Today, George Washington University is synonymous with Foggy Bottom, but its current location is actually the third site in D.C. where it has operated. For historical and architectural information about the buildings on GW's Foggy Bottom Campus, please see the 1999 report Reconnaissance-Level Architectural Survey of Properties in Foggy Bottom, Washington, D.C.
First location (1820-1884)
The original campus comprised five buildings on “College Hill,” a parcel of land consisting of approximately 47 acres north of Boundary Street (now known as Florida Avenue) between 14th and 15th Streets. This "rural" campus was about a half-hour walk from the Capitol Building. The main college building, a brick edifice consisting of five floors, 58 rooms and 60 fireplaces, could accommodate 100 students. Three other buildings were occupied by the President and his family, faculty, and a Steward. One additional building was used for classrooms.
From the Report of Building Committee:
Commenced last spring (1820) building 117' long 17' deep, basement of stone, walls 27 in. thick, first main story of brick walls 22 in. thick, second brick story, walls 18 in. thick, 3rd brick story, walls 14 in. thick. Garret is divided like rest of main stories into rooms with dormant windows and fireplaces, making in the whole building 5 stories inc. basement and garret. On the basement floor kitchen it measured 33x17, dining room 42x16, recitation room or chapel 42x16. In the garret was a room with three windows and two fireplaces 30x16--temporarily for philosophical apparatus and experiments. One hall on second and one on third each 11x17, designed, temporarily for library. In whole bldg. are 60 fireplaces and 58 rooms, calculated for 100 students. Land, paid for, cost $7,000, building with appurtenances when finished $30,000. Well 60 ft. deep dug adjacent to building upon "a never failing spring of fine water." We will be ready the first of October. For professors, will erect two buildings under one roof separated by brick wall each 25 ft. front 40 ft. deep with garret and basement. Buildings set on cardinal points.
On April 7, 1866 student George Coffin wrote in his diary:
Great improvements are taking place in the College grounds; terraces & the edges of the grass plots have been sodded; trees are being planted; the grass seed, sown sometime ago all over the grounds, is springing up; the walks & drives have been provided with paved gutters on either side; the old gymnasium, during the war used as a dead house, has been pulled down & a new one is being erected; in short everything is undergoing a thorough renovation & improvement.
Second location (1884-1910)
The university moved in 1884 to downtown Washington, and erected a University Building, and Law Building, at H Street and 15th Street, N.W. Here it remained until 1910, when these properties were sold and other space rented on Eye Street, N.W. The 1890-91 Bulletin described the university's facilities thus:
This building is four stories high and has a frontage of 121 feet on Fifteenth Street and 64 ½ on H Street, with an annex extending back on the south line 156 feet. The façades are built of pressed and moulded bricks which latter were especially shaped and modeled for the building, with its terra-cotta ornamentations are artistically designed to give architectural expression to the educational purposes of the edifice. The ascent to the main floor is by iron stairs 12 feet wide, and to the floor above by a massive ornate staircase 7 feet wide.
In the main story are contained the Law Lecture Hall, 45 feet by 60 feet (capable of seating five hundred persons), the Museum, the University Library, the President’s Office, the Reception Room, and one Lecture Room. The upper stories contain Lecture Rooms, Professors’ studies, the Chemical Lecture Hall, the Enosian Society Hall, while the pavilion which surmounts the building is designed for use by the teacher of Astronomy. The basement story, which is at an average depth of only 12 inches below the pavement, contains several Lecture rooms, the Assay Department, steam-heating rooms, fuel rooms, store rooms, &c. The Chemical Laboratories are relegated to the lateral annex on the south line of the lot, and are separated from the main building by a heavy brick wall. Access to the laboratories is obtained by a spacious stone staircase, built around the main ventilating shaft, and encased by brick walls to make it proof against fire. Heavy brick partitions and iron beams running through the whole building render each tier of rooms secure from communication in case fire should occur in any part of the structure. The building is heated throughout by steam and by a combination of both direct and indirect radiation. The ventilation is effected by a general system dependent on two large shafts and by a special system of flues connecting with these shafts, or with chimneys, and reaching to every room occupied for purposes of instruction.
The Move to Foggy Bottom
In February 1912, the University rented a large vacant building at 2023 G Street, N.W. to serve as temporary facilities for the teaching of arts and sciences, as well as all the administrative offices. In Bricks Without Straw, former University Historian Kayser describes the building, known as St. Rose's Industrial School, as it was in 1912:
For the neighborhood, as it was then, the old St. Rose's School was an impressive structure. Located somewhat back of the building line, it had a small front yard that was a few steps higher than the pavement from which it was separated by an iron fence and double gates. Large maple trees shaded the yard and the front of the building. Although a second entrance was made later (1917), there was a time a single front entrance reached by a half-dozen brownstone steps. In front of the school was the traditional carriage block and gas lamp with a small letterbox fixed to the post. The building had three stories and a basement--half of which was above the pavement level and a mansard. It was built of red brick with brownstone trimming.
In June of that year, taking up an option to buy this building using borrowed money, George Washington University established itself in Foggy Bottom. The University placed the entire Department of Arts and Sciences, as well as all the administrative offices, with the exception of the treasurer's office into this building. The University rented a large building at 2024 G Street to house the treasurer and his small staff, using the second and third floor for additional classrooms and sororities. The proximity of Quigley's Pharmacy at the southeast corner of 21st and G Streets was fortuitous since Lucien Quigley, a graduate of Columbian College in 1890, was sympathetic to the students and permitted his establishment to be used as the University's "real social center."
The 1912 purchase of 2023 G Street began a new era for the University. Forced into choosing a new location and spurred by the advice of newly elected trustee Maxwell Woodhull, the Board of Trustees recognized the wisdom of locating here. 2023 G Street was on the western edge of the West End. That neighborhood had once served as the home of many highly-placed military, naval and governmental personnel, but the growing fashionable nature of the upper northwest had caused the grand houses that lined F and G Street to lose their appeal. The decline was further emphasized by the thriving industrial atmosphere of turn-of-the-century Foggy Bottom to the west. While the area no longer could meet high standards of residential fashion nor demand high real estate prices, it possessed the ultimate desirability of being close to the White House. In Foggy Bottom/West End, the University could develop a well-located campus without major expense, as long as it was willing to be patient.