also includes standing up and advocating for “the last, the least and the lost.”
In addition to the statue and the building, there are ongoing discussions about renaming a major city street and a school in Barry’s honor.
The 10-story Barry Building houses many government offices, including that of D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, as well as the offices of zoning and contracting and procurement.
There is one blip in the plans for the Barry Building lobby mural. The massive space already has three large paintings entitled “All the People.” Those commissioned paintings, installed in the mid 1990s, are by artist Eglon Daley and celebrate the wide diversity of people who live in the District.
Daley, whose works also hang in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center and other sites, says he wasn’t aware of a plan to remove them.
“I hate to see that. But it’s now the Barry Building,” he says. “I just have to accept it.” Daley, who immigrated to the District at age 16 from Jamaica, says he hopes his artwork will find a suitable home. It’s possible the people-oriented works could be moved to the new Martin Luther King Jr. Library or another appropriate place. “More people would see them,” Daley says hopefully.