tv American Artifacts CSPAN October 28, 2016 11:35pm-12:00am EDT
each week, american artifacts takes viewers into archives, museums and historic sites around the country. next, senate historian emeritus don richie takes us inside the hart senate office building to learn about its construction and place in congress history. hasht is t hart is the three of the newest office building. >> we are in the hart senate office building which is connected to the dirksen building, they're two halves of the same building. the hart building is a very modern building and we're overlooking the central hearing room known as hart 216. it's in this room where most of the really big hearings take place. this room is specifically designed for television. in fact, we're in one of the television booths right now overlooking the hearing room.
this building is quite large and, in fact, when they knew that the dirksen building was not going to be sufficient to house the ever-increasing number of senate staff, they originally thought they would just replicate the dirksen building, build its identical twin on this side to finish the block off but it wasn't going to be large enough. in 1983 when this hart building opened, the u.s. senate staff tripled in size. part of that was the result of vietnam and watergate. of up until then the executive branch provided by most of the information that congress needed. once congress felt it couldn't trust the information the executive branch was giving it, they felt they needed their own separate independent staff. also there are a series of legislative reforms in the 1970s that, for instance, allowed every senator to have at least
one staff person on each committee in which that senate is served. that was a big break through. they created minority staff as well as a staff for the community as a whole which became the majority staff. there are a number of cases where projects required hiring large numbers of new staff and there just wasn't room in the russell building or the dirksen building to house them all. i came to work for the senate in 1976 and across the street were a series of apartment houses and old hotels the senate took over and committees and staff members were working in what had once been apartment and hotel rooms. these rooms were not designed for heavy office equipment. you wouldn't have a file cabinet with more than two drawers because the floor wouldn't have sustained it and they needed to have a new building. in 1976 the senate authorized the construction of a third office building. this building was named in 1976
for senator phillip hart of michigan. ironically, senator hart was one of the very few senators who objected to naming the other two buildings, the russell and the dirksen buildings. he felt it was too soon after they died and that a longer period, 25 years, should go by so that you could really tell whether a person is historically famous or was just famous at the moment but senator hart was very ill. he would die at the end of that year. he was well liked by senators across the board, he was known as the conscience of the senate so while he was still living the senate voted to name this building after philip hart of michigan. the building was opened in 1983. it was empty for a while. the newspapers had been terrible about writing stories saying it was extravagant that congress shouldn't be spending so much money on themselves. it was going to be a build building. it had to house a lot of people.
it had to be adjusted for computer age. it was going to be expensive and it was going to house lots of visitors coming here, lots of constituents who come to see their senators, lots of people who come here because of hearings going on so you had to have a large space and it was going to be expensive but that ko could be used against you when you were running for office and in 1982 a lot of political campaigns argued the hart building was a terrible extravagance. so senators were reluctant to move into the building. two things happened. one is that the leadership prevailed on a couple of the really senior senators, the people who everybody respected who just sort of stood head and shoulders above everybody else and persuaded them to move into the building. scoop jackson, henry jackson of washington, for instance, by moving in here, even though he loved his office in the russell building, didn't want to leave, but he knew by moving in here he
would give cover to the junior senators to be able to move in here. then the sergeant at arms came up with a much better plan. the sergeant at arms sent eviction notices to senators due to move in so they were ordered to leave their offices and to move into this building. but, the fact of the matter is once they got here they realized this building works much better for modern senate staff and office space. the floors, for instance, can be taken up very quickly and there are channels run through here that computer wires can be put there. there are no computers to deal with when they were building the russell or dirksen building but by 1983 the computer age dawned. they could take the walls in the building and knock them down and reconfigure them literally overnight so that if a senator left office and another senator was moving in they could do a quick turnaround in terms of getting the office up to whatever the needs were of the senator moving into the space.
