Life Archive | The Pentagon c.1951

At first glance this this group of photos is pretty eerie in a Dr. Strangelove type of way, but they have ice cream so how bad could it really be. Not to mention that pneumatic tube document delivery system. Any place with one of those is a-okay in my book. In fact, I am currently looking into installing a pneumatic tube document delivery system in my office, fuck email. If you are into the office tech of a certain sixties drama on AMC, then you will love this set of photos from the then “state-of-the-art” Pentagon from the early fifties, less than a decade after the building’s opening.

Man in the gray flannel suit (although that doesn't look like flannel)

The Pentagon is so massive it is like a city in a city, back in the fifties it had all sorts of services like a barber shop, Western Union and even a type writer repair shop. Are there any ACL readers that work for the DoD that can verify if any of this stuff still exists? Or is that classified?


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Comments on “Life Archive | The Pentagon c.1951

    Easy and Elegant Life on August 19, 2009 9:16 AM:

    Back in the early to mid 80’s there was still a barber shop, a convenience store, jeweler and florist at least (if memory serves.) Civilians were allowed access to the “mall” at the top of the stairs leading to the metro. I doubt that’s still the case.

    Adam Christopher on August 19, 2009 9:38 AM:

    What can I remember as far as the Pentagon..? I was on 395 when the plane crashed right into the damn place back on 9/11/01… Took out the whole north end… That place is sealed tighter than Fort Knox nowadays. I did ceremonies there as part of the Presidential honor guard back then for the Marines and was stationed at Marine Barracks 8th & I … After 9/11 everything changed big time (obviously). All of those facilities still exist as matter of fact there’s a base just up the street with a PX and all of that good stuff too. You can access the Pentagon with a military ID and it depends on your security clearance as far as where you can and can’t go. Civilians can still get kind of close via tours.

    jfox on August 19, 2009 9:43 AM:

    supposedly Prague has/had (post flood??) one of the bigger pneumatic tube systems around, as does NYC still, though not used (openly at least…), freekin love those things…

    Turling on August 19, 2009 9:54 AM:

    I want that Carpenter’s bike.

    dcer on August 19, 2009 10:03 AM:

    The Pentagon has every conceivable amenity inside it these days. Barber Shop, cobbler, florist, Food Court (Taco Bell, Subway, McDonalds, etc.), squash courts (Rummy was known for his ego here). None of its classified, but you don’t get 5 steps in the door without a photo badge, which they make for visitors, and an escort.

    Anon on August 19, 2009 10:07 AM:

    Thanks for those pictures. My grandfather went to work at the Pentagon during “The War” and stayed for the rest of his career. It always struck me that when the older generations spoke of “The Pentagon” they were speaking more of the physical place, rather than today’s useage as synonamous with “Military industrial complex”.

    That was quite an impressive physical plant for that day and age.

    Bryan on August 19, 2009 10:40 AM:

    They still have the barber, and florist, but I’m sure the typerwriter repair is gone, I never saw it. They also have a Mcdonalds, & Panda Express in the renovated wing. There are multiple cafeterias throughout the building. There’s also a Bank of America and a Pentagon federal credit union in the “mall” you can still get into the “lobby” after 2 security checks but you can no longer get into the mall. The subway actually runs right up to the door basically.

    G Scott on August 19, 2009 11:56 AM:

    Wow, what a great photo series. Thanks for putting this up. I may have missed it, but are there captions for these photos?

    Paul on August 19, 2009 1:03 PM:

    I LOVE this stuff!!! The photos are outstanding. It also depicts high employment. This reminds me of the first company I started my (professional) career with – an insurance company in northern New York – we had all the old IBM computer systems – everything was very monochrome. Great post!!

    Pat Stahl on August 19, 2009 2:09 PM:

    Pneumatic tube! I just wish the mail shutes in my building still worked.

    Dennis Cahlo on August 19, 2009 3:10 PM:

    I really wish more photographers would shoot in Black and White Medium Format again. The imagery in these pictures are like stills from a Jimmy Stewart movie.

    Smashing choices, btw. Absolutely smashing.

