WASHINGTON (NNS) -- In an official re-dedication ceremony, the U.S. Navy reopened the historic commandant's office in the Middendorf Building, at Washington, D.C.'s, Washington Navy Yard (WNY), Aug. 17.
Former Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) and U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands, J. William Middendorf II, the building's namesake, was the evening's guest speaker.
The Middendorf Building is the Navy's oldest active office building on one of the nation's oldest shore installations.
The Washington Navy Yard was a favorite destination of President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. He is said to have visited the grounds on the very morning he was assassinated. Lincoln and Rear Adm. John Dahlgren, commandant of the Navy at the time, used to sit on the porch of the Middendorf Building, drinking brandy and smoking cigars, said Dr. Edward Marolda, Senior Historian, Naval Historical Center, at the ceremony.
"This building is the heart and soul of the nation's oldest naval base," Marolda told guests.
Ambassador Middendorf served in the Navy during World War II and was SECNAV from 1974 to 1977, an active period of the Cold War. Called a "true champion of U.S. Naval History," Middendorf was instrumental in rebuilding much of the Navy Yard when he was SECNAV, doubling the size of the Yard's main Adm. Leutze Park and increasing funding to the Naval Historical Center.
"I want to say as a former secretary of the Navy, it is an honor that this building is named after me," said Middendorf, who considers the commandant's office to be one of the most historic buildings in Washington.
The building was designed and constructed between 1837 and 1838 and was originally home to the office of the Commandant and other officers working on the Navy Yard. The Yard itself was founded in 1799 and established as the homeport for the U.S. Navy by President Thomas Jefferson in 1803. The Navy Yard was once the center for America's ordnance production. Canons and naval guns were built at the Yard until 1962 and battleships used as late as the Persian Gulf War had 16-inch guns designed at the Yard.
The Commandant's Office changed to a post office and communications office in 1941, then became officers' quarters in 1948. In 2004, then-Commandant of Naval District Washington (NDW), retired Rear Adm. Jan Gaudio, started planning to turn the Middendorf Building back into the commandant's office.
Gaudio and Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Architect and Planner, Harry Martin, helped guide the refurbishment, with a mutual goal of staying true to the building's original design, even using interior paint colors popular in the 19th century.
"I'm thrilled with it," Gaudio said. "It will be good for another 150 years."
Former Chief of Naval Operations and current chairman of the Naval Historical Foundation (NHF) Adm. James Holloway III, attended the ceremony. Holloway worked with Middendorf in the 1970s, getting the funds from Congress to rebuild parts of the Navy Yard.
"To see this building that was in use in 1830 is such wonderful evidence of the Navy's heritage," Holloway said.
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