Capitol Architect Says Prospects for Reopening Capitol’s West Front Are “Slim”

Capitol Architect Says Prospects for Reopening Capitol’s West Front Are “Slim”

by Larry Janezich

Architect of the Capitol Steven Ayers told the Capitol Hill Restoration Society (CHRS) last Wednesday night that chances for reopening the Upper Terrace of the West Front of the Capitol to the public are “slim.”  Asked by ANC6B Commissioner Norm Metzger at the fall CHRS membership meeting at Hill Center if a more imaginative way could not be found to govern access to points viewed as vulnerable in the wake of the September 11th attacks, Ayers replied that “we live in a dangerous world,” and though visitors are “still welcome” at the Capitol, “there are limitations.”

For several years now, Capitol Hill residents have had no opportunity to enjoy the vista from the West Front of the Capitol Building.  Security recommendations for the Capitol are made by the Capitol Police Board, comprised of House Sergeant at Arms Bill Livingood, Senate Sergeant at Arms Terrance Gainer, and Ayers.  It is only in recent years that individuals with security backgrounds (Livingood was formerly a Secret Service agent, Gainer comes from DC Metropolitan Police) have been appointed to the Capitol’s top administrative posts.  Before September 11th, these posts were filled from the Congressional staff of the Congressional leadership.

Mirroring a broader trend, security personnel have become far more influential in the Capitol’s operations, and once security restrictions are imposed, they are seldom relaxed.  Prior to WWII, for example, visitors to the Capitol Building would climb to the lower interior balcony around the Rotunda of the Capitol.  Closed during the war for security reasons, it has never been reopened to the public.

In response to another question from CHRS members about the future of the former House Page’s Residence at Second and E Streets, SE, Ayers said that is up to the Speaker’s office and no decision has been made.  Among the options he noted were to “sell, refurbish, or do nothing.”

Ayers was the featured speaker at the CHRSs fall membership meeting.  It was held in the as-of-yet unfinished Carriage House at Hill Center.  The Center is in the process of getting a certificate of occupancy for the main building.

Highlights of Ayer’s PowerPoint presentation to the group:

A bust of Rosa Parks would be placed in the Capitol in December

The building in the Capitol complex suffering the most damage from the recent earthquake was the Rayburn House Office Building

The restoration of the Bartholdi Fountain West of the Rayburn Building is now complete and the park is open to the public

A tour of Hill Center for those attending the meeting followed the presentation.

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