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Vol. LVIII, No. 14
July 14, 2006

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Take a Number and Wait
How NIH Buildings Got Their Names

On the front page...

Depending on how you count — whether you include parking structures or trailers — there are upwards of 80 buildings on the NIH reservation. Each is assigned a number, but a quarter of them also have names.

Ever wonder how that happened? For some, the naming process required a sequence of departmental memos and letters to counsel. Others were dubbed according to popular usage. And for others, it took an act of Congress.


Take Bldg. 1. (Confidential to folks tethered far from the mothership: Bldg. 1 has the superimposed portico, the genteel lunchroom and the flagpole in front.) Although its cornerstone was laid in 1938, it wasn't until 1983 that Bldg. 1 was named for Dr. James A. Shannon
Rhonda Proctor and Bobbie Tucker of NIH Events Management enjoy lunch on the “steps” of Bldg. 45’s east side.  
(NIH director, 1955-1968). And although the name was not established by public law, it took some doing. According to departmental memos, "policy was negative towards naming a building on the NIH reservation for a living person." Officials ultimately agreed to declare an exception "to honor a noted, living individual" and Bldg. 1 was named to reflect Shannon's contribution, during his lifetime.

Bldg. 10 is twinned, bearing two separate names, both of which were established by public law. On the south side, it's called the Warren Grant Magnuson Clinical Center, while on the north it's the recently opened Mark O. Hatfield Clinical Research Center. Magnuson was a U.S. representative and a senator from Washington state. Hatfield was a senator from Oregon. Both men supported medical research throughout their careers. The Hatfield CRC, dedicated in 2004, houses new inpatient units and research labs; it connects to Magnuson, which opened its doors to patients in 1953 (but did not get the Magnuson name until October 1981). Together, the Magnuson and Hatfield centers form the Clinical Center, the world's largest clinical research complex.

The Lister Hill Center for Biomedical Communications, Bldg. 38A, at sunset
(image courtesy of the National Library of Medicine)
Bldg. 16, the Lawton Chiles International House, is also known as “Stone House.”

Bldg. 31 commemorates Rep. Claude Denson Pepper, longtime Democratic congressman from Florida and a fierce advocate for the elderly. As you might expect, the name is official (P.L. 100-436) although folks tend to call the building "31" and not "Pepper." Maybe that's because all three of its wings are lettered (A,B,C) and it's quicker to write "31C" than "Pepper-C."

Other buildings whose names were established by law include:

  • 16 — Lawton Chiles International House (also known as "Stone House"; Chiles was a Democratic senator and two-time governor from Florida.)

  • 38 — National Library of Medicine

  • 38A — Lister Hill Center for Biomedical Communications (Joseph Lister Hill, a Democrat, represented Alabama as both congressman and senator.)

  • 40 — Dale and Betty Bumpers Vaccine Research Center (Bumpers, a Democrat, was governor of Arkansas before becoming U.S. senator from 1975 to 1998.)

  • 45 — William H. Natcher (Democratic representative from Kentucky from 1953 to 1994)

  • 49 — Silvio O. Conte (a Republican congressman from Massachusetts, 1959-1992)

  • 50 — Louis Stokes Laboratories (a Democrat, he represented Ohio in Congress 1969-1998.)

  • 60 — Mary Woodard Lasker Center for Health Research and Education (Lasker was a philanthropist, not a politician.)

Other structures, such as the Wilson House (15K), have names given as descriptors. The Wilson House was formerly the home of Luke I. and Helen Woodward Wilson, who donated it along with 10.8 acres of land in 1942. According to the Office of NIH History, "this was the last in a series of gifts made by Mrs. Luke I. Wilson, bringing the total to 92 acres. This was the nucleus of the present 306.4-acre reservation."

What’s in a name? Campus structures named for individuals include (clockwise from above) the Lister Hill Center for Biomedical Communications, shown while it was under construction behind the National Library of Medicine (image courtesy of NLM); Bldg. 40 — the Dale and Betty Bumpers Vaccine Research Center; Bldg. 49, named for Silvio O. Conte, viewed from the top floor of Bldg. 50; portico of the Mark O. Hatfield Clinical Research Center’s main entrance, seen from the west; and Bldg. 50, the Louis Stokes Laboratories, viewed from the east.

Other prominent named buildings include the Edmond J. Safra Family Lodge (Bldg. 65), which opened last spring, and the John Edward Porter Neuroscience Research Center (Bldg. 35), the first phase of which opened unobtrusively several years ago; Porter (R-IL), formerly chaired the House appropriations subcommittee overseeing NIH.

ChildKind (T-46); the Children's Inn (62); East Child Care Center (64); and the R.A. Bloch (of H&R Block tax advice fame) International Cancer Information Center (82) are other buildings that were popularly named.

While it's not a building, there's a public space in front of Bldg. 1: the Paul G. Rogers Plaza, in honor of Rep. Rogers' (D-FL) tireless legislative support of NIH and advocacy for public health and medical research. At its center is a large stone affixed with a dedicatory plaque reading, in part: "Without research, there is no hope."

And what of Bldg. 33? On May 2, it was dedicated as the C.W. Bill Young Center for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases.

On hand for the dedication of the Hatfield CRC 2 years ago, Rep. Young (R-FL), who is chair of the House appropriations subcommittee on defense, called the CRC "a place where good enough is not good enough, and a place where illness and disease will meet their match." Now there's a place to honor him in his own right. Whether it will go by "33" or the Young Center is anyone's guess.

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