    D Bomb on August 19, 2009 3:28 PM:

    When did ACL turn into the History Channel’s Blog???

    Michael Williams on August 19, 2009 3:55 PM:

    @D Bomb — day 1, asshole.


    rosemary cross on August 19, 2009 4:19 PM:

    The place i currently work actually just installed a pneumatic tube system. strange isn’t it?

    Kevin on August 19, 2009 5:02 PM:

    I’m going to get an ash tray and put it on my desk and see what people say.

    Cathleen on August 19, 2009 5:51 PM:

    I like these photos. The b/w is great and everyone seems so focused – no ADD here.

    I know we’re not supposed to promote, but I’m going to try. Check out “The Pentagon: The First Fifty Years” by Alfred Goldberg. This is a government document published by DoD in 1992. The SuDoc# D 1.2:P38 for those who find themselves near a Federal Depository.

    There are wonderful construction photos from 1941 and 1942 showing scaffolding, and blueprints pointing out “the formidable task of creating a complex road system to carry the heavy vehicular traffic in the vicinity of the building and across the Potomac.”

    It is lovely.

    Scooter on August 19, 2009 6:56 PM:

    Yeah, these pics just make me want to know more. The only thing I know for certain is that the Officer in picture 4 is talking to Peter Sellers (Um, yes, have seen the movie WAY too many times…).

    Brian Miller on August 19, 2009 7:12 PM:

    Love these. Had a friend who worked at RAND in Santa Monica and got to visit the old, original building before it was demolished. Now THAT was very Dr. Strangelove – it HAD to have influenced some of the style. The furniture, layout, even the hallway tile was amazing. This was the very building in which the idea of “mutually assured destruction” was coined (love the not-so-subtle acronym M.A.D.). So much amazing and frightening history.

    newgrass on August 19, 2009 8:45 PM:

    Fascinating. Thanks for the pics. Those pneumatic tubes are badass. I agree, forget email…build a worldwide network of pneumatic tubes!

    JPA on August 20, 2009 6:12 AM:


    There is still quite a decent barber shop. It can be quite an odd experience to have a four star admiral seated in the chair next to you. While the comms gear is more sophisticated than the “Radio Control Room” there are still plenty of rooms with racks upon racks of gear, some with cables sticking out the back and front. The YOU ARE HEREs look about the same, though there are more locations depicted today, with various construction detours notated as well. There are still corpulent AF NCOs in the Courtyard putting mustard (?) on their hot dogs. Most, if not all, of the bicycles/tricycles have been replaced with motorized variants. Sadly, they lock them up at night to prevent junior officers from having races. And finally, the cobbler shop will still put a new sole and a shine in which you can very nearly shave on your service browns.


    LT, USN

    Tintin on August 20, 2009 11:19 AM:

    There was a great book store with some real niche titles in the mid 80’s. I snagged a book on Soviet Special Forces. As a 12 year old my grandmother dragged me all over that place. We used our dependent id’s to get in. I remember long halls with exposed pipes and wiring in the ceiling and the outdoor park in the center. They also served damn good chicken and dumplings in the cafeteria.

    Andrea on August 20, 2009 11:40 PM:

    Izard’s Department Store, Elmira N.Y. had beautiful brass pneumatic tubes until the 1970’s. Your cash went up to Accounting, your change came back. Really, very civilized.

    deisgnerman on August 21, 2009 9:46 PM:

    my father worked in the pentagon in the late 50’s. the photo with the cigarette machine reminded me that he smoked 4 packs of Kents a day.

    how pre-mad men is that?

    (the old bendel’s on 57th street had pnumatic tubes too)

    eltrain on August 29, 2009 6:01 PM:

    The carpenter with the conductor stripe overalls and shit and tie is classic. I’m most definitely going to emulate that look as well as i can.

    Andy on September 28, 2009 6:25 PM:

    The Pentagon just opened up a new concourse and food court, and moved all the amenities – Barber Shop, Florist, Drug Store, Shoe Shine, Laundry, Jewelry Store, Bank and Post Office – right there. There are displays throughout the building, and some that have pictures from the 50’s, but none as evocative as this set. Well done!

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