Monday 17 September 2007

House Office Buildings

The names of Senate Office buildings were discussed in last Friday's post. On the House of Representatives side there are a number of buildings, but the most prominent - all on Independence Avenue are Cannon, Longworth & Rayburn. The three are linked together by a long tunnel beginning at Cannon (the most easterly, to Rayburn, the largest and most westerly. Capitol Hill slopes downwards from Cannon to Rayburn. A subway train links Rayburn to the Capitol building itself.

The Rayburn Building is named after Sam Rayburn, Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1940 to 1961 (with brief interuptions as Minority Leader when the Republicans took the House in 1947-49 and 1953-55). He was a powerful Speaker who used his personal influence with members, relying less on the activities of his whips. His 'Board of Education' where Representatives (and Senator Lyndon Johnson) would gather for poker, bourbon, and a frank discussion of politics, was key to his power. "Mr Sam" was the only person who issued the highly prized invitations to these meetings, held most frequently in a basement room close to the House chamber.

The Architect of the Capitol writes "The design of the building is a modified H plan with four stories above ground, two basements, and three levels of underground garage space. A white marble facade above a pink granite base covers a concrete and steel frame. One hundred sixty-nine Representatives were accommodated in three-room suites, with modern-for-the-time features such as toilets, kitchens, and built-in file cabinets; nine committees were also moved to this building. Amenities include a cafeteria, first aid room, Library of Congress book station, telephone and telegraph room, recording studio, post office, gymnasium, and facilities for press and television." [The picture above is Rayburn photographed from the Capitol]

The Cannon Building is named after Speaker Joe Cannon. He was probably the most powerful Speaker in House history - having personal control of almost all House appointments, but eventually his powers were reduced after a revolt by Representatives in 1910. He represented Illinois as a Republican. This is the oldest Building, completed during Cannon's speakership (1908).

The Longworth Building sits between Cannon and Rayburn, and is much smaller - but houses the gift shop and a canteen - where "Freedom Toast" is available. This delicacy is known elsewhere as French toast, but legislation was passed to change the name in the cafeteria as a response to the french government's opposition to US plans for the invasion of Iraq. CNN reported in 2003 - "This action today is a small, but symbolic effort to show the strong displeasure of many on Capitol Hill with the actions of our so-called ally, France," said Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, the chairman of the Committee on House Administration. Ney, whose committee has authority over the House cafeterias, directed the change, after colleague Walter Jones, R-North Carolina, circulated a letter suggesting such a move." Nicholas Longworth was the 43rd Speaker of the House of Representatives serving from 1925 to 1931. He was a Republican from Ohio and had married Alice Roosevelt, President Theodore Roosevelt's daughter in 1906.