Throughout much of the Senate’s first century, senators’ official working space consisted of their desks in the Senate Chamber, where they were subject to constant demands and frequent interruptions. Senators conducted business at their desks, in the aisles of the Senate Chamber, in the corridors of the Capitol, and in boarding houses and hotel lobbies. As space became available, those who chaired committees found refuge in the Capitol’s committee offices, which doubled as the chairman’s personal office. As new states entered the Union, sending more members to Congress, senators and representatives used any available space in the Capitol, including alcoves in the attic, corners in the basement, and converted storerooms and closets. In desperation, some senators rented their own office space in nearby buildings.
For a while at the end of the 19th century, the Senate seemed to have solved its space problems. With the completion of the Capitol’s west front terraces in 1891, more space became available for committees at around the same time that the Senate acquired a nearby apartment building. The five-story, red-brick Maltby Building, located north of Constitution Avenue on the modern site of the Taft Memorial Carillon, had been built in 1887 by New York developer Maltby Lane. Later known as the “Senate Annex,” the Maltby Building was converted into 81 offices and committee rooms, providing relief for the Capitol’s overcrowded occupants (and becoming the envy of House members). Yet, even that space filled quickly. “I happen to be located in the Maltby Building,” Texas senator Joseph Bailey commented, “and so crowded is it that when our constituents come to interview us on matters affecting the public interest, they are often compelled to wait in a hall until it may suit our convenience to see them.” Beyond overcrowding, the Maltby was plagued with other problems. Almost immediately, senators and their employees saw signs of deterioration in the building. In 1893 the architect of the Capitol found flaws in the foundation and cracks in the walls and windows. Upper rooms proved to be insufferably hot during the summer, making them unusable. By 1904 senators were so alarmed by the building’s rapid rate of settlement and general signs of decay that they questioned the building’s safety and asked for an inspection.
Superintendent of the Capitol Elliott Woods, who supervised the inspection, explained that the Maltby Building stood on unstable ground. As a result, its brick elevator shaft had sunk about seven inches, “carrying with it adjacent walls and floors.” Other structural aspects of the building had shifted as well. “Floors, partitions, and doorways,” Woods explained, had also settled and were “now very much out of level.” The building needed a complete renovation. “If the Senate desires to make the Maltby House a permanent annex,” Woods recommended, “the building should be entirely reconstructed within the outer walls, and that construction should be of the fireproof type, both as to floors and partitions.” The fire marshal agreed on the building’s unsound condition, condemning it as a firetrap. “We consider this building extremely hazardous in regard to the liability of fire therein,” the fire marshal concluded in his report, “and we are of the opinion that, on account of the conditions mentioned, it is dangerous for the purpose for which it is used.” The conversion from apartment to office building had also proved to be problematic. “It was never intended to be an office building,” Sergeant at Arms Daniel Ransdell maintained, “and is not suited to the uses to which it is now put.” The Senate agreed, and over the next year most of the building was emptied of Senate offices, leaving behind only storage space on the lower floors. Once again, senators and their staff were sent scrambling for suitable work space, which would be provided with the opening of the Russell Senate Office Building in 1909.