It’s one of the most distinct, recognizable buildings in the nation. You’ve seen an aerial shot of it in every single action/war/spy movie ever made. If you’re a resident of Northern Virginia, you’ve probably made a wrong turn and accidentally ended up in its parking lot (this author sure has). Of course, we’re talking about the home of the U.S. Department of Defense: the Pentagon.
Despite its significance, the Pentagon is shrouded in mystery. On one hand, it’s just a big office building. On the other, it’s a world-renowned symbol of America’s military might and the epicenter of some of our most important decisions as a nation. Here are six interesting things you may not know about the Pentagon.
1. It’s not that old.
For all its fame and prominence – both to the Washington landscape and to the nation’s consciousness – the Pentagon hasn’t been around that long (relatively speaking). Construction on the building began just a few weeks before the attack at Pearl Harbor in 1941. In spite of shortages in labor and materials, the building went up with great speed and served as the hub for the War Department throughout the Second World War. While that does make it almost 80 years old, it’s still a fairly young Washington landmark in comparison to the White House or its neighbor, Arlington National Cemetery.
2. It was an important milestone in the fight for Civil Rights
In the Pentagon’s early years, racial segregation and Jim Crow laws were still the law of the land – especially in the state of Virginia. In fact, the building has double the amount of bathrooms and water fountains than it needed, since when it was built, black employees at the Pentagon had to use separate facilities. Eventually, after a violent confrontation where a black employee was struck on the head for trying to enter the white cafeteria, President Roosevelt signed an executive order prohibiting racial discrimination in federal facilities. For a time, the Pentagon was the only integrated building in Virginia.
3. The Pentagon was invaded in the 1990’s…
…by vermin. By this time, the building had been standing for five decades – and it showed. Plumbing and electrical problems abounded. There was an infestation of rats and mice. Employees in the basement complained of cockroaches so plentiful and omnipresent that they periodically fell on their desks from the ceiling tiles. Eventually the persistent infrastructure problems at the Pentagon started interfering with the ability to communicate with troops during the Gulf War. This was obviously unacceptable, and prompted a total renovation of the complex.
4. There’s no evidence of the 9/11 attacks on the building itself
184 people died when a jet crashed into the Pentagon on the morning of September 11th, 2001. To remember that terrible day, there is a chapel with the names, photos, and brief biographies of all the lives that were lost. There are memorial benches, photo displays, quilts made by school children from across the nation, all expressing condolence and offering their support. But the building itself shows no marks; the interior and exterior of the building were reconstructed meticulously to make sure that, symbolically, the attack would not leave its mark on the Pentagon itself.
5. It’s a junk food paradise
Baskin-Robbins? Got it. Dunkin’ Donuts? Got it. Starbucks, Taco Bell, Burger King, Panda Express – all there. The Pentagon has multiple food courts housing just about every fast food joint your empty tummy could dream of. Luckily, it also has an enormous world-class gym, so you can indulge with a clear conscience.
6. You can do all your errands on site.
Given the building’s intense security measures and distant parking lots, it’s not realistic to just pop out at lunch time to run to the bank. So they’ve brought it all there instead. Need to pick up a prescription? Go to CVS. Need to buy a suit? Visit the clothes store. Need a last-minute anniversary gift? Try the florist or the jewelry store. I mean, there’s even an optometrist, for goodness sake.
But really, the coolest thing about the Pentagon is something we all already know: the people who work there keep America safe. There’s nothing more exciting than that.