After laying the cornerstone in November 1923, construction on the George Washington Masonic National Memorial proceeded slowly. To ensure that climatic conditions were acceptable — anticipating the inevitable freezing and thaw that is routine in Alexandria — the massive building project stopped each winter and resumed the following spring.
By 1925, as seen in this photograph taken around that time, construction on the second-floor memorial hall had begun and preparations were made to begin erection of the tower above.
Sixteen marble columns were installed to support the auditorium roof. Once they were set up, a massive, five-story jack arch was constructed above the structure to raise it skyward. The jack arch was held in place by an extensive system of guide wires and structural supports put in across the site.
By 1927 the lower roof covering the lower floors of the structure had been completed of poured concrete and was believed to be the largest concrete roof ever constructed. The scale and enormity of the project overwhelmed Alexandrians: Massive amounts of marble, stone, concrete and rebar were delivered daily to Alexandria Union Station.
Building materials for the structure were delivered from across the United States, apparently aided by cooperation from the Southern Railway System, as promoted on the sign announcing construction of the memorial on the lower-left side of the photo. Interestingly, the sign highlights the verticality of what would become Alexandria’s tallest structure at the time, with the image of the building’s tower projecting well above the rectangular, two-dimensional limits of the billboard.
While construction of the tower proceeded in the late 1920s, fabrication of interior artistic elements, exterior terracing and landscaping continued as well. Although donations to the project kept pace with expenses, national fundraising continued throughout the nearly 10-year period of development.
In next week’s column, the project is completed just in time for George Washington’s 200th birthday.
Out of the Attic is provided by the Office of Historic Alexandria.