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The Arcade Building
Interior - Shopping Arcade

On a sunny Sunday morning in November 2006, after scarfing some tasty crepes at Washington Post, I had the great fortune to go on a tour of the Arcade Building's interior, given by Pyramid Architects, a spinoff company of building owner Pyramid Construction. Myself and four companions were conducted through the building by Pyramid architect Paul Hohmann.

We entered through the elevator lobby in the Wright Building, which intersects the retail arcade at right angles. Ten years after I first pressed my nose to the glass on Olive Street, I finally stood within the magnificent space, so long deserted and dark.

The retail spaces of the arcade are in ruins, smashed, broken, molded and dusty; they will require wholesale gutting. Some plaster vaulting has fallen, and many of the glazed tiles have lost their facing. The hanging chandoliers are long gone, only a few dangling chains remaining. But the woodwork, the railings, the tiled vaults, the ceiling plasterwork, indeed the space as a whole, is mostly intact. Pyramid had run in work lights through the space, making our exploration much easier.

As we poked about the arcade, I began to discover a number of oddities to it. The mezzanine level is connected with the ground floor of the arcade by a staircase at the south end, creating a rather lonely pocket of isolation on the north end. And the mezzanine level doesn't run consistently through the building; the vestibule on the north end juts up into it. The north end of the arcade is faced with a huge mirror, creating the illusion of a much larger space; in the vestibule, the opposite side of the same wall is given the same treatment -- which had long confused me as I stared into the vestibule from the street.

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