Construction took 17 years as the building slowly rose wing by wing. When the EEOB was finished in 1888, it was the largest office building in Washington, with nearly 2 miles of black and white tiled corridors. Almost all of the interior detail is of cast iron or plaster; the use of wood was minimized to insure fire safety. Eight monumental curving staircases of granite with over 4,000 individually cast bronze balusters are capped by four skylight domes and two stained glass rotundas.
Completed in 1875, the State Department’s south wing was the first to be occupied, with its elegant four-story library (completed in 1876), Diplomatic Reception Room, and Secretary’s office decorated with carved wood, Oriental rugs, and stenciled wall patterns. The Navy Department moved into the east wing in 1879, where elaborate wall and ceiling stenciling and marqetry floors decorated the office of the Secretary. The Indian Treaty Room, originally the Navy’s library and reception room, cost more per square foot than any other room in the building because of its rich marble wall panels, tiled floors, 800-pound bronze sconces, and gold leaf ornamentation. This room has been the scene of many Presidential news conferences and continues to be used for conferences and receptions attended by the President. The remaining north, west, and center wings were constructed for the War Department and took an additional 10 years to build. Notable interiors include an ornate cast-iron library, the Secretary’s suite, and the stained glass skylight over the west wing’s double staircase.
Many of our most celebrated national figures have participated in historical events that have taken place within the EEOB’s granite walls. Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson,Gerald Ford, and George H. W. Bush all had offices in this building before becoming President. It has housed 16 Secretaries of the Navy, 21 Secretaries of War, and 24 Secretaries of State. Winston Churchill once walked its corridors and Japanese emissaries met here with Secretary of State Cordell Hull after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. President Herbert Hoover occupied the Secretary of Navy’s office for a few months following a fire in the Oval Office on Christmas Eve 1929. In recent history, President Richard Nixon had a private office here. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was the first in a succession of Vice Presidents to the present day that have had offices in the building.
Gradually, the original tenants of the EEOB vacated the building – the Navy Department left in 1918 (except for the Secretary who stayed until 1921), followed by the War Department in 1938, and finally by the State Department in 1947. The White House began to move some of its offices across West Executive Avenue in 1939, and in 1949 the building was turned over to the Executive Office of the President and renamed the Executive Office Building. The building continues to house various agencies that comprise the Executive Office of the President, such as the White House Office, the Office of the Vice President, the Office of Management and Budget, and the National Security Council.
The French Second Empire style originated in Europe, where it first appeared during the rebuilding of Paris in the 1850s and 60s. Based upon French Renaissance prototypes, such as the Louvre Palace, the Second Empire style is characterized by the use of a steep mansard roof, central and end pavilions, and an elaborately sculptured facade. Its sophistication appealed to visiting foreigners, especially in England and America, where as early as the late 1850s, architects began adopting isolated features and, eventually, the style as a coherent whole. Alfred Mullett’s interpretation of the French Second Empire style was, however, particularly Americanized in its lack of an ornate sculptural program and its bold, linear details.
While it was only a project on the drafting table, the design of the EEOB was subject to controversy. When it was completed in 1888, the Second Empire style had fallen from favor, and Mullett’s masterpiece was perceived by capricious Victorians as only an embarrassing reminder of past whims in architectural preference. This was especially the case with the EEOB, since previous plans for a building on the same site had been in the Greek Revivial style of the Treasury Building.