Friday, January 15, 2010

Five Sides For Fighting

Magnet # 143: Pentagon Photo

Material: Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By: Dad

It was on this day in 1943 that the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia was dedicated. It was the largest office building ever created, and its five-sided design was completely unique. And the timing couldn't have been better - with the country at war with the Axis forces, the Department of War needed every advantage it could get.

A great deal of debate went into the creation of this building that would no doubt see an even greater deal of debate within its walls. In the late 1930s and early 40s, the War Department was spread all over the Washington D.C. area with over a dozen buildings - some were as far as Maryland and Virginia. The Secretary of War at that time, Henry Stimson, was fed up with the situation and wanted one to consolidate all of the divisions in one building. He and his construction chief, General Brehon Somervell, agreed that it should hold around 40,000 people and have parking space for about 10,000 cars. However, they did not want to build a skyscraper that would obstruct views in the nation's capitol and needed to use as little steel as possible, so they set a four-story limit for the building.  This meant it would have to be a massive structure.  Clearly, Washington D.C. was not large enough to accommodate such a space, so their attentions soon turned to Arlington, Virginia, just across the Potomac River.  The recently closed Washington Hoover Airport seemed like a good choice for the site, but some were concerned about flooding in the low-lying land.  Soon, Arlington Farm was settled upon.  It had an unusual shape to the land, so the architects involved in the project developed plans for a five sided building to make the best use of the pentagon shaped tract.  But when others in Washington D.C. learned of these plans, they were horrified.  Arlington Farm was adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery, and it offered some of the most picturesque views of the capitol.  Besieged by protests, President Franklin Roosevelt intervened and moved the site south, closer to the former Washington Hoover Airport.  But the arguing wasn't over yet.  The building itself remained a hot topic.  Those behind the project intended to keep the pentagon shape, although it would now be symmetrical, as the tract of land had changed.  And they had designed a five-story structure with two below-ground levels.  They held that the shape would make it easier for workers to walk from one end to the other if they could simply cut through the central plaza.  And, as military men, they liked that it resembled old forts like Fort Sumter, where the Civil War broke out.  But some thought it was too large, and for a time the President did, too.  He preferred the idea of a solid, square building.  But when the time came for Roosevelt to make the final decision, he went with the pentagon design, explaining that it was the first of its kind, and he liked that.  It's hard to know if this building of this scale would have ever been approved in another time.  With Nazi Germany laying siege to Europe and Asia, leaders in the United States were in a state of uneasy trepidation over their future.  And when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, completion of the building became even more critical.  Fortunately, the Department of War was able to utilize the Pentagon before World War II came to an end.

Nowadays, the Pentagon houses the Department of Defense, not the Department of War. It's still the largest office building in the world, and around 26,000 people work there. Luckily, there have been changes made so that they can dine-in. There is now a food court and workers can choose from fast food eateries as diverse as Dunkin' Donuts, Subway, Taco Bell, Sbarro, and Panda Express. And the Pentagon also has a fitness center if they overindulge in the fast food. Of course, there's also an indoor memorial and chapel that were constructed where American Airlines Flight 77 hit the building on September 11, 2001. Oddly enough, in 1941, September 11 was also the day that contracts were finalized with the builders and ground was broken to begin the Pentagon.  If you're curious to see that site, as well as other parts of this famous structure, you're in luck.  Tours of the Pentagon began in 1976 to celebrate the nation's Bicentennial, and although security has tightened since the attack, the public can still visit it - just be sure to call ahead if you'd like to see this one-of-a-kind structure for yourself.

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