A Gateway to the Capitol - 1913
When it opened in 1908, Union Station quickly became the primary entry to Washington. The terminal was among the first and finest achievements of the Senate Park Commission (also called the “McMillan Commission”), a board of design professionals determined to beautify Washington. The station itself was grand. Outside, however, a motley assortment of residences, hotels, boardinghouses, and taverns greeted visitors.
City planners and congressional leaders considered the area between Union Station and the Capitol undignified. They proposed clearing it to create a park. The project took $10 million and 30 years to complete (1910-1940). It required buying 18 city squares and demolishing hundreds of buildings. The new park was so successful that some wished to see the proposed Lincoln Memorial built there instead of its eventual site on the Mall.
The Supreme Court Building - 1930
The Constitution created three branches of government. Two branches, Congress and the presidency, had their own homes. For 134 years, the Supreme Court shared the Capitol. It met first in a committee room, later in the library, and, from 1810 to 1860, in a first-floor chamber designed by B. Henry Latrobe. In 1860, the Court moved to the Senate’s former second-floor chamber.
In 1926, Chief Justice William Howard Taft asked architect Cass Gilbert to plan a courthouse. The site selected faced the Capitol on First Street, Northeast. Its proximity to Union Station—convenient for out-of-town lawyers—was an important consideration. Congress appropriated just under $10 million and created a commission in 1929 to oversee construction, which began in 1930. The building opened five years later.
A Capitol Growth Spurt - 1930
Across America, the 1930s was the era of the Great Depression. On Capitol Hill, it was a decade of rapid expansion. While the Capitol itself remained largely unchanged, the surrounding campus was transformed. Six major building projects greatly expanded Capitol Hill’s facilities.
The construction reflected the growing role and size of the federal government. Projects included: the Supreme Court Building (1929-1935); Longworth House Office Building (1929-1933); Rare Book Room Addition for the Library of Congress’s Thomas Jefferson Building (1929-1933); First Street Addition to the Russell Senate Office Building (1931-1933); New Botanic Garden Conservatory (1932-1933); and the John Adams Building for the Library of Congress (1933-1938).
Best Laid Plans...? - 1924
The Capitol changed little during this period, but not for lack of trying. The most dramatic proposal was for an addition to the east front, intended to provide a better sense of support for the dome and to add more rooms. Thomas Walter floated the idea in 1863; Speaker Joseph Cannon revived it in 1904. The idea surfaced again between 1935 and 1937, winning Senate support. The House defeated it—though an extension finally was built, from 1958 to 1962.
There were other suggestions as well. In 1924, some senators advocated rebuilding their chamber along an outside wall to give the room windows for natural light and fresh air. (Many blamed the lack of fresh air for the failing health of a few senators.) This idea gained support—until 1929, when air-conditioning silenced the complaints.
Art and Allegory: The Collection Grows - 1916
The Capitol continued its longstanding tradition of commissioning and buying artwork. The most significant addition was The Apotheosis of Democracy, a monumental sculptural group by Paul Wayland Bartlett placed in the House pediment in 1916.
To celebrate the Constitution’s 150th anniversary, Congress commissioned Howard Chandler Christy to paint a scene depicting the signing of the document. It was hung in the east grand stair of the House wing. The House of Representatives continued to acquire portraits of former Speakers, and the Senate commissioned vice presidential busts for its chamber. As the collection of state-donated statues in Statuary Hall grew to 65, its weight threatened to collapse the floor. In 1933, Congress authorized the display of some statues elsewhere in the building, distributing the collection—and its weight.