These records document the history and organization of the GWMA and the planning for the George Washington Memorial Building - first in conjunction with the establishment of a National University in Washington, the construction of an administrative building and cultural center for Columbian College in the District of Columbia, and finally, allied with the Smithsonian, as a victory memorial for World War I veterans. Included is documentation of the fundraising efforts by Secretaries Samuel Pierpoint Langley and Charles Doolittle Walcott needed to complete the project, including financial records, brochures and descriptive material, correspondence, newspaper articles, drawings by the prize-winning architects, and photographs.
The George Washington Memorial Association (GWMA) was organized in 1898 for the purpose of establishing in Washington D.C. an educational institution for the "promotion of science and literature" as described by George Washington in his messages to Congress and in his will. Early attempts to establish a National University were unsuccessful and by early 1904 the GWMA entered into an agreement with Columbian College in the District of Columbia to build a marble monument to George Washington in the form of an administration building and cultural center for its new site at Constitution Avenue and 17th St., NW (now the site of the Pan American Union). Plans for building on the site fell through (though Columbian College in the District of Columbia did rename itself George Washington University), and the association then joined with the Smithsonian Institution to build a multipurpose structure on the mall that would serve as a memorial to George Washington.
In 1914 a competition was held and New York architects Evarts Tracy and Robert Edgerton Swartwout were chosen. By the time the cornerstone was laid in 1921, the building was called the George Washington Victory Memorial Building to additionally honor World War I veterans. The structure included a military museum and archives. The concrete foundation and stairway were completed by 1924, and a fence was constructed around the site. For more than 10 years the GWMA, with the help of Secretary Charles Doolittle Walcott and then Charles Greeley Abbot, attempted to raise funds to complete the building but failed. The foundation and monumental stairway were razed in 1937 for the construction of the National Gallery of Art.
Smithsonian Institution Archives
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