GSA’s Role in Preserving the Past

Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House

In recognition of the fact that May is National Preservation Month, we’re taking a brief look at GSA’s historic preservation efforts. More than a quarter of the 1,600 buildings owned by GSA, containing more than 60 million square feet of space, are listed in or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places (the nation’s listing of historic properties); most (85 percent) were constructed between 1900 and 1941. GSA’s public building legacy includes border stations, courthouses, custom houses, post offices and federal agency offices throughout the United States and its territories. Nearly half (227) of GSA’s historic buildings are monumental structures designed to serve a symbolic and ceremonial—as well as functional—purpose. These Greek Revival, Second Empire, Romanesque Revival, Beaux Arts, Art Deco and Neoclassical buildings symbolize the permanence and stature of the federal government. GSA also leases space in 85 historic buildings.

The agency’s historic preservation program “provides technical and strategic expertise to promote the viability, reuse, and integrity of historic buildings GSA owns, leases, and has the opportunity to acquire.” Its Center for Historic Buildings “provides national leadership for compliance with the spirit and substance of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and other stewardship efforts.” The center works to develop innovative prototype design solutions, building investment strategies and other tools to help GSA staff and contractors preserve and upgrade historic properties in a cost-effective manner.

GSA has long been involved in many of the following historic preservation efforts:

  • Developing a national database identifying GSA historic properties, including information on material conditions and preservation guidance;
  • Creating a strategy for keeping historic buildings viable, including identifying and implementing ways to accommodate tenant needs within a preservation framework;
  • Leasing underutilized federally owned historic buildings to the private sector, renting out ceremonial spaces in federal structures for special events and leasing privately owned historic structures for federal use; and
  • When appropriate, selling or otherwise transferring ownership of historic buildings no longer needed for federal use to other entities better able to preserve them while maintaining public access.

GSA invested a substantial amount (40 percent) of its American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funding in work on 150 historic buildings, appropriating a total of $1.665 billion for that purpose. For more on GSA’s commitment to historic preservation—including its searchable database of historic buildings and detailed histories of many of these structures. If you’re interested in learning even more about GSA’s recent stewardship efforts, see the agency’s 2011 Extending the Legacy report.