National Mall's oldest building on the move as Constitution Gardens overhaul kicks off

Sara Gilgore

You’ve seen the Lockkeeper’s House. The small stone structure at the corner of Constitution Avenue and 17th Street NW is the oldest on the National Mall.

And it’s about to move.

The Trust for the National Mall, in partnership with the National Park Service, broke ground Thursday on the Constitution Gardens rehabilitation, a two-phase project that starts with the relocation of this historic home for the second time in its 180-year life.

“It’s a crucial restoration to enliven this underutilized area,” said real estate developer Chip Akridge, who founded the trust in 2007.

The building, which has been vacant for years, will be moved about 18 feet away from the heavily-trafficked intersection, renovated and transformed into an education center and entry point to the National Mall. The repurposed space will include interactive exhibits and programming, a donor recognition area and an outside plaza with information for visitors. The structure itself will see construction of a new brick chimney, and the painting and repairing of the original stone.

The Lockkeeper’s House was built in the 1830s and originally sat at the connection of the C&O Canal and Washington City Canal (only a few feet south of where it is today), before they were dredged and filled in. Lockkeeper John Moore lived and worked in the structure, where he collected tolls, kept trade records and operated the canal gate. It was “an entry-point of commerce” and “the beginning of the civic engagement of Washington, D.C.,” trust President Catherine Townsend told me. This project aims to preserve the history of this landmark.

The kickoff of this first phase, an $11 million project slated to be completed by November 2017, marks the beginning of the trust’s Constitution Gardens project. The second phase, estimated to cost $130 million, will involve the restoration of its 38 acres, landscape improvements, a pavilion and lake. Moving forward with design, engineering plans and construction of the second phase is dependent on the trust raising more money, according to Jeffrey Ajluni, the trust's chief commercial officer.