The WHCA Shop in Georgetown
Type Of Activity
3248 M St NW Georgetown
Date of Activity
1965 to 1976
A little history of The “WHCA Shop” in Georgetown:
For over a decade from 1965 to 1976, the WHCA base of operations resided at 3248 M St NW in Georgetown. A plain unmarked building it contained all of the logistical elements necessary to support the President and Vice President providing communications for all domestic and international travel.
Parts of the structure located on M Street predate 1838 when it was used as a tobacco warehouse that opened up directly onto the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. In the 1850s, the building was purchased by John E. Reeside and Gilbert Vanderwerken and converted into stables for their omnibus line. The building continued to be used as stables for the first horse car line, the Washington and Georgetown Railroad. It was later converted into a machine shop for streetcars. The parts of the building that face the canal and the facade of the M Street entrance remain from those earlier periods. After the demise of Washington's streetcars in 1962, the building served as the United States Defense Communications Annex E before being converted to WHCA’s base of operations in 1964.
I received my orders after I graduated Microwave repair school at Ft Monmouth to report to a street address in Washington D.C. in Nov of 1965. I loaded my family in the car and headed to my new assignment in WHCA. When I arrived in Washington, I tried to locate the address, not knowing the city I made several wrong turns and ended up in VA, several times so we decided to stop and get something to eat. Luckily, I had a contact number for MSG Joe Terrian, I called him, and he informed me that they had moved to a location in Georgetown, and Ft Monmouth gave me the wrong address. The old building had been razed and all that was left was a hole in the ground. Now I had passed that hole in the ground at least a half a dozen times that morning. The old location was located at 26th Street and D Street NW. This is where WHCA had occupied a building that was in the Olde Heurich Brewing Company in Foggy Bottom. The brewery buildings were razed to make room for the new Kennedy Center which occupies that space today, the old shop moved from 26th St in May 1965. It had been DC transits street car repair shop, a monstrous old facility. GSA rented it from O. Roy Chalk, gutted it and remodeled it. The new location fronted on M St with two entrances one was WHCA personnel and the second was a non affiliated DCA office that had had no access to the rest of the building. MSG Joe Terrian gave me WHCA's official address which was 3248 M Street NW. It was an unmarked white front building with no columns but having a few steps that went up to a black door. Behind that door was an iron security gate.
|3248 M St NW entrance 2017|
The windows on the left of the front door was the Drafting and Reproduction Branch. The windows to the right was DCAU commander's office. Both on the first floor. Personnel was just inside the entrance way. The indoor parking garage was behind Personnel and the Photo Lab was located to the rear of the indoor parking garage on the backside of the building closest to the C and O Canal side.
WHCA’s Audio-Visual Branch stored all of their travel equipment at the shop on M Street. Everyone in the group had their own specific set of equipment... audio mixer, multiple for media feeds, tape recorders, mics and cables. Each individual was responsible to make sure everything was in working order in case of instant travel. The AV Group had their own maintenance shop at M Street where they maintained all the AV gear and stored all the trip packages there.
WHCA’s Wisconsin Ave entrance in 1974
The Wisconsin St entrance was the main access for all vehicles. As you entered on the left was the Fabrication and Carpenter Shop in a separate building which sat between the Wisconsin Ave entrance and exit gates. The machine shop was adjacent in the main building there was an incinerator outside the carpenter shop for classified burns...that caused some outside interest on occasion, also along the entry drive was a big diesel generator for emergency Power.
As you entered the facility and the Parking garage you immediately saw the WHCA dispatcher who monitored all incoming traffic and access to the parking garage. The call sign for the M Street dispatcher was Checkmate. The Transportation Group also had motor pool was equipped with a lift and a car wash facility. Transportation was responsible for the maintenance of all the WHCA vehicles including the rented station wagons from a civilian contractor and WHCA own trucks and Van's, the rented Chevy Kingswood wagons were eventually replaced with GSA supplied Ford wagons.
On the right was the entrance to the Radio and TV shops. These two groups maintained and repaired all of the Motorola radio Equipment(base stations and hand held units) HF /SSB radios as well as associated radio and paging consoles, all TV’s were also maintained in this area.
Material and Supply and was located between the Electronics Shop and Budget/Accounting who had a small office located between supply and WHCA Dispatch.
The Comm Center or 13a group had a secure office and crypto vault on the first floor, behind Transportation.
Crown Radio was located at the "M" street shop on the Second floor above the radio shop and wood shop. Access to the second floor was by using an outside stairway to the right of the driveway off Wisconsin Ave.
