The onetime Pennsylvania Avenue headquarters of Riggs National Bank in Washington, D.C., is a feast for history-loving eyes.

Sunshine streams through a glass skylight into a five-story atrium with marble floors, elegant Classical-Revivalist architecture and mezzanine balconies that overlook the Treasury Department and White House across the street. There's just one problem: few people ever get to see it.

That's why the Pittsburgh-based PNC is selling the turn-of-the-century building it acquired when it bought Riggs in 2005.

The building "lost its viability for PNC as a retail bank location" because of its location on a stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue that is closed to car traffic for security reasons, says Michael Harreld, the regional president of PNC's D.C. area.

"We are committed to finding a new owner for the signature branch of 'The Bank of the Presidents' who will honor the historical significance of the building and be able to use the location in a different way," Harreld says.

The next owner of the Corcoran branch, named after Riggs co-founder William W. Corcoran, will inherit an important piece of national history. Riggs bankrolled the purchase of Alaska and the Mexican-American War, as well as Robert Peary's first expedition to the North Pole. The bank's noteworthy past is evident in a number of artifacts now on display at PNC's D.C. regional headquarters. Exhibits include a letter from President John Tyler, a Theodore Roosevelt signature card and a $3 check from Abraham Lincoln, made out to "a sick man."

Among the branch's most remarkable features is its vault, which had a cameo role in the 1993 film "The Pelican Brief" starring Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts.

Beneath the main lobby is a "huge, massive vault door that's wide open — you can see the intricacies of the mechanisms and how thick and impenetrable it is," PNC Vice President of Corporate Communications Roger Wallace says. Inside the vault, "all the safety-deposit boxes are open," he says. "This was the branch that was across the street from the White House — you wonder what types of really interesting things were stored in those safety-deposit boxes."

Now the Riggs branch will enter a new chapter in its eventful life. "There's a lot of speculation about what would work in there," Wallace says. "A restaurant, a museum — anything but a bank, I guess."

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