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[Jun. '98 Interim Cong. Dir.] THE CABINET...

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                          UNITED STATES CAPITOL

                Overview of the Building and Its Function

    The United States Capitol is among the most architecturally 
impressive and symbolically important buildings in the world. It has 
housed the meeting chambers of the Senate and the House of 
Representatives for almost two centuries. Begun in 1793, the Capitol has 
been built, burnt, rebuilt, extended, and restored; today, it stands as 
a monument not only to its builders but also to the American people and 
their government.
    As the focal point of the government's Legislative Branch, the 
Capitol is the centerpiece of the Capitol Complex, which includes the 
six principal Congressional office buildings and three Library of 
Congress buildings constructed on Capitol Hill in the 19th and 20th 
    In addition to its active use by Congress, the Capitol is a museum 
of American art and history. Each year, it is visited by an estimated 
seven to ten million people from around the world.
    A fine example of 19th-century neoclassical architecture, the 
Capitol combines function with aesthetics. Its designs derived from 
ancient Greece and Rome evoke the ideals that guided the Nation's 
founders as they framed their new republic. As the building was expanded 
from its original design, harmony with the existing portions was 
carefully maintained.
    Today, the Capitol covers a ground area of 175,170 square feet, or 
about 4 acres, and has a floor area of approximately 16\1/2\ acres. Its 
length, from north to south, is 751 feet 4 inches; its greatest width, 
including approaches, is 350 feet. Its height above the base line on the 
east front to the top of the Statue of Freedom is 287 feet 5\1/2\ 
inches; from the basement floor to the top of the dome is an ascent of 
365 steps. The building contains approximately 540 rooms and has 658 
windows (108 in the dome alone) and approximately 850 doorways.
    The building is divided into five levels. The first, or ground, 
floor is occupied chiefly by committee rooms and the spaces allocated to 
various congressional officers. The areas accessible to visitors on this 
level include the Hall of Columns, the Brumidi Corridor, the restored 
Old Supreme Court Chamber, and the Crypt beneath the rotunda, where 
historical exhibits are presented.
    The second floor holds the Chambers of the House of Representatives 
(in the south wing) and the Senate (in the north wing) as well as the 
offices of the congressional leadership. This floor also contains three 
major public areas. In the center under the dome is the rotunda, a 
circular ceremonial space that also serves as a gallery of paintings and 
sculpture depicting significant people and events in the Nation's 
history. The rotunda is 96 feet in diameter and rises 180 feet 3 inches 
to the canopy. The semicircular chamber south of the rotunda served as 
the Hall of the House until 1857; now designated National Statuary Hall, 
it houses part of the Capitol's collection of statues donated by the 
States in commemoration of notable citizens. The Old Senate Chamber 
northeast of the rotunda, which was used by the Senate until 1859, has 
been returned to its mid-19th-century appearance.
    The third floor allows access to the galleries from which visitors 
to the Capitol may watch the proceedings of the House and the Senate 
when Congress is in session. The rest of this floor is occupied by 
offices, committee rooms, and press galleries.
    The fourth floor and the basement/terrace level of the Capitol are 
occupied by offices, machinery rooms, workshops, and other support 

                         Location of the Capitol

    The Capitol is located at the eastern end of the Mall on a plateau 
88 feet above the level of the Potomac River, commanding a westward view 
across the Capitol Reflecting Pool to the Washington Monument 1.4 miles 
away and the Lincoln Memorial 2.2 miles away. The geographic location of 
the head of the Statue of Freedom that surmounts the Capitol dome is 
described by the National Geodetic Survey as latitude 
38 deg.53'23.31098'' north and longitude 77 deg.00'32.62262'' west.
    Before 1791, the Federal Government had no permanent site. The early 
Congresses met in eight different cities: Philadelphia, Baltimore, 
Lancaster, York, Princeton, Annapolis, Trenton, and New York City. The 
subject of a permanent capital for the government of the United

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States was first raised by Congress in 1783; it was ultimately addressed 
in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution (1787), which gave the 
Congress legislative authority over ``such District (not exceeding ten 
Miles square) as may, by Cession of Particular States, and the 
Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United 
States. . . .''
    In 1788, the state of Maryland ceded to Congress ``any district in 
this State, not exceeding ten miles square,'' and in 1789 the State of 
Virginia ceded an equivalent amount of land. In accordance with the 
``Residence Act'' passed by Congress in 1790, President Washington in 
1791 selected the area that is now the District of Columbia from the 
land ceded by Maryland (private landowners whose property fell within 
this area were compensated by a payment of <brit-pound>25 per acre); 
that ceded by Virginia was not used for the capital and was returned to 
Virginia in 1846. Also under the provisions of that Act, he selected 
three Commissioners to survey the site and oversee the design and 
construction of the capital city and its government buildings. The 
Commissioners, in turn, selected the French engineer Pierre Charles 
L'Enfant to plan the new city of Washington. L'Enfant's plan, which was 
influenced by the gardens at Versailles, arranged the city's streets and 
avenues in a grid overlaid with baroque diagonals; the result is a 
functional and aesthetic whole in which government buildings are 
balanced against public lawns, gardens, squares, and paths. The Capitol 
itself was located at the elevated east end of the Mall, on the brow of 
what was then called Jenkins' Hill. The site was, in L'Enfant's words, 
``a pedestal waiting for a monument.''

