True Reformer Building
A Civic and Cultural Landmark
Renting Community Space
To learn how to rent the auditorium and conference rooms in the True Reformer Building, please click here.
Dedicated on July 15, 1903, the True Reformer Building has a distinguished history. The building was the first in the nation to be designed, financed, built, and owned by the African-American community after Reconstruction.
It was designed by John Anderson Lankford, the first African-American to be registered as an architect in Washington, D.C., and built by the Grand Fountain of the United Order of True Reformers. Fraternal and mutual benefit organizations, such as the True Reformers and the Knights of Pythias, who later owned the building, helped African-Americans set up small businesses, obtain insurance and meet other financial and social needs around the turn of the 20th century.
The True Reformer Building is an example of turn-of-the-century eclectic design. It combines features of classical revival and Romanesque architecture and represents the African-American community’s contribution to monumental architecture at a time when public and private Washington was being revitalized.
Over the years, the building has housed numerous civic and cultural institutions, including the Washington Conservancy, the DC Chapter of the National Negro Business League, the Boys Club of the Metropolitan Police of the District of Columbia and the First Separate Battalion, an African-American branch of the DC National Guard that drilled in the building’s basement prior to volunteering to go to the Arizona border during the Mexican-American crisis of 1916 and to Europe in 1917.
The building was used over the years by a host of community organizations, musical groups, and societies for events, celebrations, and concerts. The legendary jazz musician Duke Ellington gave performances here, and a mural commemorating him adorns the building’s western side.
The True Reformer building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. The Public Welfare Foundation purchased it in 1999. The architecture firm of Sorg & Associates designed a renovation to preserve the character of the building, including the two-story auditorium, while adapting the building for use as the Foundation’s headquarters. Renovation began in the winter of 2000, and the Foundation moved into the building in February 2001.
The True Reformer Building is easily accessible by car and Washington Metrorail. For directions, click here.