Pentagon center courtyard icon, Cold War legend, to be torn down

  • Published
  • By Steven Donald Smith
  • American Forces Press Service
The hot dog stand in the Pentagon's center courtyard, which long has been a source of Cold War intrigue, will be torn down in the coming months and replaced with a new eating facility.

"Rumor has it that during the Cold War the Russians never had any less than two missiles aimed at this hot dog stand," said Brett Eaton, an information and communications officer for Washington Headquarters Services. "They thought this was the Pentagon's most top secret meeting room, and the entire Pentagon was a large fortress built around this hot dog stand."

Reportedly, by using satellite imagery, the Soviets could see groups of U.S. military officers entering and exiting the hot dog stand at about the same time every day. They concluded that the stand was the entrance to an underground bunker. 

"They (Soviets) thought the officers were going to get their top secret briefings in a protected area, but really they were just going to get lunch," Mr. Eaton said with a chuckle while standing in front of the building.

The legend surrounding the hot dog stand is even spun by official Pentagon tour guides during public tours of the building. 

"It's rumored that a portion of their (Soviet) nuclear arsenal was directed at that building, the Pentagon hot dog stand," tour guides tell visitors as they pass the stand. "This is where the building earned the nickname Cafe Ground Zero, the deadliest hot dog stand in the world."

To Mr. Eaton's knowledge, this tale has never been officially substantiated by Russian officials.

The Pentagon was declared a national historic landmark in 1992, and because the courtyard is one of the five historically protected features of the building, the hot dog stand must be replaced by a building of roughly the same size, and exactly the same shape as the Pentagon, Mr. Eaton said.

"In general, the design will kind of replicate what we have here right now, but it's going to be much more modern and a lot bigger. It will really give us an efficient food service delivery system for the Pentagon," said David Gabel, the renovation program manager for Pentagon renovation and construction.

The new building will cost about $1.2 million to complete, he said.

In addition, the wooden owl atop the current hot dog stand to ward off birds must be preserved and placed on the new structure.

The new building will be the third permanent eatery on the spot. 

"This one was put up in the late 1980s," said Jeff Keppler, business manager for the Pentagon concession committee.

The current facility has not been used for a few years. Serving in its place was a sandwich and pizza seller who operated out of a trailer next to the building.

The new eating facility will have indoor seating for about 50 people and will offer catering services. It is tentatively scheduled to open next September.

"I'm really looking forward to the new building," Mr. Keppler said. "It's going to be great for the population of the Pentagon to have a year-round facility that will have indoor seating, restrooms, with breakfast and lunch available Monday through Friday."

The Soviet Union is a thing of the past, but the hot dog lives on in America.