St. Elizabeths Hospital, West Wing, 539-559 Cedar Drive, Southeast, Washington, District of Columbia, DC
For an overview of the Center Building Group, see HABS DC-349-BT
Significance: The West Wing (Building 3) is significant for its association with the treatment of mental illness at the St. Elizabeths campus. As part of the original Center Building group, it formed an integral part of the function and use of the campus from its inception, and remained in use for patient treatment into the second half of the twentieth century. Throughout its history, the Center Building group reflected the development and evolution of St. Elizabeths.
The Center Building group was sited to offer views of Washington, D.C., as part of the overall landscape planning for the campus. The north-south axis of the original central wing of the Center Building group, which does not correspond to orthogonal compass points, established the axis for most of the nineteenth-century buildings at
St. Elizabeths. The Center Building group formed the core of the campus during its initial period of development.
The Center Building group is also significant for its architectural design. The building as it evolved from 1853 through the onset of the Civil War exemplified the innovative echelon plan, as developed by Superintendent Charles Nichols and architect Thomas U. Walter; this plan was a variation of the Kirkbride plan that became widely adopted in the second half of the nineteenth century. The detailing of the masonry facades
incorporates Gothic Revival stylistic elements that were popular in the mid-nineteenth century, including masonry buttresses and towers, cast iron window hoods, wood window sash with narrow divided lights, rusticated masonry bands, and a crenellated parapet wall. The brick units used in construction of the building were reportedly
manufactured on the site. The West Wing was connected to a railway system that ran through the basement of the Center Building group and adjacent free-standing buildings. Originally, the railway system allowed for the quick transport of food from the Bakery (Building 46) and General Kitchen (Building 45) as well as supplies between buildings. The building was also technologically innovative; the 1859 Annual Report described the heating system in detail, which was an early example of central heating and ventilating installation for a building of this size.
Survey number: HABS DC-349-X
Building/structure dates: 1853-1856 Initial Construction
National Register of Historic Places NRIS Number: 79003101