Located on the Downtown East Side, the Pension Building has had a long and interesting history. This building was solely erected in order to serve the needs of Union veterans after the end of the Civil War. Congress decided to pass laws, which greatly expanded the eligibility for pensions of the wounded, maimed, widows, and orphans of that particular war.
Designed by army engineer and architect Montgomery Meigns, the Pension Building was planned to provide a natural air-conditioned environment for the employees of the building and a circulation system which was easily accessible to its users, who were many times disabled. The design was finished in 1881, with visions of a massive structure, which would be constructed in 1882 and 1887 of 15.5 million inexpensive bricks in contrast to the vastly expensive and ornate State, War, and Navy Building. Meigns wanted the building to have an eclectic mixture of Renaissance palaces, fortified city houses into which families could retreat during times of war.
The Pension Building's elevation of its courtyard is two levels which with arches outlined by simple, narrow moldings carried by slender columns. This was based on Danato Bramente's Roman Palazzo della Cancelleria.
All of the Pension Building's decorative elements mark it as a monument to acclaim the victorious Union Army of the Civil War. Meigns decided to name the four gates, which makes an additional allusion to fortification. The northern gate is called the Gate of Invalids, which presides over Justice.The southern gate is called the Gate of the Infantry, which is looked over by truth. As for the eastern gate known as the Naval Gate, it is protected by the god of War, Mars. Finally, the west Gate of the Quartermaster is the watched over by the Greek goddess of wisdom, Minerva also known as Athena in Roman mythology. There is also a belt course of crossed swords between the second and third stories which Meign used to reinforce the military character of the building.
A man by the name of Buberl was responsible for the building's most meaningful and spectacular feature, which is the 1,200-foot frieze dividing the ground story and the main level. The Boston Terra Cotta Company made the 3-foot tall bisque terracotta panels. All along this terra cotta are pictures of cavalry, artillery, infantry, navy and quartermaster's corps which are shown in their characteristic dress and pose.
In 1984, extensive renovations helped to make the Pension building's structure
1. Scott, Pamela, Lee, Antoinette J., Society of Architectural Historians: Buildings of the United States: Buildings of the District of Columbia, New York, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1993