Behind the Design: National Press Club

Photo courtesy of
‘National Press Club #27′
courtesy of ‘Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie’

The National Press Club, rich in historical context and paramount in its mission, is best-known as a retreat for the affiliates within the journalism industry. As a Washington, D.C. fixture, the feeling evoked upon entrance into the Club could best be compared to the dilemma that a young child may face as they enter the formal living room of the home – you are in complete awe of its presence and utterly afraid of breaking something, yet, somehow still manage to want to touch everything in sight.

The good thing is that what differs between this presented scenario and that of my first visit to the National Press Club, is that at the Club exploration is not only encouraged – it is celebrated.

The National Press Club was established in 1908 by thirty-two newspapermen with the goal to, “promote social enjoyment…cultivate literary taste…encourage friendly intercourse…aid members in distress…and to foster the ethical standards of the profession.” Over 100 years later, the founding creed of the establishment still stands true.

Photo courtesy of
‘National Press Club #13′
courtesy of ‘Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie’

By 1925, the National Press Club was ready to create a stable headquarters for its members, and the backdrop of the then-famous Ebbitt Hotel on the Southeast corner of 14th and F Streets, NW seemed to be the perfect fit. After some conciliation (the Ebbitt Hotel was offered the Albee Building, which was the location of the Club’s earlier home), supplementary funding requirements (the Club would also house a Fox theater), and the addition of eight more floors to the original structure (after a congressional and city-wide mandate was passed allowing the envelope to surpass the height limit restriction established by the Height of Buildings Act of 1910) – the National Press Building officially opened in 1927. The National Press Club found a cushy new home on the building’s 13th and 14th floor and still continues to thrive in this very same location today.

The National Press Building received a bit of an update in the form of a renovation in 1985; changes that would provide an entirely new facade to the building without compromising its distinguished charm. This same, notable character would later greet me upon my first visit to the National Press Club.

Photo courtesy of
‘National Press Club #37′
courtesy of ‘Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie’

The atmosphere at the National Press Club is utterly authentic – providing a stately feel that can be appreciated by all, from the oldest Golden Owl to the youngest inductee. The conservative setting, which is synonymous for the city, still seems to be the preferred ‘look’ for the D.C. movers and shakers (and yes, this can definitely be argued) and most appropriate for many of the Club’s visiting dignitaries, scholars, and entertainers. So what may seem to be visibly dated and in great need of improvement (I am talking about the blue carpet), might actually be an intentional and somewhat smart design choice.

Photo courtesy of
‘National Press Club #2′
courtesy of ‘Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie’

The walls of the National Press Club are saturated with history; literally. In the two-story grand foyer, walls are covered in newspaper mats that record some of the most recognized headlines of all time. I swear that if you put your ears onto the wall and took the time to listen closely enough you may actually hear these great news stories as they had unfold. And, as if these beautiful, terracotta-colored pieces of art were not already incredible in their own right, place them in conjunction with intricately detailed cornices, a fascinating chandelier, floor-to-ceiling mahogany paneling, and a whole lot of marble – now, nobody will ever want to leave this place.

Photo courtesy of
‘National Press Club #58′
courtesy of ‘Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie’

The 13th floor of the National Press Club is open to the public and serves as premier venue for many social events. The First Amendment Lounge, which was once an outdoor patio but is now fully-enclosed, provides expansive views of 14th Street, NW and the National Monument. The ceiling mounted luminaries in this room resemble complex, glass mason jars and are easily one of my favorite design fixtures in the entire Club. A rich-toned, historically accurate bar, which was once the location of the Club’s Ladies Lounge, now serves as a node along the passageway into the Holeman Lounge.

Photo courtesy of
‘National Press Club #9′
courtesy of ‘Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie’

The Holeman Lounge, named after the Club’s president in 1959, used to take up two stories with the existence of a balcony. However, the once prominent gallery has, unfortunately, since turned into prime real estate for the Club (i.e. it is now office space). The focal point of this room may have intended to be the adorned fireplace, which has been conserved and remains almost identical to what it had once looked like, but I would argue that it is the original crown molding and leather medallions with the Club’s crest that are truly the most visually inspiring.

Photo courtesy of
‘National Press Club #67′
courtesy of ‘Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie’

In the Ballroom, it is easily all about the ceiling. The spectacular plane serves two critical purposes; first, it provides unique acoustical properties for a press event venue by cancelling out background noise, and second, it makes an extremely spacious room seem more inviting.

Photo courtesy of
‘National Press Club #16′
courtesy of ‘Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie’

The Fourth Estate Winners Room and the Fourth Estate Restaurant are by far my favorite spaces (in addition to the grand foyer) in the National Press Club. Not because they are the most recently updated spaces, but as a result of the modernization’s ability to seamlessly fuse the old with the new. I also hear that the Fourth Estate Restaurant has some incredible food; Susan Delbert is the Executive Chef, so if the design of the space does not peak your interest then perhaps the subseqent grumble in your stomach will.

Photo courtesy of
‘National Press Club #25′
courtesy of ‘Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie’

Although I did get the unique opportunity on my visit to tour the 14th floor, which is only open to members and their guests, no visual documentation of this experience exists because of the no photography on the members only floor rule. However, I can tell you that the Reliable Source Bar and Grill, which is home to the very first liquor license in D.C., and the Truman Lounge, where the famous photograph of Lauren Bacall on President Truman’s piano was once taken, are truly as remarkable as they sound.

Photo courtesy of
‘National Press Club #22′
courtesy of ‘Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie’

I shamefully admit that the National Press Club had never previously been on my radar – beyond that I was aware of its existence. Yet, somehow completely enamored by its historical splendor, I have since happily added the Club to my list of noteworthy designs in the District.

The National Press Club is located at 529 14th Street, NW, and the National Press Building happens to have its very own zip code – 20045.

See more photographs of the National Press Club taken exclusively for We Love DC.

Samantha can often be found daydreaming by the Rothkos of the East Gallery, sketching store facades along 14th, and snapping photos with her vintage polaroid at 9:30 club concerts. Since moving to DC in 2007 to get an MFA in Interior Design, her eyes can’t seem to be peeled away from the beautiful things in this city. Send any visual art, architecture, or design related news her way via Samantha (at) WeLoveDC.com

5 thoughts on “Behind the Design: National Press Club

  1. Very nice write-up Samantha.

    It’s also fun to grab a bite to eat at the bakery there at the corner, and look at the photos hanging on the wall of famous journalists.

    Well, maybe it’s just me and my nostalgia for the old guard…

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  4. Terrific article. As a long time member of the Club, I want everyone to know that the Fourth Estate restaurant is open to the public and a great place to eat!