The Riggs Bank Building, completed in 1901, has been one of the city's most prestigious financial institutions. Riggs has gained a symbolic status as the bank of official Washington, due to its proximity to the White House and the Treasury Department. Most presidents have even maintained an account or two here.
The bank lent $500,000 to army contractors in the first year alone of the Civil War. So powerful was the firm that the Riggs president even kept a desk in the main Treasury Building. Later banking reform under the Wilson Administration forced the company to state in its own building across the street.
Riggs Bank and its neighbor the American Security Site, stand at a site previously occupied by two buildings: the W.W. Corcoran Office Building, and the Branch Bank of the United States. Riggs Bank made its earlier home at the Branch Bank Building. It was here that President Lincoln deposited his pay during the Civil War. Later tenants of the buildings included the Chicago Times-Herald and the Chicago Evening Post. The buildings were torn down in the early 1900s and replaced with their current tenants.
Constructed in 1820, this was the home to Dolley Madison, after her husband died in 1836. The former first lady acquired the house from her brother-in-law Richard Cutts to settle a debt owed to her husband's estate. Later, it was the home to Charles Wilkes, who led the United States expedition that charted the Pacific and identified Antarctica. The house was also the headquarters of General George B. McClellan during the Civil War. In 1878 the Cosmos Club was organized here. Later, it served as an early headquarters of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Another near-slaying occurred within the house itself on April 14, 1865. William Sward, Lincoln's Secretary of State, was attacked in his bed by Lewis Payne, one of John Wilkes Booth's co-conspirators, while Both was assassinating President Lincoln at Ford's Theater. Seward had been bedridden from a carriage accident when Payne tried to slit his throat. Fortunately, the neck brace Seward was wearing saved him. Seward's son, awakened during the commotion, came to his father's aid. Legend has it that the young man was in fact roused by the ghost of Philip Barton Key who wished to avert another murder in the house. Seward survived and two years later, negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million (called "Seward's Folly" at the time).
The house was demolished in 1895 to make way for the Lafayette Square Opera House, later called the Belasco Theater. It was here at the Belasco that Helen Hayes made her debut. During World War II, it was the famous Stage Door Canteen, visited by more than 2 million servicemen. In the Korean War, it was the USO Lafayette Square Club. In 1964, the mansion-theater-turned-nightclub was destroyed by the federal government to make way for the completion of the U.S. Court of Claims.
This three-story house was built by Benjamin Ogle Tayloe and later was the home of Senator Don Cameron of Pennsylvania. During the McKinley Administration, it was referred to as the "Little White House" when it was the home to Senator Mark Hanna, McKinley's principal advisor.
This was once the site of the Freeman's Savings Bank, erected in 1869, as the headquarters of a banking system set up for blacks after the Civil War. Unfortunately, despite abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass's best efforts, the Depression of 1873 led the institution to fail in 1874. Thousands of blacks, who had been working to create new lives form themselves, lost all of their savings.
The building was purchased in 1882 as office space, before being razed in 1899 to make way for the Treasury Department Annex. A plaque at the Madison Place entrance describes the site's importance as a black history landmark.
Sites on the North side of Lafayette Park