D.C. Recorder of Deeds moving but fate of murals unclear

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When visitors walk into the lobby, they are greeted by the likenesses of Frederick Douglass and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. If they take a right at the statue of a shirtless President Abraham Lincoln, they will be flanked by four murals, one showing Gen. Andrew Jackson on a white horse at the Battle of New Orleans and another a dying Col. Robert Gould Shaw being held by a soldier of his Massachusetts 54th Regiment during the Civil War.

But this isn't a museum. It's a government office building.

Since its construction in 1942, the Recorder of Deeds building, 515 D St. NW, has saved a record of every sale or transfer of property in the District, including mortgages, land deeds, livestock records and slavery documents.

After more than 60 years, the office will be relocated to a smaller, more modern space, but the fate of the historic building and its relics has yet to be decided.

Ironically, the same building that houses manumission deeds also chronicles a long history of black leadership. Of the dozen oil portraits of former deeds recorders hanging on the halls, only a couple are of white officials. Most recorders have been black, starting with abolitionist Douglass, who was appointed by President James A. Garfield in 1881. For decades, the title was the highest obtained by any African American in Washington.

"There's a lot of history in this building," said Larry Todd, the current recorder of deeds....

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