In 1792, Pierre L'Enfant
's "Plan of the Federal City
" specified a site for a "great church for national purposes". However he defined it as non-sectarian and nondenominational. Hamilton modified that plan and eliminated the "church" and several other proposed monuments and that plan was never reproduced. The working plan for the new city was subsequently produced by Andrew Ellicott and it varied in many respects from L'Enfant's although the essence remained. National Portrait Gallery
now occupies that site. In 1891, a meeting was held to begin plans for an Episcopal cathedral in Washington. On January 6, 1893, the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation of the District of Columbia was granted a charter from Congress to establish the cathedral. The 52nd United States Congress
declared in the act to incorporate the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation of the District of Columbia that the "said corporation is hereby empowered to establish and maintain within the District of Columbia a cathedral and institutions of learning for the promotion of religion and education and charity."
The commanding site on Mount Saint Alban was chosen.
The Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation
, under the first seven Bishops of Washington, erected the cathedral under a charter passed by the United States Congress
on January 6, 1893.
Construction began on September 29, 1907, when the foundation stone
was laid in the presence of President Theodore Roosevelt
and a crowd of more than 20,000, and ended 83 years later when the "final finial
" was placed in the presence of President George H. W. Bush
in 1990. Decorative and restorative work, particularly of damage from a nearby earthquake in 2011
, is ongoing as of 2023.