Historic cast iron and a leaky tunnel at the Veterans Affairs Administration Building

Alfonso examines one of the canopies.

Aeon Preservation has been included in a project team to investigate leaks in the entrance canopies and subterranean tunnels of the Veterans Affairs Administration Building. This structure was completed in 1919 on the site of one of Washington’s most luxurious hotels. It was occupied by the War Risk Bureau which later became the Department of Veterans Affairs. Now, it is part of the Lafayette Park Historic District and the White House Precinct.

This building has three entrances covered by canopies made from ornamental cast iron and glass that are tied directly to the building’s structural steel skeleton. Modifications were made in the 1970’s and 1990’s, but the stained masonry around them and comments from the building’s users indicate that they’ve been leaking for years. Aeon and the team found that blocked drain lines and poorly designed and installed roofing has allowed water to pour into the canopy framing and support. This has caused serious corrosion of the structural steel and cast iron in the areas closest to the building.

Next up was investigation of the tunnel, which was constructed in 1957 to connect the buildings either side of Vermont Avenue. After removing some areas of drywall and steel panel, debris and corroded pipes were uncovered. The problem of the exact source of the water remained unsolved, although it was clear to Aeon and the team that the canopy drains flood the interior of the walls.

It became clear that the building’s fabric and structure is not working correctly. To resolve this, Aeon’s principle conservators have recommended that the canopies undergo extensive renovation to stop water seeping into the fabric of the building. The failed earlier renovations with unsuitable designs and materials mean the canopies should be stripped down to the structural steel so the drain lines can be opened up and repaired. When the modern materials are taken out, the whole system can be redesigned to work properly, using the existing structural steel skeleton and ornamental cast iron as a starting point. After the repair and restoration of the canopies, the tunnel will be looked at again, to check whether keeping water out of the main building will stem the flow into the tunnel.

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