July 31, 1906
Russell Building Cornerstone
In April 1906, as workmen laid the cornerstone to what we know today as the Cannon House Office Building, President Theodore Roosevelt thrilled a large audience with a speech attacking muckraking journalists. That speech has since become a standard part of Roosevelt administration political folklore. Three months later, on the Senate side of Capitol Hill, a second cornerstone placement almost escaped public notice. On July 31, 1906, a handful of Senate employees, construction workers, and bystanders watched as a crane operator lowered a large white block of Vermont marble into position. The highest-ranking official present, the Capitol superintendent, stood in the shade, fanning himself with a wide-brimmed Panama hat against the 90-degree heat.
Perhaps the Senate had good reason not to publicize its first office building. Three years later, on March 5, 1909, when the initial occupants moved into the grand Beaux Arts-style structure that is now designated the Richard Brevard Russell Senate Office Building (named for Georgia Senator Richard Russell), newspaper editors blasted the opening with headlines such as "New Building Fitted Up Regardless of Expense." Responding to a statement explaining that this was where senators' business activity would take place, The New York Times began, "When in the course of human events it became necessary for these ninety-two business gentlemen to have business offices, they erected a building that a thousand men would feel lonesome in." Noting its bronze ornamentation, mahogany furniture, gymnasium, telephone for each office, and running ice water, the same writer concluded, "it looks about as much like a prosaic business office building as a lady's boudoir does."
By today's standards, the space the building offered seems modest. Each senator received only two rooms. The senator's private office featured a fireplace, a large window, a double-kneehole "battleship" desk, six chairs, and a couch. The slightly smaller adjacent room housed the senator's personal staff, which at that time generally consisted of one secretary and one messenger. The building also contained eight committee rooms and a large, ornate conference room for party caucus meetings. Unlike its fraternal House twin, the Senate structure originally had only three sides, with an open courtyard facing First Street. By the early 1930s, expanding legislative activities and staff resources justified the addition of a fourth side along First Street, with 28 additional office suites. That occasion passed without much journalistic notice—muckraking or otherwise.
U.S. Congress. Senate. History of the United States Capitol: A Chronicle of Design, Construction, and Politics, by William C. Allen. 106th Congress, 2d sess., 2001. S. Doc. 106-29.
Russell Building Opens, March 5, 1909
Information provided by the Senate Historical Office.
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