WASHINGTON — The Navy Annex was never intended to last long or, for that matter, to house human beings. The 1-million-square-foot complex, perched on a hill in Arlington County, Virginia, overlooking the Pentagon, was designed as a temporary warehouse but pressed by wartime needs into service as offices for the Navy and Marine Corps.
Seven decades later, including more than 50 years as Marine Corps headquarters, the Navy Annex is coming down. Demolition crews are gutting the interior and, late last month, began tearing down its exterior walls. The 42-acre site is to be turned over to neighboring Arlington National Cemetery for grave sites.
The demise of the Navy Annex, built quickly in 1941 on the eve of nation’s entry into World War II, sheds light on a curious subspecies of Washington area structures: the temporary government office building.
Even by Washington temporary standards, the annex had a long life. The infamous Munitions and Main Navy buildings, enormous and ugly industrial-style buildings constructed during World War I on the Mall between the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument, were supposed to be torn down when the Great War ended but instead were not demolished until the Nixon administration.
On Nov. 8, 1941, the Marine Corps moved its headquarters into the new annex. One month later, after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the annex became the post from which the Corps directed Marines through the Pacific.