The Everett McKinley Dirksen Senate Office Building was the second of three office buildings constructed for the United States Senate.

The Russell Senate Office Building, three wings of which were completed in 1909, was the first structure designed especially for the Senate. (Earlier, in 1891, the now-demolished Maltby Building just north of the U.S. Capitol Grounds had been acquired and converted into Senate offices.) The Russell Building was expanded by the addition of the First Street wing in 1933.

Despite these past efforts, the growth of staff and committees in the 1930s and 1940s pushed employees into rented accommodations nearby and prompted efforts to provide the Senate with additional space. In 1941, the Senate Office Building Commission concluded that the existing committee rooms and offices in the Capitol and Russell Building could not be remodeled to provide the efficient and workable layouts that would be possible in a new building. The commission proposed to house the Senate's fifteen standing committees and their subcommittees in one building; five-room suites in areas adjacent to the committee rooms would accommodate committee chairs and their staffs.

The commission directed Architect of the Capitol David Lynn to prepare preliminary plans and cost estimates for an additional office building (as authorized by Public Law 169, 80th Congress, approved July 11, 1947). The site, east of the Russell Building and half of city square 725, is bounded by Constitution Avenue, 2nd Street, 1st Street and C Street NE. It was acquired and cleared in 1948 and 1949. The commission selected Otto R. Eggers and Daniel Paul Higgins, architects practicing in New York City and the successors to the firm of John Russell Pope, as consultants to prepare the preliminary plans.

Eggers and Higgins were directed to design 15 committee suites and 40 five-room suites so that each senator would have enlarged office space in one or the other of the Senate office buildings. They were also to set aside a four-room corner suite for the vice president. The building was to be a synthesis of the classical and contemporary, "in harmony with the existing buildings on Capitol Hill" without replicating their expensive details. It was also to be the same height as the Russell Building.

Eggers and Higgins submitted a plan for a simple, seven-story, E-shaped building. It was to be faced in marble and limestone. Tall ribbons of glass and dark panels alternated with marble to suggest a colonnade. The committee rooms were designed with an elevated rostrum sufficiently large to accommodate the full committee. Witnesses and reporters would occupy the space facing the rostrum.

Features incorporated into the design of the building reflected modern developments, including:

  • An auditorium, seating approximately 500 persons, equipped with radio, television, motion picture, recording and broadcasting facilities
  • A cafeteria, seating 700 persons
  • A telephone exchange system
  • A parking garage for 200 cars
  • A fluorescent lighting system

The subway system, installed between the Capitol and the Russell Building in 1909, was by this time considered inadequate to handle expanded traffic, so new tunnels with a double-track system were constructed to the Russell and Dirksen Buildings.

The final plans and specifications were approved by the Senate Office Building Commission on April 7, 1949, but actual construction was delayed until 1954. As a result of the delay and increasing costs, it became necessary to reconsider the plan. As an economy measure, the entire rear center wing of the building was deleted from the plans, eliminating two hearing rooms, two committee rooms, and some amenities, including a swimming pool. This wing was finally completed in 1982, in a greatly expanded and different version that was designated part of the Hart Senate Office Building.

The ground-breaking exercises held on January 26, 1955, were attended by Chief Justice Earl Warren and senators led by Vice President Richard M. Nixon. On July 13, 1956, a cornerstone was laid without ceremony. The building, at 750,520 square feet, was accepted for occupancy on October 15, 1958.

1956 photograph of the construction of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.
1956 photograph of the construction of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

The principal elevation on First Street was designed with a pilastered central bay with an entablature and pediment. Senator Theodore Green, a member of the commission, suggested the inscription on the pediment, THE SENATE IS THE LIVING SYMBOL OF OUR UNION OF STATES. The pediment suggests a grand entrance, but the actual entrances around the corners lead into simple, small lobbies, thus preserving area for the building's working spaces. The bronze doors at the north and south entrances were designed by one of the consulting architects, Otto R. Eggers, and modeled by the Rochette and Parzini Corporation. In the center are the American eagle and symbols representing Equality and Liberty. The main facades are clad in Danby marble and Chelmsford granite, while the facades facing the courtyard are limestone.

Fifty-one bronze reliefs appear on the spandrels between the third- and fourth-floor windows of the Dirksen Building. Eggers & Higgins created these sculptured panels as part of the overall design of the building. They feature five subjects: shipping, farming, manufacturing, mining, and lumbering. Each is represented by a stylized male figure in action: a sailor maneuvers cargo; a farmer guides a plow; a factory worker oils gears; a miner swings a pickaxe; and a lumberjack chops a tree. The figurative panels are 2' 2" squares set within 3' 4" square panels. Believed to have been designed by Eggers, they were modeled by the Rochette and Parzini Corporation of New York and cast by The Flour City Ornamental Iron Company in Minnesota.

Hallway walls and floors were finished with marble. The building contained 40 five-room suites and 12 committee rooms, as well as additional offices and meeting rooms, a post office, a telegraph office, a first aid room, a gymnasium, two cafeterias, and a telephone exchange that served the entire Capitol complex. The committee rooms included walnut paneled walls, marble wainscotting, imposing bronze lighting fixtures, and ceilings decorated with plaster ornaments. Furniture in office suites included a desk; a couch; club, swivel, and other chairs; bookcases; tables; and a large wastebasket. Tables used by the public, press, and staff often had Formica tops, but otherwise furniture had a walnut finish. Upholstery was done in leather; senators had a choice of soft green, dark red, or beige for their private offices.

The Dirksen Building also contained an auditorium, originally built with a sloping floor and fixed seating for 500 people. It was intended for hearings that would attract significant public interest and television coverage, with modifications to accommodate television and print media. In addition, the room is large enough for a Joint Meeting of Congress. The walls are clad in marble and walnut, with bronze lighting fixtures. The fixed seats were later removed and the floor leveled; now, detached seats may be arranged as desired. A 2009 renovation extended the rostrum and added ADA-compliant features, and the lighting and audio-visual capabilities were upgraded.

Changes over the years reflect evolving understanding of a building's contributions to its users' well-being. In 1973, the Dirksen Building was a part of a pilot project in the Capitol Complex to eliminate barriers to access for handicapped persons, including the addition of ramps. During a substantial renovation of the building's interior in the late 1990s, ramps to committee rooms were added and toilets made accessible. Other updates included changes to office partitions and layouts, along with the removal of under-utilized water closets: with this most recent adaptation, office suites typically consist of two of the original suites. Modernized infrastructure included upgrades to wiring, audio-visual, and telecommunication equipment. In 2011, the middle section of the Dirksen Building's roof was transformed from an unusable outdoor tennis court to a green roof. Sedums plantings now cover 7,200 square feet of roof; the plantings and gravel are placed to suggest a simplified version of the D.C. skyline.

The building, for many years known only as the New Senate Office Building, was named in 1972 after former Illinois Senator and Minority Leader Everett McKinley Dirksen, who served in the Senate from 1951 to 1969 (Senate Resolution 296, 92d Congress as amended by Senate Resolution 295, 96th Congress, agreed to December 3, 1979).

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