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Architecture

Longworth House Office Building

Overview 

Completed in the spring of 1933, the Longworth House Office Building is the second of three office buildings constructed for the United States House of Representatives as well as a fine example of the Neoclassical Revival style popular in the second quarter of the 20th century.

Location: 

South of the U.S. Capitol, bounded by Independence Ave., New Jersey Ave., South Capitol St., and C St., S.E.

Date Occupied: April 1933

Area: 702,608 square feet

Because of its position on a sloping site, the rusticated base of the Longworth Building varies in height from two to four stories. Above this granite base stand the three principal floors, which are faced with white marble. Ionic columns supporting a well-proportioned entablature are used for the building's five porticoes, the principal one of which is topped by a pediment. Two additional stories are partially hidden by a marble balustrade.

Terrace with balustrade decorated with urns. Panel of a bronze Longworth Building railing decorated with a stylized anthemion leaf.

Terrace with balustrade decorated with urns and a bronze railing panel decorated with a stylized anthemion leaf.

It presents a somewhat more restrained appearance than the neighboring Cannon Building, which was designed in the more theatrical Beaux Arts style. The Longworth Building takes its place along with the National Gallery of Art (1941) and the Jefferson Memorial (1943) as one of Washington's best examples of the Neoclassical Revival style.

Example of decorative ceiling in the Longworth. Example of decorative ceiling in the Longworth Building.

Examples of decorative ceiling in the Longworth Building.

Inside the main entrance is a lobby with limestone walls, a marble floor and an ornamental plaster ceiling. Elsewhere, important rooms and lobbies are also treated with highly decorative plaster ceilings and cornices designed with classical moldings and national symbols. The quality if the decorative plaster work is one of the principal beauties of the Longworth Building's interiors.

Interior staircase in the Longworth Building. Staircase railing in the Longworth Building. Eagle sconce or wall bracket on staircase walls in the Longworth Building.

Interior staircase in the Longworth Building, details of its railing and its eagle sconce.

When the Longworth Building was completed, it contained 251 congressional suites, five large committee rooms, nine small committee rooms and a large assembly room now used by the Ways and Means Committee. It was in this room, which seats 450 persons, that the House of Representatives met in 1949 and 1950 while its chamber in the Capitol was being remodeled. The building was named in 1962 in honor of Nicholas Longworth of Ohio, who served as Speaker of the House of Representatives (1925-1931) when the building was authorized.

In 1966, soon after the Rayburn House Office Building was completed, the congressional offices in the Longworth and Cannon Buildings were reconfigured to bring the total number of rooms in each suite to three.

The Architect of the Capitol (AOC) House Superintendent's Office is responsible for the day-to-day structural, mechanical and domestic care of the House Office Buildings.

History and Construction

Planning for the second office building for the House of Representatives began in 1925. Severe overcrowding in the Cannon House Office Building (completed in 1908) led to the renovation of the Cannon Building and the construction of the Longworth Building. In 1929, Square 689 was selected as the site for the Longworth Building.

Under the direction of Architect of the Capitol David Lynn, preliminary designs for the building were prepared by a local firm known as The Allied Architects of Washington. The principal architects were Frank Upman, Gilbert LaCoste Rodier, Nathan C. Wyeth and Louis Justemente. They produced two schemes for a simple, dignified building in harmony with the rest of the Capitol Complex.

The Allied Architects of Washington at first assumed the new structure would be fashioned like the existing House Office Building (the Cannon Building by Carrere & Hastings) with high ceilings, broad corridors, monumental interior spaces, and expensive materials and finishes. It was soon discovered, however, that neither the site nor the budget ($47.5 million) would permit such structure to be erected and still provide all the offices and committee rooms that were required. It was therefore decided to design a less elaborate structure. By making ceiling heights lower, limiting the use of expensive materials, and devising an efficient floor plan, the architects were able to meet the expectations of House leadership and remain within the budgetary limits.

Construction progress of the Longworth Building's frame work and stone work from the corner of South Capitol and C streets SE, October 1931.

Construction progress of frame work and stone work from the corner of South Capitol and C streets SE, October 1931.

In January 1929, Congress authorized $8,400,000 for acquiring and clearing the site and for constructing the new building. The foundations were completed in December 1930, and the building was accepted for occupancy in April 1933.

Unlike other office buildings, the Longworth Building has the distinction of having served as the meeting place for the House of Representatives. From June through December, 1949, and from July through December, 1950, while its chamber in the Capitol was being reconstructed, the House met in the Longworth's Ways and Means Committee room. This was the first time the House met outside the Capitol since 1819.

Installation of roof trusses for the new roof on the House wing of the Capitol.

Installation of roof trusses for the new roof on the House wing of the Capitol.

The 1948 elections for the 81st Congress returned a Democratic majority to the House and Sam Rayburn once again became Speaker. The House voted funds to replace the roof over its part of the Capitol and to reconstruct its chamber to improve ventilation, acoustics, and aesthetics. While work was under way the House would require temporary quarters. Since no room in the Capitol was large enough to accommodate 435 members, space in one of the office buildings would have to be used.

The Architect of the Capitol looked into the possibility of using the caucus room in the Cannon Building, but found the assembly room in the Longworth Building, which was then being used (as today) by the Committee on Ways and Means, better suited for a temporary chamber.

Last Updated: July 13, 2016