||MARCH 2009 --
The year 2009 is one of great promise for our country and for our organization. It is also a year that we can celebrate the 50th anniversary of our National headquarters in Washington, D.C. The building stands as a crowning achievement for the Grange members who recognized the need for a permanent presence in the Capital and faced many trials on the road to achieving such.
Throughout the second half of the Nineteenth Century, the National Grange’s presence in Washington, D.C., came in the form of the homes of national secretaries Oliver Hudson Kelly, John Thompson, and John Trimble. As Grangers in our nation’s capital, they themselves were the Grange’s presence and voice. As the Nineteenth Century began to come to a close, more and more Grangers began to recognize the need for a more permanent voice in Washington to solidify our presence there. Soon Grangers began advocating for such a headquarters at conventions. Thirty-five years later, the dream finally became a reality.
Thomas Atkeson, Former National Overseer and first Legislative Director for the National Grange, worked out of a location at 303 Seventh Street, now regarded as the first official headquarters of the National Grange. The organization was still growing at an unprecedented rate, proving the location on Seventh Street inadequate for the organization’s needs.
Moving on from the Seventh Street location, the National Grange took occupancy of the second floor of a building owned by the National Bank of Washington in 1921. Within fifteen years, however, that space had also become too small to accommodate the growth of the National Grange, and so in 1936, the Order moved into what would be its last rented space at 1343 H Street, NW.
In 1943, the first headquarters owned by the National Grange was purchased. Located at 744 Jackson Place Northwest, the new Grange home stood eight stories tall and faced the White House from across Lafayette Square. Having the building gave the National Grange added credibility, and it was right where National Master Albert Goss and others felt it belonged.
Although the location of the new headquarters on prime real estate was good for the Order in some ways, it also made the building the envy of certain agencies within the Federal Government that had other plans for that block. Under a law known as the Public Buildings Purchase Contract Act of 1954, the GSA acted on their perceived power to condemn and seize any private property needed for the conclusion of a project. The GSA went ahead and attempted to seize the property at Jackson Place, but the National Grange was not going to give up easily.
On July 24, 1958, the National Grange and the Federal Government finally reached an agreement. The GSA and the National Grange would switch land sites, and a new Grange headquarters would be built. The Federal Government gave the property to the National Grange on August 11, 1958, as well as an additional $360,000 in compensation.
The new and current headquarters had a planned completion of early 1960. The Groundbreaking Ceremony was on January 8, 1959. Master Herschel Newsom and members of the Building Committee turned the first spade of earth. National Officers and representatives of 17 State Granges were present for the ceremony, and by April, work had begun on what was supposed to become a narrow brick structure 110 feet tall in the 1600 block of H Street, NW.
On June 29, 1960, with President Dwight D. Eisenhower on hand to commemorate the achievement, the building was officially dedicated. Thirty-five tour guides escorted about 1,500 people on special tours through the building on “Dedication Days” June 28th and 29th. Around 200 buses were chartered to transport Grange members to Washington, D.C., for the dedication ceremony.
On March 25, 1977, after finally raising the necessary funds, the National Grange held a mortgage burning ceremony to celebrate the building’s new debt free status. More than 200 Grangers were present, including Past National President Kermit Richardson. “The mortgage burning was an exciting time for the organization. Owning that building brought us great pride.” he said.
Today, due to its prime location, the building rarely has vacant office space. Approximately 45% of the organization’s operating budget comes from the building’s tenants. In addition, the building provides the organization with an important presence in Washington, D.C.
Throughout this new year, the National Grange will be arranging events in honor of the 50th Anniversary of the Grange Headquarters. A new video is also available entitled “The National Grange Building: 50 Years of Service”. Members can contact Samantha Johnson at 1-888-4-GRANGE, etc 109, or at email@example.com for your free DVD or more information on anniversary events.