                           Selection of a Plan

    L'Enfant was expected to design the Capitol and to supervise its 
construction. However, he refused to produce any drawings for the 
building, claiming that he carried the design ``in his head''; this fact 
and his refusal to consider himself subject to the Commissioners' 
authority led to his dismissal in 1792. In March of that year the 
Commissioners announced a competition, suggested by Secretary of State 
Thomas Jefferson, that would award $500 and a city lot to whoever 
produced ``the most approved plan'' for the Capitol by mid-July. None of 
the 17 plans submitted, however, was wholly satisfactory. In October, a 
letter arrived from Dr. William Thornton, a Scottish-trained physician 
living in Tortola, British West Indies, requesting an opportunity to 
present a plan even though the competition had closed. The Commissioners 
granted this request.
    Thornton's plan depicted a building composed of three sections. The 
central section, which was topped by a low dome, was to be flanked on 
the north and south by two rectangular wings (one for the Senate and one 
for the House of Representatives). President Washington commended the 
plan for its ``grandeur, simplicity and convenience,'' and on April 5, 
1793, it was accepted by the Commissioners; Washington gave his formal 
approval on July 25.

                       Brief Construction History


    The cornerstone was laid by President Washington in the building's 
southeast corner on September 18, 1793, with Masonic ceremonies. Work 
progressed under the direction of three architects in succession. 
Stephen H. Hallet (an entrant in the earlier competition) and George 
Hadfield were eventually dismissed by the Commissioners because of 
inappropriate design changes that they tried to impose; James Hoban, the 
architect of the White House, saw the first phase of the project through 
to completion.
    Construction was a laborious and time-consuming process: the 
sandstone used for the building had to be ferried on boats from the 
quarries at Aquia, Virginia; workers had to be induced to leave their 
homes to come to the relative wilderness of Capitol Hill; and funding 
was inadequate. By August 1796 the Commissioners were forced to focus 
the entire work effort on the building's north wing so that it at least 
could be ready for government occupancy as scheduled. Even so, some 
third-floor rooms were still unfinished when the Congress, the Supreme 
Court, the Library of Congress, and the courts of the District of 
Columbia occupied the Capitol in late 1800.
    In 1803, Congress allocated funds to resume construction. A year 
earlier, the office of the Commissioners had been abolished and replaced 
by a Superintendent of the City of Washington. To oversee the renewed 
construction effort, Benjamin Henry Latrobe was appointed architect. The 
first professional architect and engineer to work in America, Latrobe 
modified Thornton's plan for the south wing to include space for offices 
and committee rooms; he also introduced alterations to simplify the 
construction work. Latrobe began work by removing a squat, oval, 
temporary building known as ``the Oven,'' which had been erected in 1801 
as a meeting place for the House of Representatives. By 1807 
construction on the south wing was sufficiently advanced that the House 
was able to occupy its new legislative chamber, and the wing was 
completed in 1811.

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    In 1808, as work on the south wing progressed, Latrobe began the 
rebuilding of the north wing, which had fallen into disrepair. Rather 
than simply repair the wing, he redesigned the interior of the building 
to increase its usefulness and durability; among his changes was the 
addition of a chamber for the Supreme Court. By 1811, he had completed 
the eastern half of this wing, but funding was being increasingly 
diverted to preparations for a second war with Great Britain. By 1813, 
Latrobe had no further work in Washington and so he departed, leaving 
the north and south wings of the Capitol connected only by a temporary 
wooden passageway.
    The War of 1812 left the Capitol, in Latrobe's later words, ``a most 
magnificent ruin'': on August 24, 1814, British troops set fire to the 
building, and only a sudden rainstorm prevented its complete 
destruction. Immediately after the fire, Congress met for one session in 
Blodget's Hotel, which was at Seventh and E Streets, NW. From 1815 to 
1819, Congress occupied a building erected for it on First Street, NE, 
on part of the site now occupied by the Supreme Court Building. This 
building later came to be known as the Old Brick Capitol.
    Latrobe returned to Washington in 1815, when he was rehired to 
restore the Capitol. In addition to making repairs, he took advantage of 
this opportunity to make further changes in the building's interior 
design (for example, an enlargement of the Senate Chamber) and introduce 
new materials (for example, marble discovered along the upper Potomac). 
However, he came under increasing pressure because of construction 
delays (most of which were beyond his control) and cost overruns; 
finally, he resigned his post in November 1817.
    On January 8, 1818, Charles Bulfinch, a prominent Boston architect, 
was appointed Latrobe's successor. Continuing the restoration of the 
north and south wings, he was able to make the chambers for the Supreme 
Court, the House, and the Senate ready for use by 1819. Bulfinch also 
redesigned and supervised the construction of the Capitol's central 
section. The copper-covered wooden dome that topped this section was 
made higher than Bulfinch considered appropriate to the building's size 
(at the direction of President James Monroe and Secretary of State John 
Quincy Adams). After completing the last part of the building in 1826, 
Bulfinch spent the next few years on the Capitol's decoration and 
landscaping. In 1829, his work was done and his position with the 
government was terminated. In the 20 years following Bulfinch's tenure, 
the Capitol was entrusted to the care of the Commissioner of Public 


