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USPS marks 50 years at L’Enfant Plaza

The building at 475 L’Enfant Plaza SW in Washington, DC, has been home to USPS headquarters since 1973.

Fifty years ago, the Postal Service moved its headquarters into its eighth and present-day home in the nation’s capital, at 475 L’Enfant Plaza SW in Washington, DC.

In many ways, the move was symbolic: Two years prior, the federal government’s Cabinet-level arm known as the Post Office Department was reborn as the U.S. Postal Service, a unique hybrid that was part federal agency, part not-for-profit business.

The cover of the July 3, 1972, issue of the Postal Pulse, an employee newsletter, featured a photo of the new USPS headquarters building at L’Enfant Plaza in Washington, DC.

At the time, the organization was housed in the heart of federal Washington at 1200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, in a 1934 classical revival-style building adorned with art created by the New Deal’s Section of Painting and Sculpture.

By contrast, the new modernist building at L’Enfant Plaza was part of one of the earliest urban renewal projects in the United States, a fact that dovetailed nicely in spirit with the new organization.

USPS headquarters is in one of four office buildings that frame the plaza, named in honor of Pierre L’Enfant, the French American who created the blueprint for the federal city.

(In 2003, USPS released a stamp that included a section of L’Enfant’s plan.)

One notable aesthetic feature of the building, designed by Czech American architect Vlastimil Koubek, is the reddish-hued travertine marble that graces the lobby of the main entrance.

USPS purchased the building in 1972, moved in in 1973, and has been there since — a fate that could have been much different were it not for DC’s bravest.

In 1984, a spectacular four-alarm blaze broke out on the top floors of the building. Nearly 200 city firefighters were needed to tame the inferno. Twenty-five were hospitalized for smoke inhalation.

Amazingly, because it happened at night, no employees were injured.

While the Postal Service has called many buildings home in its long history, headquarters has remained within walking distance of the National Mall since 1800, the year President John Adams ordered the federal government to pick up stakes in Philadelphia and settle in the new capital.

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