In most Capitol Hill offices, the August recess has a way of stirring up feelings that are somewhat reminiscent of childhood summer vacations. Recess usually starts off as a much anticipated season of freedom, gradually progresses into long weeks of quiet boredom and usually ends in panicked days of dread over the work that is soon to come.
But, for at least one Capitol Hill office, the recess means something else entirely.
Each year, the August break allows Architect of the Capitol Alan Hantman four solid weeks to tackle major projects that would otherwise cause too much disruption if undertaken while Congress is in session. So as Members and staffers return to their normal, hectic schedules this week, the AOC’s office is actually coming off its busiest month of the year.
Some AOC projects, like the Capitol Visitor Center, are fairly obvious, but others are more subtle. Since the Capitol itself is essentially a 200-year-old working museum, cleaning and conservation represent some of the most important work the AOC does.
As efforts continued to clean and maintain the historic frames in the Capitol Rotunda (the fifth frame is expected to be completed this month), a team of conservators was brought to the Hill over the break to work with the AOC curator’s office to treat 21 of the historic statues that stand watch throughout the Capitol complex. According to AOC spokeswoman Eva Malecki, each statue was thoroughly cleaned, waxed and had its bronze pedestals treated to prevent further corrosion.
In addition, conservation work was performed on the Capitol’s historic ceiling murals.
“In one instance, overpaint and yellowed varnish were removed from the 1901 gilded ceiling vaults,” Malecki said. “This is the first time original gilding has been successfully uncovered on one of the murals designed by Elmer Garnsey. One wall lunette was completely conserved, with cracks flattened out, dark overpaint removed and areas damaged by a leak restored.”
In the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing room, studies were done on murals created by Capitol artist Constantino Brumidi to determine effective and safe methods to reattach flaking original paint and to investigate original colors hidden by overpaint.
Other major projects on the Senate side included preparing the Judiciary Committee hearing room for the upcoming Supreme Court nominee hearings, replacing the balcony doors in the Russell Building Rotunda and refinishing the marble floors in the Hart Building.
Some of the major projects on the House side included beginning renovations of the Longworth Building food court, replacing sidewalk sections along New Jersey Avenue Southeast, and preparing and modifying a new committee room for the Homeland Security Committee.
On the Capitol grounds, one major effort for the AOC in August was moving forward with the construction of the First Ladies Water Garden, which will become part of the new, 3-acre National Garden project built adjacent to the U.S. Botanic Garden. The water garden project, which was awarded to the local William V. Walsh Construction Co. after funds were raised earlier this summer, will complement the National Garden’s rose garden, butterfly garden and lawn terrace. The garden will honor America’s first ladies with a sculpture based on a Martha Washington quilt pattern.
Construction of the National Garden began in 2004. With the water garden project now under way, planting for the garden is expected to occur next spring, and the National Garden is expected to open to the public by the summer of 2006.
“When completed, the National Garden will not only be a wonderful oasis on Capitol Hill, it will be a natural complement to the U.S. Botanic Garden — an outdoor museum of plants,” Hantman said in a release. “The National Garden will greatly add to people’s experiences when visiting this wonderful facility.”