all of the staff of a senator would be in a two-floor suite with a small staircase linking them so they wouldn't be having to go out the ham and down the hall to meet with colleagues so since they would all be in the same area. and i have talked to senators who love the russell building and like being there but they have admitted the hart building works better and they've moved over into this building because it creates a more efficient working space for their office. the hart building is also the least of the classical buildings. the russell building is very neoclassical. the dirksen building is sort of a mirrored image of a n neoclassical building, a little plainer but the hart building is very modern. some people have compared it to a large ice cube tray. it's a very different looking building. senator daniel patrick moynihan who lived on capitol hill disliked a lot of modern tech
texture going up and during the winter while they were working on the building they covered it with plastic and in the spring they took the plastic down and senator moynihan walking to work got the first look at the building, he went to the senate and introduced a resolution asking to put the plastic back up again to cover the building. he also had a resolution say nothing more buildings should be conducted by the federal government for the remainer of the 20th century. he didn't think they were getting it right. but people got used to the building over the years, it's a comfortable building. unlike the buildings like the russell building that has an open air courtyard, the hart building as a closed atrium. it's a great space all year round. but it was a desperately empty space. when you first came to this building been anything had been constructed in the aree yum, it was a vast empty space and they
knew they neededing? there to fill that space. the sculptor alexander calder was commissioned to do something specifically for the space in the hart artrium and he createda stable mobile that he called mountains and clouds. there's an enormous set of mountains with a waterfall in the center and above it a series of clouds they float -- they used to float. eventually the motor gave out and they became stationary but they hover over the mountains and they do fill the space. they create a nice backdrop for class pictures who come to the building bull now that was conducted in the mid-1980s thanks to a u.s. senator named nicholas brady from new jersey who raised the money privately for that construction. government money was not used. it's one of the largest pieces of public cup which you are in the world and it was the very last piece of work that alexander calder did because
after he came to the senate to show the model that he prepared he went home and died that evening so he never did see the finished sculpture. the hart building has 50 united states senators in here. it has a large number of the staff. not so much in terms of committees. the commit 's the are mostly in the dirksen building but it has the central hearing room that is used for special occasions for large-scale hearings, for things of really historic nature when there will be a large audience, so this is a room that would be familiar to people who watched many supreme court nominations from ruth bader ginsburg to elena kagan's have all taken place in this room. the current justices, five of the current justicings, have had their hearings in the hart building. >> and i am humbled to have been
nominated for the seat that is now held by justice o'connor. >> many major hearings have taken place here. this is where the nebl investigatio -- 9/11 investigations took place. there have been many celebrities who testified here, christopher reeve, the hollywood actor, came to testify for medical purposes for federal government funding of medical research. so we've had lots of blockbuster hearings in this room. >> when they could save thousands of lives. now treatment with stem cells has already begun. >> the old school senators like ted kennedy and others who have been here for a long time, they would hold their hearings over in the russell building even though this room was available at the time. they just felt -- watergate had been held there, so many other hearings had been held there
that they were part of that historical trend. but this room here in the hart building has created a whole new historical stream of famous events of major hearings that lots of very prominent witnesses, lots of acrimony between the senators and witnesses and so even though this is the newest building, started only in 1983, it's already begun to establish a long history and it will continue to serve the united states senate for a very long time. >> the plan they developed for operation iraqi freedom was even more innovative and transformational, employing an unprecedented combination of speed, precision, surprise and flexibility. >> this space is just below an area that was going to be a gymnasium. the original plans for this building had a gymnasium for the senators. at the time because the building was seen to be so extravagant, the senators cut the money for a
gymnasium and also for a restaurant on the ninth floor of the building. they were services that were going to be provided by. over the years however it became clear that senators are in very high stressful jobs and they need to relax a little. there is a gymnasium in the house side. it would be good for their health and well-being if they could unwind and there's staff here as well so they did make an effort to put that gymnasium in. in fact, the architect of the capital said they already had the money. they could afford to do this and the senate voted to put the gymnasium in. it created a firestorm in talk radio circuits and people thought it was a terrible thing they were going to waste federal money on a gymnasium for senators and so it was blocked and one of the senators who blocked it was a senator from
wisconsin, william proxmire who ironically was one of the most physically fit members of the senate. he used to run everyday from his home to the senate. and he kept in terrific shape for years and here he was blocking the gymnasium for his colleagues and part of it was because he was a very fiscally frugal person. he's the man who started the golden fleece award to look at things where he thought the government was spending money where it shouldn't spend but proxmire specifically got in the way of and blocked the senate from building that gymnasium and perhaps as retaliation the senate chose to close down a small shower room that occupied the space in the dirksen building which happened to be the room where senator proxmire took his shower after he ran into work everyday. but part of this is -- was the sense that people are here to work and they shouldn't be taking time off to exercise i think it's actually a shame that
the gymnasium was never built. i think members of congress and staff could have benefitted greatly from that over the years as they have in the house of representatives. i also think it's a shame that the restaurant was never constructed on the ninth floor but that's created a very nice countless members of conferences and other meetings have taken pla place. no space goes to waste. even though it's not what it was originally designed for, they'll find good use for it and demands are going to come along that we hadn't anticipated and the building will have to be converted ate various times to meet those demands. the hart building is an unusual shaped building and one of the reasons for its unusual shape is that it was constructed to preserve an historical building that occupies one of its corners and that's at the corner of constitution avenue, maryland
avenue and second street is where you'll find the national women's party house. this was alice paul's organizati organization, a suffrage organization that operated to try to get the right to vote for women and then for many years lobbied for the equal rights amendment and i can remember them in the 1970s out parading for equal rights amendment that the senate and house passed and sent to the state but which was not ratified by the states. but the hart building was built specifically not to demolish the women's party building. actually, the original women's party building had been on the site of the supreme court and that building had been demolished to make room for the supreme court. so once was enough, i think the women's party felt they'd given their all to the government at this point. and they have a little museum the women's suffrage movement.
