Photo credit: Naval Photographic Center, PH1 Claude Sneed , 06/1975

Property Name: Bethesda Naval Hospital Tower
Date Listed: 3/8/1977
Inventory No.: M: 35-8
Location: 8901, Wisconsin Avenue (MD 355), Bethesda, Montgomery County

Description: The National Naval Medical Center was constructed in 1939-42 on a 264.7-acre site on Wisconsin Avenue opposite the National Institute of Health. The original building consists of a 20-story central tower rising above a series of interconnecting three- and four-story pavilions. The modernistic building is characterized by a strictly formal bilateral frontality, and is sited on a bluff overlooking Wisconsin Avenue to the west. The grounds are used as a golf course, and planted with native trees which screen the low pavilion and emphasize the soaring, sculptural qualities of the tower. The main block of the building consists of the tower with its flanking L-shaped pavilions to the north and south as well as a central connector to the east which leads to the minor pavilions at the rear of the complex. Construction is of reinforced concrete and structural steel clad in concrete panels faced with quartz, which together with the bronze sashed and serpentine spandrelled stacked fenestration creates the major decorative effect. The pavilions seem to act as a base for the tower. The development of detail, proportions, and rhythm here is sensitive and restrained, subordinated to the volumetric concerns of the composition.

Significance: The National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda, Maryland, was built during the early years of World War II to house the U.S. Navy's principal center for the practice and dissemination of medicine related to the needs of the naval service. The importance which the government attached to this center for education and research in naval medicine is reflected in the evolution of the complex's design which proceeded from rough plan and elevation sketches by Franklin D. Roosevelt on White House Stationery to an in-house Bureau of Yards and Docks design effort executed under the close supervision of the noted private consulting architect, Paul Philippe Cret. The 20-story tower block with its two L-shaped wings enveloping a lawn that slopes down toward Wisconsin Avenue on the east constitutes a landmark of the Bethesda area in the physical sense of the word. In 1878 the navy established the school for medical officers, and in 1902 the school moved into the Naval Observatory in Washington. Gradually a complex developed which included a hospital, various medical schools, and a medical library. In 1937 Congress acted to fund construction of a new medical center, and Franklin D. Roosevelt selected the site. Significant medical research at Bethesda includes the acrylic eye, grafting techniques of bone and blood vessels, radioactive treatment of bone tumors, facsimile limbs, and a wide variety of other surgical, medical, and psychiatric techniques.




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