The Capitol

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The Campus Grows Again

The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 brought significant reforms in committee staffing and operations. These increased Congress’s need for hearing rooms and staff offices. Four new buildings helped to meet the demand: the Dirksen and Hart Senate Office Buildings (opened 1958 and 1982) and the Rayburn and Ford House Office Buildings (opened 1965 and acquired 1975).

New Additions to the Capitol Collection

The Capitol continues to grow and change. So does its art collection. Following a time-honored tradition, Congress commissioned a number of new works. The sculptor Lee Lawrie completed three plaques, Courage, Patriotism, and Wisdom for the Senate Chamber redecoration. Allyn Cox designed murals and decorations for the first-floor House corridors, and various sculptors produced 23 relief portraits of notable lawgivers for the redesigned House Chamber.

Preserving Capitol History

Two of the Capitol’s most historic rooms had fallen on hard times by 1960. The Old Senate Chamber was a meeting and party room. The Old Supreme Court Chamber had been divided into offices for the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy. Senator John Stennis of Mississippi spoke out about the deplorable condition of these noteworthy spaces. In 1961, he introduced a bill to restore the rooms.

Rethinking the East and West

The Virginia sandstone facing the Capitol’s center building had deteriorated seriously by the mid-1900s, and its details were hidden beneath layers of paint. One way to solve these problems—and gain much-needed office space—was by building marble-faced additions to the east and west fronts. An east extension (first suggested in 1863) would also provide greater visual support for the iron dome.

Repairing and Remodeling

A building’s most basic job is to provide shelter. That role seemed in jeopardy in 1938. Structural analysis showed that the 80-year-old roofs over the House and Senate wings were no longer safe. Congress allocated repair funds in 1940, but the demands of the war effort and a steel shortage at home held up the project for nearly a decade.

Best Laid Plans...?

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.

A Capitol Growth Spurt

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 Supreme Court Building

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.

A Gateway to the Capitol

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.

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