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Inside the CIA: The Architecture, Art and Atmosphere of America's Premier Intelligence Agency

Information from the book, Inside the CIA, about the agency's headquarters from its earliest days to its current campus in Langley, Virginia.

The Central Intelligence Agency observed its golden anniversary on September 18, 1997. President Harry S. Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947 on July 26 of that year. The Act established the Central Intelligence Agency, the CIA, to replace the postwar Central Intelligence Group. Nearly two months later, on September 18, 1947, the new CIA came into existence.

Headquarters of the CIA in 1947 was at 2430 E Street, NW in downtown Washington. It was close to its main customer, the President, being about seven blocks west of the White House. The headquarters was a bit closer to the Department of State, and about two miles north up the Potomac River from the Pentagon.

The headquarters buildings were inside the campus of the U.S. Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. Other buildings in downtown Washington housed many of the Agency’s staff of that time.

The buildings that made up the CIA headquarters were a mixture of older permanent structures built in the 1920s and 1930s and temporary office buildings (“tempos”) hastily constructed during World War II. They bore names such as Central, Building 7, and Building Q. One was dubbed “The Kremlin” by its denizens.

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As its missions expanded and population grew in numbers, the CIA’s needs for office space kept pace. The requirement to operate from the Agency buildings downtown and the many leased office sites in DC, Maryland, and Virginia created coordination problems and time lost in people shuttling among them. By 1954, it was clear that consolidation was in order.

Accordingly, CIA Director Allen W. Dulles (February 1953-November 1961) sought legislation authorizing and appropriating funds for construction of a CIA Headquarters Building. Congress passed the legislation, and on August 4, 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed it.

Langley, Virginia was chosen as the site for the new headquarters. The Federal government had title to the land, on which stood the Fairbank Highway Research Station, a rather grand title for a small office of the Federal Highway Administration.

President Eisenhower presided at laying of the cornerstone on Election Day, November 3, 1959.

President Eisenhower laid the mortar for the cornerstone, wielding the trowel with gusto in his right hand to pick up a generous dollop of mortar for the purpose. The cornerstone, suspended a few inches above, was gently lowered into position. At that moment, the new CIA headquarters became reality.