For the past 40 years, the Lockkeeper's House at Constitution Avenue and 17th Street NW has been locked to the public.
Built in the 1830s, it's the oldest structure on the National Mall, located at what once was the eastern end of the C & O Canal. Since then, it's served many purposes, from the headquarters for the Park Police to a public restroom for Mall visitors. And for the past four decades, it's sat unused, falling into disrepair.
But now with a $1 million gift from American Express, the National Park Service and Trust for the National Mall will restore the building and reopen it to the public.
The project is part of an effort to revitalize the oft-overlooked Constitution Gardens, said Bob Vogel, superintendent of National Mall and Memorial Parks. "Our goal is to transform Constitution Gardens," Caroline Cunningham, president of the Trust for the National, said, adding that they hope the Lockkeeper's House will serve as a gateway.
The Locckeeper's House — where a Lockkeeper once collected tolls and kept records — will be moved several feet away from the Constitution Avenue NW, to make it accessible to the public from both entrances. (It's been moved twice before, Vogel said.) As Cunningham pointed out, the front door is just five feet away from the busy street. The project will break ground in summer 2015 and is scheduled to reopen in August 2016, to serve as a gift from the Trust to the National Park Service to mark its 100th anniversary.
The programming that will be offered inside the building is currently being designed, as is the final design for the House. With only 250 square feet on the first level, the options are somewhat limited.
"It has to be restored," Cunningham said from inside the building, which is currently home to dead birds, broken toilets and chipping paint, "[to be] able to show people what was the center of commerce in the city in the 1830s. ... Having this shuttered on the National Mall is really not a representation of the pride we feel about our country."
"Most people have no idea that it exists," Timothy McClimon, president of the American Express Foundation, said. "It really is a very important part of the history of Washington, D.C. and this area."