Room 274, the Secretary of the Navy’s office in Washington’s huge Old Executive Office Building (known as the OEOB), has seen much change, although its architectural inspiration in the style of the French Second Empire remains apparent. The building, close by the White House, originally housed the departments of State, War, and the Navy in its 553 rooms. Nearly seventeen years in the making, it was completed in 1888.
The photograph below, taken about 1912, reveals a lived-in look that has helped obscure the finely stenciled walls and expanse of floor—an intricate mosaic of mahogany, maple, and cherry. But that is nothing compared with its 1960s state, as seen in the small photo opposite. The departments had long been housed elsewhere, and the OEOB had become an annex for White House staff. It is a place of almost perfect sterility—stripped of all riches except the overmantel.
These days the news is better, as the most recent picture shows. Now the Vice-President’s ceremonial office, Room 274 has benefited from a fiveyear rehabilitation effort throughout the building. According to David Kemnitzer, the architect responsible for this area, renovation has meant replication where necessary, has involved a search for original paint pigments, and has demanded that the skills of today’s artisans match those of the first ones. The result restores full honor to a room that Josephus Daniels, Secretary of the Navy during World War I, called the most beautiful not only in Washington but in the entire world.