CVC Watch

Posted July 23, 2007 at 6:21pm

Congressional leaders and Architect of the Capitol officials have long said that one of the many side benefits of building the Capitol Visitor Center would be the addition of thousands of square feet of new exhibition space for Congress’ massive art collection. [IMGCAP(1)]

Some of the art is never seen or, in the case of the pieces meant for Statuary Hall, scattered throughout the Capitol.

Of the 100 statues that currently make up the collection, only 38 actually are located in Statuary Hall. The other 62 statues — including the first piece in the collection, Rhode Island’s 1870 statue of Nathaniel Greene — are situated in various locales. Some are placed in high-traffic areas such as the Crypt and Rotunda, but others reside farther off the beaten path in connecting corridors and vestibules throughout the first and second floors of the building.

So as major construction begins to wind down at the CVC project site, Congress is moving ahead with plans for determining exactly how many and which pieces from the National Statuary Hall Collection will be the first to greet visitors as they begin their Capitol Hill experience in the CVC.

During a hearing last year, then-Architect Alan Hantman presented a plan to the Joint Library Committee — which has oversight of the statuary collection — to relocate 28 statues into the CVC. At that time he said the new facility, with its 20,000-square-foot Great Hall, could hold as many as 48 statues.

But earlier this year the AOC revised the plan to allow just 16 statues in the CVC.

A spokesman for the joint committee said the panel, under its new chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), is awaiting another report on the statuary plan from the AOC. CVC spokesman Tom Fontana said this week that the AOC continues to try to find ways to maximize the number of statues that could appear in the new space.

Fontana said the AOC’s curator faces a number of challenges as she makes her recommendations on which statues should be moved and where they should be placed within the CVC. That includes floor load capacity and ceiling height restrictions. For instance, if Congress wanted to move Hawaii’s statue of King Kamehameha I into the facility it could only be placed in a very few specific locations because at 18,000 pounds — it is the heaviest statue in the collection — it would easily damage flooring that is not properly supported. Fontana also pointed out that there are “aesthetics, visitor flow concerns and level of visibility. … It won’t make sense to move a statue from a low-visibility location in the Capitol to a low-visibility location within the CVC.”

Overcrowding and location are issues that have come up repeatedly through the history of the National Statuary Hall collection.

The original law authorizing the collection was passed in 1864 and allowed each state to provide two statues “of deceased persons who have been citizens thereof, and illustrious for their historic renown or for distinguished civic or military services.” The 1864 law stated that all statues were to be placed in the “Old Hall of the House of Representatives,” which is, of course, today’s Statuary Hall.

But by 1933 the room was getting overcrowded with some 65 statues. Also, according to a history of the room on the Architect of the Capitol’s Web site, “the structure of the chamber would not support the weight of any more statues.”

At that time Congress passed a concurrent resolution that granted the Joint Library Committee jurisdiction over the collection and allowed the panel to relocate statues to other areas “within the Capitol.”

Since the Capitol Visitor Center is being designed as an addition to the Capitol and not a separate building, the placement of statues in the CVC will comply with the 1933 resolution. But the joint committee soon could be dealing with a new influx of statues even as it begins to move some into the CVC.

The House Administration Committee is planning to hold a hearing on a bill by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) to allow the District of Columbia to add two statues of its own to the collection. Meanwhile, American Samoa Del. Eni Faleomavaega (D) submitted a bill last week to permit each of the territories of the United States to add one statue to the collection. Faleomavaega’s bill was co-sponsored by the Delegates of Guam, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), who serves on both the House Administration Committee and Joint Library Committee, said last week that he’s interested in formulating a new statue plan for the Capitol particularly because the Capitol Visitor Center marks an important moment in the evolution of the building.

“I think the CVC is going to be a tremendous experience and architecturally an invitation for people to feel a part of this Congress,” Lungren said. “We ought to have a [statuary] plan for the entire Capitol, including the CVC, and decide what we’re going to do. Is the CVC hall going to be a major place for every state to have a statue or is it going to have a few statues? And what’s the criteria? … As I come in now I happen to think [the CVC] is something we’re going to be very proud of in a few years and it will make the experience for our constituents so much better than it is now.”