How can I find information about a building?
February 24, 2013 9:19 AM   Subscribe

I have been obsessed with this building in Alexandria, Virginia for years. I want to know more about it - who designed it, when it was built, past tenants, and so forth. Should there be public records available somewhere and if so, where can I find them?

Things I have determined thus far: the address is almost certainly 2200 Mill Rd., Alexandria, VA 22314; if so, it was previously occupied by the American Truckers Association and will soon be demolished to make way for this.
posted by capricorn to Grab Bag (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: *American Trucking Association(s) and possibly also Towing & Recovery Associates, and here it is on Google Maps from an angle that confirms it can exist in the physical world.
posted by capricorn at 9:28 AM on February 24, 2013

That building looks recent enough that you should be able to find some sort of records at governmental agencies. Your local setup will probably be different than mine, but here's what I would expect to be able to find if this were in my area:

At our county assessor, I could get a record of every alteration made to a property that altered its assessment value (thus increasing or decreasing the property tax). For me, this would basically be a spreadsheet-looking list with brief descriptions of what work was done.

At my city's building department, the records division would have microfiched copies of every permit document issued for the property since they started keeping records or whenever the archive burned down. These would just be forms, but would include descriptions of the work to be performed under the permit. They may also have select drawings from the permit sets on microfiche - if they have those, you can get the original owner/builder's name, as well as the architect and possibly any other entities involved with designing the building.

Your local government may work differently, if Alexandria isn't exactly an incorporated city (in which case you'd probably just spend a lot of time at the county). But looking at Alexandria's website, I can really find a records division within their building department (listed under the code administration heading).
posted by LionIndex at 9:48 AM on February 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Alexandria is indeed an independant, incorporated city, LionIndex; it is not part of any county. From my own experience (looking up a much-older building), I'd say that all capricorn needs to do is go down to the Zoning Dept. at City Hall (300 King Street) with the address you're interested in, and ask nicely. Alternatively, try the archives at the Main Library Branch on Queen Street.
posted by easily confused at 9:53 AM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Most municipalities have their GIS ("geographic information system") information available online these days. Alexandria is no exception. According to the site, the building was constructed in 1984, but not by the ATA, which only seems to have acquired it in 2005. They sold it in 2012 to an LLC with "Eisenhower" in the name, presumably the developer in the project you linked to. There's been a pair of transfers since then, presumably between entities involved in the development project.

As far as the designer goes, you're going to need to trundle on down to the city government building. Buildings of this scale need to be submitted to the zoning department for approval, and the records are kept basically forever. Exactly which city department is going to have custody of these records is anybody's guess. Could be the assessor, could be the zoning department, could be the recording office, etc. But they'll be there. You'll almost certainly need to go in person during business hours, and you may need to be prepared to pay a nominal fee, larger if you want copies of documents rather than just reading them.
posted by valkyryn at 9:57 AM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hah, my husband did a stint temping there yoinks ago - for the American Trucking people.
posted by PussKillian at 10:00 AM on February 24, 2013

The property was sold at a foreclosure auction last year.
posted by backupjesus at 10:01 AM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm pretty sure you're correct that it was formerly occupied by the American Trucking Association (note spelling).
This city council document describes the plot of land and gives some background on property which it describes as the "old American Trucking Association site". I've not read the document in detail, but my gisting of it is that the council proposed seizing the property ("Blocks 11 and 12" under eminent domain because the current owner was stalling on development and holding up development of the other half of the development project closer to the metro ("blocks 19 and 20").

Towing and Recovery Associates is a red herring--I think it's actually the Towing and Recovery Association, which is close by but elsewhere (map).
posted by drlith at 10:03 AM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

you may need to be prepared to pay a nominal fee, larger if you want copies of documents rather than just reading them.

In my area, the building record from the assessor will cost for printing, but viewing records at the building department doesn't cost anything. Printing will cost per page printed, but the general public can only print the permit records, not the drawings. Printing the drawings requires a signed release form from the designer or owner (copyright, intellectual property, etc.).
posted by LionIndex at 10:06 AM on February 24, 2013

From this Master Plan document filed by the current developers, your building is on Block 20 (plus a little interesting background about the prehistory of the site):
Located in the Coordinated Development District (CDD#2) zone, Blocks 19 and 20 are located at the intersection of Eisenhower Avenue and Mill Road. Mill Road and the new Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Capital Beltway ramp are located to the east and southeast of the subject properties. On the other side of Mill Road is an existing residential development. Existing surface parking lots, owned by Hoffman Family LLC abut the property to the west. This portion of the Hoffman property, Blocks 11 and 12 is currently under concept review for approximately 1.2 million square feet of mixed-use development in 250-foot-high buildings. To the south of the site are the future Southern Street, Dominion Virginia high- tension power lines, and the Capital Beltway. The Eisenhower Avenue Metro Station is located approximately 500 feet west of Blocks 19 and 20.
Block 19 is currently undeveloped and Block 20 is occupied by a vacant office building, formerly the offices of the American Trucking Association (ATA). [..]

The Block 20 site currently houses the former ATA headquarters building, an approximately 90 foot tall, 150,000 square foot building that was built in the 1980‘s. [..]

During the 19th century, much of Eisenhower East was marshland, including the area currently defined as Blocks 19 and 20. The marshland area has since been filled, first with sediment and later with soil from the construction of the Capital Beltway to the south. Portions of this area resided within the Cameron Run flood plain, and as recently as the 1940‘s, small boats navigated areas within the marsh.

During the archaeological excavation for the Hoffman properties located to the west and north of Blocks 19 and 20, the remains of a pier were found. The pier is believed to have been part of a historic dock on Hunting Creek that functioned as an export point for Cameron Mill. Cameron Mill was located just north of Eisenhower Avenue at the approximate location of the Hoffman AMC movie theater. This general location was also the site of the Village of Cameron, which originated before the establishment of Alexandria and is believed to have been a port for tobacco export on Hunting Creek.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:11 AM on February 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

The ATA moved into the building in 1984 (pdf), and it looks like that's the year it was built. That pdf lists other tenants as "affiliates" such as the Truckload Carriers Association, the National Tank Truck Carriers Association, and the Distribution & LTL Truckers Association.
posted by jaguar at 10:58 AM on February 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Sorry, wrong PDF. Correct PDF.
posted by jaguar at 11:05 AM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

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