News & Politics

Trump Continues One-Man War on Washington’s Columns at Building Museum

Photograph by Flickr user Ted Eytan.

President Trump got on stage at the National Building Museum for a Republican Party fundraiser Tuesday night, and immediately jumped into one of his most comfortable subject areas: architecture criticism.

“This is a hell of a big room, eh,” Trump said. “That’s far back. Can you see over there? See, I would’ve gotten rid of these columns.”

Trump was referring to one or more of the eight Corinthian pillars in the museum’s soaring Great Hall. And despite their alleged blocking of the President’s view of last night’s donors, the Building Museum’s columns are held in special regard, and not just because they’re propping up the roof.

The columns date back to the Building Museum’s origins as the headquarters for the Bureau of Pensions. The Renaissance Revival structure was opened in 1887 as the main office for the agency responsible for making lifetime payments to the country’s military veterans. Among the design elements created by Montgomery C. Miegs, then the US Quartermaster General, were a 1,200-foot frieze that wraps around the exterior, a presidential seal embossed on the atrium’s floor, and—yes—those 75-foot-tall Corinthian beams, which rank as the world’s tallest classically designed interior columns.

Although Tuesday’s event will generate more buzz for the $30 million Trump helped raise for the National Republican Congressional Committee, it was not the first time he has been critical of columns as interior elements of Washington buildings. His January 21 speech at CIA headquarters in Langley also began with column-bashing. “We may have to get you a larger room,” Trump said, standing in front of the Memorial Wall that stands in the agency’s lobby, which is supported by modern, squared-off pillars. “And maybe, maybe, it’ll be built by someone who knows how to build and we won’t have columns. We get rid of the columns.”

Where Trump developed this grudge against columns is anyone’s guess. His own record on them is mixed. Among the flourishes in his New York apartment are floor-to-ceiling Corinthian columns topped with gold-embossed capital sculptures. And as President, he currently resides in an 1801 Neoclassical mansion that features 12 Ionic columns on its north portico and another six on its south side.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.