the women's suffrage movement is a lobbying group and they came, they protested in the capital and at the white house and over the years we have had many, many lobbying groups come through here. we've had protesters of all different types. in recent years we've had code pink protesters who've come into this room and other rooms. >> please clear the room. please clear the room. >> everyone wants to be sure their cause is being heard but the real way their causes are heard are through formal hearings in which witnesses who are both for and against whatever the issue is, who represent the administration and represent the opponents of the administration come to testify, citizens are invited to testify and these hearings are always open to the public unless they're dealing with classified
information, those are closed hearings but everything else is open, the public is invited in, these days you can watch the hearings on streaming -- on the internet and you can also come in person to watch the hearings. there's even an occupation that has developed called line sitting. early in the morning you'll find students and retirees and others sitting along the corridors holding line and just before the hearing start a well-dressed lobbyist will appear and pay them for holding their space and take one of the spaces because that saves them a few hours of waiting to get one of the few spaces that are in one of these hearing rooms. if you go to the russell building, you'll see several bronze plaques on the wall indicating where presidents of the united states had their offices when they were senators. warren g. harding, for instance, harry truman, john f. kennedy,
lyndon johnson, richard nixon. there are none in the dirksen building but there is one here that's a plaque indicating barack obama held that office while he was u.s. senator. a letter was september to one of the senators in this building that contained a large amount of anthrax, a very deadly anthrax. >> about 10:30 this morning my office opened a suspicious package. we can't go into the details because this is an ongoing investigation just as soon as it became clear there was a suspicious substance in the envelope we contacted the capital police and the capital physician, i'll have more to say about our own circumstances in
the office after dan nichols of the capital police and dr. john isold, our capital physician, speak to questions directly as to the letter itself. >> lieutenant dan nichols, spokesman of the united states capital police. approximately 10:30, a letter was received in the hart senate office building which contained a powdery substance. there was an exposure when the letter was opened. following protocols the staff who opened the letter immediately contacted u.s. capital police. the officers respond to the scene isolated these situations and according to our protocols we conducted field tests. the first field test became back as positive for anthrax. we did a second field test and that came back also as positive
for anthrax. >> they hoped it could be contained in a small area but after a day they began to be concerned the anthrax could be contained so all of the senate staff who work in this building are required to come to this room to have themselves swabbed to test to see whether or not there was any chance they maybe tested positive for anthrax and within three days everybody was assured they were not. no one in this building became ill because of the anthrax but two postal workers died as a result of that incident. but because of that incident, security increased enormously around the capital. now, the building was shut down for three months very abruptly. offices just had to leave and half of the u.s. senators operate out of this building. they all had to find some place else to go. a lot of them roomed with their colleagues from their state, republicans and democrats alike shared offices. committees moved in to -- staff
moved in together with each other. the senate historical office went over to the senate library where nine people sat around one desk with one computer and one phone and we operate that way for three months. afterwards we did a series of oral history interviews with people to find out out what the experience had been like and what we discovered was there was a more to mouse amount of camaraderie that became came about because everybody was operating out of these confined areas. people brought in cakes and cookies brought in. afterwards people felt nostalgia losing that sense of community that had existed sometimes crises bring out the best in people but this was a largest building that was decontaminated and a large squad of federal workers and from the military and medical facilities came through here to decide how to clean this building and after
three months we were able to move back into it. >> it's been open for a couple minutes now. >> for a couple minutes. >> very good. >> capitol hill is like a city. it's a city that has its own power plant, its own subway system, its own banks, its beauty parlors, that's because it has several thousand people who work here, both work in the senate and in the house. the capital building, which was constructed and opened in 1800 has grown to meet the demands of people who work here but it long ago proved too small for all of the space, all of the things that were needed here and so if you go stand on the plaza in front of the capital and you look at the small sandstone middlesex of the building on the senate side, that little square box was the original capital building in 1800 and housed the senate and the house and the supreme court and the library of
congress. if you stand out on the plaza and look around, all of the buildings you see -- the supreme court, the library of congress, the house office buildings, the senate office buildings -- they all represent functions that started out in that small sandstone box and they give the sense of how things have grown. the most recent addition to the capitol is underground, it's the capitol visitor's center and that's also because it's a reflection of the fact that three million people a year visit the capitol building to tour it, to look at it and watch the congress at work and they needed to be able to accommodate these very large crowds that were coming in. but for all of that, for all the art and for all the other historical events and all the rest, this is really a working -- a daily working building with a large staff of people who are trying to keep up with issues and who are trying to answer constituents' interest. some of them come to work early in the morning, some of them
stay to work late at night because their states are on the west coast. there always seems to be a light on in the office buildings. it reflects the enormous growth of the government, of the services of the government, and of the demands that constituents have placed on legislators. and so that's the whole story of why we now have three senate office buildings and three house office buildings surrounding the united states capitol. this is one of a series of programs with senate historian emeritus don ritchie on the history of senate office buildings. we also toured the russell and dirksen buildings where many of the 20th century's most notable congressional hearings took place. you can watch all of our american artifacts programs in their entirety by visiting our web site, cspan.org/history. c-span, where history