Capitol (seat of the U.S. Congress)

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Capitol (seat of the U.S. Congress)

Capitol, seat of the U.S. government at Washington, D.C. It is the city's dominating monument, built on an elevated site that was chosen by George Washington in consultation with Major Pierre L'Enfant. The building as it now stands took many years to build and is the result of the work of several architects. In 1792 a competition was held to select an architect, but William Thornton gained the president's approval with a plan separately submitted and was appointed. In 1793 the president set the cornerstone, with Masonic rites, and the building was begun. Later three additional architects were employed—E. S. Hallet, George Hadfield (d.1826), and James Hoban. In 1814 the uncompleted building was burned by the British, and B. H. Latrobe, who had been appointed (1803) surveyor of public buildings, undertook its restoration. He was succeeded in 1818 by Charles Bulfinch, who brought the design to completion in 1830.

The building proved inadequate in size and was greatly enlarged (1851–65) by T. U. Walter, who added the extensive House and Senate wings at either end and the imposing dome, c.288 ft (90 m) in height, which dominates the composition. Elaborate murals depicting a variety of inspirational American subjects, painted (1854–79) by the Italian-born fresco artist Constantino Brumidi (1805–80), adorn much of the Capitol's interior. The building proper is over 750 ft (229 m) long, including approaches c.350 ft (110 m) wide. In 1960 the east front of the Capitol was extended 32 ft (9.8 m), and the original sandstone facade was replaced by marble. The greater Capitol Complex includes (in addition to the Capitol itself) 274 acres (111 hectares) of grounds with gardens, monuments, memorials, a carillon, and fountains; the United States Botanic Gardens (est. 1820), one of the oldest such gardens in the nation, although the present conservatory dates only to 1933; the several House and Senate office buildings; the buildings of the Library of Congress; and the Supreme Court building.

See I. T. Frary, They Built the Capitol (1940); U.S. Capitol Historical Society, We, the People (11th ed. 2011); G. Gugliotta, Freedom's Cap: The United States Capitol and the Coming of the Civil War (2012).

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