The Longworth Building occupies an irregularly shaped site opposite the Capitol on the south side of Independence Avenue. It is flanked to the east by the older Cannon House Office Building (1908) and to the west by the newer Rayburn House Office Building (1965). Of the three House office buildings, the Longworth Building is the smallest at 702,608 square feet.
Plans to provide the House of Representatives with a second office building were begun in 1925. Severe overcrowding in the one existing office building prompted Congress to make an initial appropriation of $2,500 with which the Architect of the Capitol, David Lynn, was to explore possible solutions to the problem of inadequate space. The legislation directed Lynn to "prepare and submit to Congress...plans, specifications, and estimates for the erection of an addition or extension to the [Cannon] House Office Building sufficient to provide two rooms for each Member including any recommendations...for the erection of an additional office building for Members."1
For an addition to the existing House Office Building, Lynn turned to its original architects, the well-known firm of Carrère and Hastings. They recommended that a 375-room addition be constructed within the existing courtyard, thereby leaving the external appearance of their original design unchanged. Because of its limited scope, however, this scheme was never given serious consideration.
Preliminary designs for a new House office building were prepared in 1925 by a local firm known as "The Allied Architects of Washington (Inc.)." The principal architects were Frank Upman, Gilbert LaCoste Rodier, Nathan C. Wyeth and Louis Justemente.
In an 8-month period, The Allied Architects produced two schemes for "a simple, dignified building not out of harmony with its surroundings."2 These two designs, as well as the Carrère and Hastings proposal, were published as House Document 122, 69th Congress, 1st Session. While considerably different from the final design, these preliminary sketches by The Allied Architects foretold much of the architectural character of the future Longworth Building—serviceable and economical rather than monumental, which reflected some Members' concerns about the Cannon Building's ornate qualities.
In 1929, the decision was made to proceed with a new House office building. The Allied Architects were retained as consultants to the Architect of the Capitol and were directed to proceed with plans and specifications. Congress authorized funds 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 on April 20, 1933.
The Longworth Building is positioned on Square 689, bounded by Independence Avenue, New Jersey Avenue, South Capitol Street and C Street SE. Because of the slope at the site, the rusticated base of the building varies in height from two to four stories. Above this granite and marble 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. 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 popular in the second quarter of the twentieth century. It presents a somewhat more restrained appearance than the neighboring Cannon Building, which was designed in the more theatrical Beaux Arts style. Construction work, taking place mostly during the Great Depression, relied heavily on domestic materials and provided hundreds of jobs. The final cost of the building came in under budget.
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 decorative plaster ceilings and cornices designed with classical moldings and national symbols. The quality of the decorative plaster work is one of the principal beauties of the Longworth Building's interiors. Other decorative elements include engraved bronze chandeliers and polished walnut and gold elevators.
When the Longworth Building was completed, it contained 251 congressional suites with pale blue leather couches, walnut desks and safes in Members' private offices; private lavatories; and larger offices for staff and visitors that sported walnut paneling and brocade curtains. Every suite had a legislative buzzer system to relay calls to vote and other House action as well as phone lines in both the reception and Member's office.
The building also housed five large committee rooms, seven small committee rooms, and a large assembly room, all with marble baseboards, ornamental crown molding and lighting fixtures, and bronze clocks. The assembly room, now used by the Ways and Means Committee, seats 450 persons; the House of Representatives met here in 1949 and 1950 while its chamber in the Capitol was being remodeled. Ionic pilasters and columns support a plaster entablature. The niche in each corner is topped with plaster swags and a sculptural eagle. Pediments above the walnut doors have egg-and-dart trim. Ferro Bronze Studios designed the three-tiered chandelier. The walls have wood chair rails and wainscot with bronze scones. A walnut rostrum with decorative carvings of wreaths and stars serves as the focal point of the room.
Rockwell Kent (1882-1971) painted America at Peace in Room 1334, then the hearing room for the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, in 1944; the mural was a gift to the committee from the Air Transport Association. Its poster-like style exemplifies Kent's typically bold use of broadly massed forms and stark tonal contrast. The inscription "On Earth Peace" follows the top curve of the wall. Four stylized angels with large, raised wings fly face down over the earth, representing the Four Freedoms articulated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941. Below the angels are three airplanes arranged symmetrically. One angel and one airplane seem to be flying out of the mural. The rolling landscape at the bottom of the painting is dotted with farms, fields, and trees, and a city rises in the background. In the foreground a rail-road runs beside a waterway with shipping; a highway bridge with automobile and bus traffic spans them. The mural's horizontal lines and color palette express an idea of peace and harmony. When the committee moved to another room, the mural was covered. In 1978 it was revealed and cleaned.
Other parts of the building were occupied by necessary support facilities, such as document storage, a post office, a credit union and a telephone exchange. Air conditioning was installed in 1937. In 1959, the lower part of the interior courtyard was enclosed to provide a much-needed cafeteria for Members, staff, and visitors. In 1966, after the completion of the Rayburn House Office Building, congressional offices in the Longworth and Cannon Buildings were recon-figured to bring the total number of rooms in each suite to three. The entrances were modified for handicapped accessibility in 1977. Between 1986 and 1994, improvements were made to the building's electrical and fire-protection/life-safety systems. Work included the lowering of hallway ceilings to accommodate the upgraded wiring and sprinkler equipment.
On May 21, 1962, Public Law 87-453 was enacted. It named the "New" House Office Building for Nicholas Longworth of Ohio, who served as Speaker of the House of Representatives (1925–1931) when the building was authorized.
1. Public Law 624, 68th Congress, approved March 4, 1925.