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Thirty years ago on May 12, 1994, the National Archives at College Park, MD, popularly known as “Archives II,” was dedicated. The 1.8-million-square-foot state-of-the-art facility, located just outside of Washington, DC, provides much-needed space for historically significant holdings of the National Archives.  

When the National Archives was created in 1934, the construction of the monumental National Archives Building on Pennsylvania Avenue was well under way. The problem with designing and constructing a building without staff input became immediately apparent once employees began to occupy the building—the National Archives simply needed more space for records. 

Newly appointed Archivist of the United States R.D.W. Connor pushed to have plans for an inner courtyard altered and filled with stacks, doubling the space for records storage from 374,000 cubic feet to 757,000 cubic feet. But by 1950, even this expanded space proved too small to house the vast amount of records coming into the National Archives. 

The National Archives, which was moved into the General Services Administration (GSA) in 1949, began expanding to other parts of the country by opening a network of Federal Records Centers (FRC) and, in the late 1960s, a system of archives within the FRCs. But there still wasn’t enough space in the Washington metro area. The National Archives moved some of its holdings to the Washington National Records Center in Suitland, MD, and a leased facility in Alexandria while the agency pursued a permanent solution to its lack of records storage space. 

For nearly two decades, the National Archives attempted to gain support for the construction of a new facility in Washington, but was unsuccessful in persuading GSA. The GSA Administrator even blocked efforts to build a facility directly across the street from the National Archives Building—that site eventually became the United States Navy Memorial.

Once the National Archives gained its independence from GSA in 1985, they refocused their efforts on building a new archival facility. Unfortunately, by then there were no longer any suitable sites in the city, so the National Archives extended their search into the suburbs. As the search progressed, two locations came into consideration: one was the site of the Washington National Records Center, and the other was a new development on the campus of the University of Maryland in College Park. 

Congressman Steny Hoyer of Maryland’s then-fifth congressional district, Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski, Maryland Senator Paul Sarbanes, and Maryland Governor William Donald Schaefer all supported the College Park location. They worked to get the University of Maryland to donate the land, and helped lay the legislative groundwork for the construction of a building. On September 22, 1988, President Reagan signed legislation authorizing the National Archives to construct and finance a new facility on a 33-acre site on the northwest end of the University of Maryland campus.

The National Archives then hired a firm to work on the building’s design and construction. To avoid repeating mistakes with the design of the National Archives Building, input was solicited from current and former archives employees, professional historians, and archivists from around the world. In particular, special attention was given to the design and construction of the records storage environments, a mobile shelving system, fire protection, and security.

The groundbreaking ceremony took place on October 17, 1989, and the construction took nearly five years. Aside from the building’s construction, the most expensive element of the project was the $47.5 million contract to install the movable shelving system designed to use space more efficiently. 

Staff also began the largest move of records of any archives at that time. When finally completed in 1996, the move included nearly two and a half billion pages of documents as well as eight million still pictures; 11 million maps, charts, and aerial photographs; hundreds of three-dimensional objects; 112,274 reels of motion pictures; and 200,122 sound and video recordings.

On May 12, 1994, Acting Archivist Trudy Huskamp Peterson led the building’s official dedication ceremony. Representative Hoyer, Senator Sarbanes, Governor Schaefer, and University of Maryland President Dr. William E. Kerwin all attended the event. 

At the dedication, Peterson emphasized the trailblazing nature of the state-of-the-art facility in the field of archival preservation. She noted that its opening was “an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to our mission of preserving the nation’s documentary heritage for current and future generations.” 

The National Archives at College Park was the largest archival building in the world in terms of space at the time of completion. In addition to records storage and office space for more than 600 employees, Archives II also features over 100,000 feet of laboratory space for preservation, an auditorium, a child care center for employees, a fitness center, a full-service cafeteria, and a multipurpose event space. Recently, an 18,000-square-foot digitization center was added to help the agency meet its digitization goals. 

For the past 30 years, the National Archives at College Park had been the place to go to research federal agencies, Army and Navy unit records, special media, and much more. Visit the National Archives at College Park, MD’s website to learn more. 

Read a short history of the National Archives at College Park, MD on our website.

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