Crown Radio had two consoles one was the DC FM network. The other one was for the Nationwide System (E/F), and secure voice All of WHCA and USSS FM locations in the Washington DC area terminated there, as well as the Echo/Fox Nationwide air-to-ground Communications for AF1. That was the old E/F console built by Mario Lilla. It was operated from there until Crown Radio moved to the OEOB shortly after the new WECO 608 was cut into service there.
In the basement there was an underground storage vault below the radio shop which belonged to 13A. One nice feature at M Street was the basement barroom where we had our Friday afternoon off-duty beer call -- the most recently promoted guys bought the beer, there were many attitudes adjusted there. The Technical Library was also located in the basement behind the Keg.
In the five years that I was assigned to Camp David I was sent on roughly forty trips where I left from the shop. All of the equipment needed for every trip was staged at the shop, loaded on box trucks if needed or in the back of station wagon on smaller trips and all personnel would be provided transportation to the various D.C. Airports for departure. Upon the return from all trips and from all groups the equipment would be sent to the shop to test and or repair would be staged for the next trip.
The current store that occupies that spot where the door was located is "H & M". It cannot be verified if the white trim around the doorway of H & M is a reproduction or a real artifact of the facade of the entryway to The M Street door of WHCA. I do not know who had it before them, and maybe it was "Victoria's Secret". Part of the movie "True Lies" with Arnold Schwarzenegger and "No Way Out" with Kevin Costner were filmed in parts of the mall. Arnold may have crashed through the window of Victoria's Secret in the movie.
I remember the stories of the WHCA shop as being a secret CIA HQ where it was found out by a local Georgetown rag in the late 60s-early 70s.
The people that worked in Riggs Bank was saying that our paychecks were coming from different parts of the country which was true. Air Force had paychecks from Randolph AFB in Texas, Army checks were coming from Indianapolis, and Navy was from another place. They saw license plates of our POV's from states around the country going into the shop through one gate and then coming out in government cars from the other gate with radio antennas on them. They saw all the antennas fencing on the roof of the building and cameras and speakers down on the street level at all the buildings entrances/exits. WHCA personnel going into a warehouse type of building with suits and ties seemed out of place for this Georgetown location.
The WHCA building and the one the CIA had were leased
to the government by the same firm.
|The Exorcist Stairs|
In the early 1970’s the decision was made to move the shop to a more secure location in Anacostia. Over a period of time a phased move was coordinated to relocate all Groups and Departments to their new location. When WHCA vacated the location that was the “shop” in Georgetown the building was totally remodeled and was turned into a a very upscale mall, the Georgetown Park Mall now occupies the space on M St.
|Georgetown Park Mall M St Entrance|
This is the inside of Georgetown Park today, on the same level which all the cars parked, the WHCA dispatcher, besides some of the offices at the WHCA facility at 3248 M Street.
|First floor interior of the Georgetown Park Mall|
|Wisconsin Ave Entrance Today|
The shop was a drab place in the late sixties, unlike today's decor. It was in a good spot, though -- right across from Blues Alley and just down the street from Mister Henry's, the Cellar Door and other late-night fun spots. Henry Kissinger used to take his movie-star girlfriends for dinner at the Rive Gauche restaurant next door. Here is a picture of the inside of Rive Gauche where President Ford also ate a couple of times.
|Rive Gauche Restaurant|
I enjoyed working at the Georgetown location before it was all moved to Anacostia.
DCAU started moving to Anacostia in the early 70's. There was Bldg. 94 which held Personnel, Material and Supply, and maybe a few other Offices.
|WHCA location at Anacostia mid 70’s|
There was a building Bldg. 47 which was a converted double hanger. Electronics Branch was on the ground floor and The Photo Lab occupied the entire 2nd floor. The Photo Lab was one of the last groups to leave the M Street complex.
Between Bldg. 47 and Bldg. 94 was a single hanger type building that Transportation occupied. Building 91, became WHCA's Training Center. If you go back in WHCA far enough, you'll remember that was the old HMX-1 facility before WHCA obtained it and turned it into today’s training center. M street was closed when they finished the remodel of the hanger next to Bldg. 94 about 1976.
|The Agency moved into Building 399 in 1991.|
Construction of the Col George J McNally building was completed in 1991 and became the permanent home of The White House Communications Agency (WHCA).
|Location of WHCA HQ’s building in Anacostia|
Rear entrance to the WHCA facility building 399