    The Capitol was by this point already an impressive structure. At 
ground level, its length was 351 feet 7\1/2\ inches and its width was 
282 feet 10\1/2\ inches. Up to the year 1827--records from later years 
being incomplete--the project cost was $2,432,851.34. Improvements to 
the building continued in the years to come (running water in 1832, gas 
lighting in the 1840s), but by 1850 its size could no longer accommodate 
the increasing numbers of senators and representatives from newly 
admitted States. The Senate therefore voted to hold another competition, 
offering a prize of $500 for the best plan to extend the Capitol. 
Several suitable plans were submitted, some proposing an eastward 
extension of the building and others proposing the addition of large 
north and south wings. However, Congress was unable to decide between 
these two approaches, and the prize money was divided among five 
architects. Thus, the tasks of selecting a plan and appointing an 
architect fell to President Millard Fillmore.
    Fillmore's choice was Thomas U. Walter, a Philadelphia architect who 
had entered the competition. On July 4, 1851, in a ceremony whose 
principal oration was delivered by Secretary of State Daniel Webster, 
the President laid the cornerstone for the northeast corner of the House 
wing in accordance with Walter's plans. Over the next 14 years, Walter 
supervised the construction of the extensions, ensuring their 
compatibility with the architectural style of the existing building. 
However, because the Aquia Creek sandstone used earlier had already 
deteriorated noticeably, he chose to use marble for the exterior. For 
the veneer, Walter selected marble quarried at Lee, MA, and for the 
columns he used marble from Cockeysville, MD.
    Walter faced several significant challenges during the course of 
construction. Chief among these was the steady imposition by the 
government of additional tasks without additional pay. Aside from his 
work on the Capitol extensions and dome, Walter designed the wings of 
the Patent Office building, extensions to the Treasury and Post Office 
buildings, and the Marine barracks in Pensacola and Brooklyn. When the 
Library of Congress in the Capitol's west central section was gutted by 
a fire in 1851, Walter was commissioned to restore it. He also 
encountered obstacles in his work on the Capitol extensions. His 
location of the legislative chambers was changed in 1853 at the 
direction of President Franklin Pierce, based on the suggestions of the 
newly appointed supervising engineer, Captain Montgomery C. Meigs. In 
general, however, the project progressed rapidly: the House of 
Representatives was able to meet in its new chamber on December 16, 
1857, and the Senate first met

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in its present chamber on January 4, 1859. The old House chamber was 
later designated National Statuary Hall. In 1861 most construction was 
suspended because of the Civil War, and the Capitol was used briefly as 
a military barracks, hospital, and bakery. In 1862 work on the entire 
building was resumed.
    As the new wings were constructed, more than doubling the length of 
the Capitol, it became apparent that the dome erected by Bulfinch no 
longer suited the building's proportions. In 1855 Congress voted for its 
replacement based on Walter's design for a new, fireproof cast-iron 
dome. The old dome was removed in 1856, and 5,000,000 pounds of new 
masonry was placed on the existing rotunda walls. Iron used in the dome 
construction had an aggregate weight of 8,909,200 pounds and was lifted 
into place by steam-powered derricks.
    In 1859, Thomas Crawford's plaster model for the Statue of Freedom, 
designed for the top of the dome, arrived from the sculptor's studio in 
Rome. With a height of 19 feet 6 inches, the statue was almost 3 feet 
taller than specified, and Walter was compelled to make revisions to his 
design for the dome. When cast in bronze by Clark Mills at his foundry 
on the outskirts of Washington, it weighed 14,985 pounds. The statue was 
lifted into place atop the dome in 1863, its final section being 
installed on December 2 to the accompaniment of gun salutes from the 
forts around the city.
    The work on the dome and the extensions was completed under the 
direction of Edward Clark, who had served as Walter's assistant and was 
appointed Architect of the Capitol in 1865 after Walter's resignation. 
In 1866, the Italian-born artist Constantino Brumidi finished the canopy 
fresco, a monumental painting entitled The Apotheosis of George 
Washington. The Capitol extensions were completed in 1868.


    Clark continued to hold the post of Architect of the Capitol until 
his death in 1902. During his tenure, the Capitol underwent considerable 
modernization. Steam heat was gradually installed in the Old Capitol. In 
1874 the first elevator was installed, and in the 1880s electric 
lighting began to replace gas lights.
    Between 1884 and 1891, the marble terraces on the north, west, and 
south sides of the Capitol were constructed. As part of the grounds plan 
devised by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, these terraces not 

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