It was like a blow to the solar plexus. It was like someone said Santa died. It was a picture sent to me by a friend of a building being razed that brought me up short. To most people it was just a building; just a collection of concrete, wood, wires and everything else that goes into the construction of a building. But it was my building and the building of hundreds of others as well. It wasn’t a grand and glamorous building as so many in Washington DC are, nor was it located at a fashionable address. It was Building 213, a non-descript building at the corner of M St. and First St SE in our nation’s capital. Most often referred to as NPIC, it was our nation’s National Photographic Interpretation Center. It was our building. It was a place I had the privilege and honor to work in for close to fifteen years all tolled.
While you may never heard about it, you saw evidence of it during the Cuban missile crisis, if you were old enough to be around then. It was the production center for those satellite pictures that were shown as proof of Russia’s duplicity in delivering missiles to Cuba. It was the place that satellite film was sent to be looked at, evaluated and reported on. Those reports were provided to the highest levels of our federal government to keep them informed of activities throughout the world.
Most everyone who worked there is now retired or has moved on to other challenges. It was the people who worked there that gave the building life, that provided the intellect to build and run the systems and equipment so that their coworkers could produce those invaluable reports. It was an assembled team of some of the finest people our country had. Only the smartest were hired, author excepted. Those chosen never failed to meet and exceed expectations. They knew the importance of their assignments and strived every day to achieve them. Their successes never made the newspapers but successes there were.
To this day, some twenty-odd years later, I still recall my coworkers with fond memories. When I worked in that building, they not only were coworkers but friends and family too. And like other families, there might have been squabbles and disagreements, but none lasted and none affected our job. To this day the great relationships developed years ago continue. How many defunct organizations have reunions? NPIC does. That is a testament to the kind of people who worked there.
Alas, NPIC is no more. Its functionality continued but the building and the equipment were superfluous. That building, Building 213, failed to withstand the demands of a changing neighborhood, changing national needs. The building had to come down. So in a similar vein to Joni Mitchell’s 1970 hit, Big Yellow Taxi – “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot…” The building has been razed and a small slice of a personal paradise is gone. But what no wrecking ball can destroy are the great memories formed there – they live on. As long as there are surviving co-workers the building and all it entailed will be recalled fondly. And hopefully even when all are gone, what was achieved in that building will not be lost in history. The building and its people served this country well. Farewell, old friend.