Past and Present: Latrobe Gate, Washington Navy Yard

If you are driving down 8th street near the Eastern Market and Barracks Row neighborhood of SE DC, you reach a dead end at its intersection with M street, one of the city’s main transportation arteries. Directly forward of that intersection is the Latrobe Gate at the Washington Navy Yard, one of the most historic pieces of architecture in the city. The gated structure is named after its designer, architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe. Latrobe is most famous for conceptualizing the United States Capitol.

The Navy Yard itself inside the walls of the gate is a shell of its former self. Originally built in 1799 Much of the land in the 19th and 20th centuries swallowed by gentrified industry, corporations, and of course, baseball. It is Latrobe Gate that stands firm as a testament to the city’s stunning classic/Greek revival design.

The gate was designed by Latrobe in 1804 and constructed two years later. The double gateway is connected north and south by facades built four feet apart and connected by a double colonnade and hipped roof. The detail and craftsmanship is still stunning today, even with its long history of alterations beginning in 1823. It is one of the few structures to survive the burning of the Washington Navy Yard by the British in 1814.

Although the gate originally served as the Navy Yard’s main/ceremonial entrance, it now takes someone of an upper echelon flag rank to pass through it. If you think you will be able to walk through this piece of District history unmolested, think again. You are Balrog and the gate is Gandolf (No passing). Live with it. Admire it from afar or up close – just don’t try to walk through it.

The original gate stood as a one-story structure. It was later incorporated into a three-story late Victorian building in 1881 to house U.S. Marines. That structure forms the view still visible today by the general public and Navy Yard civilians and military. The gate made the Nation Register of Historic Places list in 1973.

Thankfully, I get to see this beautiful piece of architecture every day. I work inside the Navy Yard, just a football field away from the gate at the corner of Leutze Park and 8th Street. I took a second at work today to snap a photo from the inside of the Navy Yard looking out to M Street – the side many do not get to see. Looking at some of the images through time at the Library of Congress, it is surprising how little has changed. A few AC units here and there were placed on and subsequently taken off the Victorian building above the gate, along with several stylistic changes to the Marine guardhouse. According to a 2001 article in the New York Daily News, the guardhouse at Latrobe Gate is the oldest continuously manned Marine guardhouse in the U.S. Working at a place where so much has changed over the past couple of years, it’s comforting to know Mr. Latrobe’s work remains a pivotal piece of DC history.

Here are a few images of Latrobe Gate from the inside looking out:

Circa 1942 (U.S. Navy Photo NH# 91836)
Circa 1942 (U.S. Navy Photo NH# 91836)
Source: LOC Image # HABS DC,WASH,74--2)
1965 HABS Study (Source: LOC Image # HABS DC,WASH,74–2)
Marines at Gate, 1978 (NHHC Photo # KN-27599)
Marines at Gate, 1978 (NHHC Photo # KN-27599)
(Photo by Author, 12 MAR 2015)
(Photo by Author, 12 MAR 2015)

Source Information:

DeFrank, Thomas M. “Nation’s Fortresses Now Even Mightier.” New York Daily News, October 31, 2001.

Naval History and Heritage Command, “Latrobe Gate.” Accessed 12 MARCH 2015.

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