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Hart Building Opens Under Protest

November 22, 1982

During the 1970s, the number of Senate staff members working for senators and committees more than doubled. Rising demands for constituency services and the new prerogative that allowed senators to add one staffer to each of their assigned committees contributed to this dramatic increase. By 1979, with the two permanent office buildings densely packed, staff overflowed into nearby former hotels, apartment buildings, and expensive commercial office space.

Recognizing the looming need for more Senate working space, Congress in 1972 authorized construction of a third office building. In 1976, as workers broke ground for that facility, senators agreed to name it after Michigan’s Philip A. Hart, a deeply respected colleague who was then in his final struggle with cancer.

To design a flexible, energy-efficient building that would accommodate both the expanded staff and the new technology of the modern Senate, Congress retained the San Francisco architectural firm of John Carl Warnecke & Associates. As construction proceeded in the late 1970s, spiraling inflation tripled the facility’s anticipated cost. This caused frustrated lawmakers to impose a $137 million spending cap. These financial constraints forced elimination of a gymnasium and a rooftop restaurant and delayed completion of the Central Hearing Facility (SH-216).

The building’s starkly modern design and excessive costs prompted New York senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan to introduce the following “Sense of the Senate” resolution in May 1981.

"Whereas in the fall of 1980 the frame of the new Senate Office Building was covered with plastic sheathing in order that construction might continue during winter months; and Whereas the plastic cover has now been removed revealing, as feared, a building whose banality is exceeded only by its expense; and Whereas even in a democracy there are things it is well the people do not know about their government: Now, therefore, be it resolved, That it is the sense of the Senate that the plastic cover be put back."

When the building’s office suites for 50 senators became ready in November 1982, only a bold few senators chose to risk public scorn by moving there. Consequently, in a not-soon-to-be repeated reversal of established seniority tradition, many junior senators were permitted to claim some of Capitol Hill’s most desirable quarters.

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