The True Reformer Building is an architectural testament to black economic achievement. Completed in 1903, True Reformer Hall became a U Street landmark. The building was conceived, built, designed, and patronized by African Americans. John A. Lankford was the architect. Recently renovated, it is now the headquarters of the Public Welfare Foundation. The African American Civil War Memorial Museum offices are also here, and G. Byron Peck's iconic mural of Duke Ellington is mounted on the side of the building overlooking the U St./African-Amer Civil War Memorial/Cardozo Metro station.
The True Reformer Building was the work of the Grand United Order of True Reformers, a benevolent society based in Richmond, Virginia. The organization provided insurance and banking services. They hired Lankford, believed to be the first black registered architect in the city, when he was 28 years old. During the building of the hall, Lankford had an office one block away. He later moved a few blocks away to 1448 Q Street, NW.
The hall housed the offices of the True Reformers in addition to conference rooms, a concert hall, and street-level businesses. In his autobiography, Duke Ellington wrote that he had his first paid performance in room number five, for which he charged a cover of five cents per person. Gray and Gray druggists, the Silver Slipper Club, and Chapman's Tailoring and Designing School all operated here. The building also housed the armory for the First Separate Batalion of the National Guard.
The building was purchased by the Knights of Pythias in 1917. In the 1940s the Metropolitan Boys Club occupied the building. By the 1970s, the Dupont Paint company was the only occupant in the building.
The True Reformer Building was placed on the DC Inventory of Historic Sites in 1987 and on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.