County Begins Tearing Down 50-Year-Old Massey Building

Massey Building (Staff photo)

New York’s City Hall was built in 1811. The District’s John A. Wilson Building was completed in 1908. Both are still in daily use, as are many other 100- and 200-year-old public buildings around the country. But Fairfax County’s onetime seat of government, the Massey Building, is being demolished as it hits the 50-year mark.

Why?

“[I]t has reached the end of its useful life where ever-increasing staffing, security, system-upgrade and maintenance difficulties all pointed toward the need for a replacement facility,” said Matthew Kaiser, spokesman for the county’s Public Works and Environmental Services division in a recent news release.

“That need was outlined during the plan amendment process for the Fairfax County Courthouse resulting in the scheduling of future demolition once the new headquarters for Police and Fire & Rescue became operational,” Kaiser continued.

To put it more plainly, the county supervisors and other officials grew tired of the building not long after it was finished in 1969. The elevators were too slow, the air conditioning didn’t work well and traffic in downtown Fairfax City was annoying.

Not enough bathrooms

“It only had one ladies bathroom serving the board room. Our 6-3 female majority was always competing for its occupancy,” recalled retiring supervisors chair Sharon Bulova in a recent newsletter. “It had been built with the concept that the lighting system would also help moderate the temperature. The County got complaints from constituents during the energy crisis of the 1970’s and fuel cost spikes of the ’90’s as the Massey Building, glowing all night like a Christmas tree, illuminated the judicial campus and areas around it. … [I]t leaked every time it rained and had frequent electrical outages. Offices were always too cold or too hot.”

By the 1980s, they had decamped to a new “government center campus” four miles to the west. The new building, dubbed the “Taj Mahal” by critics, featured private elevators for the supervisors, a custom-built granite conference table, Brazilian mahogany paneling and other luxury touches.

The police and fire departments took over the Massey Building but they too found it cramped and uncomfortable. By 2017, they had followed the supervisors and their retinues to the county government “campus,” occupying a new building, dubbed the Public Safety Headquarters.

A “free” new building

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Fairfax County Government Center (County photo)

In their defense, the supervisors argued that the new government center was “free.” The reasoning went something like this: the county had purchased the land west of Fairfax City for $4.1 million in 1979. By the mid-1980s, the land was worth $42 million, so the county traded some of the land to a lash-up of developers, the Charles E. Smith Company and the Artery Organization.

The developers built the new county building and the county paid them $27.3 million for its new “free” office building.

So by 2019, which would mark the 50th anniversary of the Massey Building — named, by the way, for the county’s first county executive, Carlton C. Massey — it is falling prey to the wrecking ball, not that anyone in county government would use such pithy language to describe the process.

“The county’s contractor will be utilizing high-reach processing machines to take the building apart in pieces and collecting and sorting the demolition debris at ground level. The contractor will recycle more than 90 percent of the demolition material,” said Kaiser in his news release.

And what happens to the space now occupied by the Carlton C. Massey Building? For that we turn once again to Matthew Kaiser.

“The demolition process and removal of debris from the site is scheduled to be completed before spring 2020, at which time the site will be stabilized and restored as a grassed area. Plans for future use of the site are currently being evaluated as part of a separate master planning study for the Massey Complex. This effort will provide a coordinated long-term plan to meet the needs of the complex stakeholders,” he said.

Still standing

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A walkway at the Historic Fairfax Courthouse (Staff photo)

The Massey plot is, ironically, next door to what is commonly called the Historic Fairfax Courthouse, built in 1799 and still in use, although largely supplanted by a much larger court and jail complex a few blocks to the south.

The 220-year-old building — which lacks elevators, has spotty air conditioning and sits at the confluence of two perennially clogged downtown streets — was trashed by both Confederate and Union troops during the Civil War but was refurbished several times and is still in daily use for civil motions.

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About the Author

James R. Hood
James R. Hood is the editor and publisher of FairfaxNews.com. A former Associated Press editor and executive, he has more than 50 years of reporting experience.