Capitol Visitor Center officially opens its doors
Published 6:19 am Monday, December 8, 2008
By By Jo Bonner
After years of planning and construction, the Capitol Visitor Center (CVC) officially opened its doors last week marking the largest expansion to the Capitol since it was built in the 1800s.
With skylight views of the Capitol dome, the 580,000-square-foot building - through films, exhibits, and tours - introduces visitors to the Capitol, showing how Congress works, how the Capitol was built, and telling the story of this fascinating structure.
Some of the treasures now housed in the CVC include:
The original plaster model for the Statue of Freedom which was used to cast the bronze statue that sits atop the Capitol dome,
A touchable, 11-foot scale model of the Capitol dome offering a captivating perspective of the building,
And the actual catafalque used to support President Lincoln’s casket as he lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda in 1865 and has since been used for 11 presidents, as well as several representatives, senators and Supreme Court justices.
For years, visitors to the U.S. Capitol have had to stand outside in the heat, humidity, rain, snow and cold waiting to go through security to enter the building. The new CVC provides visitors a restaurant, exhibition hall, and gift shops to enjoy while waiting for a tour.
When Congress is in session, visitors are also able to watch the action on the floors of both chambers of Congress in the replicas of these chambers.
Originally, the replica of the House chamber did not include the words “In God We Trust” even though this motto is inscribed about the Speaker’s chair in the actual House gallery. Perhaps, it is this feature of the CVC of which I am most proud.
When I questioned the decision to omit these important words from the replica, I was told by the majority party that I was not a museum curator and to let the professionals decide what should or should not be on display.
Needless to say, I was not pleased with this response, and I pushed forward questioning the CVC staff during the oversight hearings of the Legislative Branch Subcommittee on Appropriations, of which I am a member.
As many of you may know by now, the CVC listened to my concerns and addressed this blatant omission by including the words “In God We Trust” in the replica of the House chamber.
I hope the next time you are in Washington you will be able to visit the CVC and take pride in having our national motto, “In God We Trust,” displayed prominently where it belongs.
For those planning a trip to our nation’s capital, the CVC now serves as the new main entrance to the U.S. Capitol and is open to the public from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
In order to visit areas of the Capitol beyond the CVC, you must make a reservation in advance. These tours are in high demand, and I recommend booking your tour as early as possible.
As in the past, you can schedule a Capitol tour through my office by calling Errical Bryant in my Washington D.C. office at (202) 225-4931.
If you prefer, you can arrange a tour directly through the U.S. Capitol Visitor Service using an online reservation system at http://tours.visitthecapitol.gov. If you do not have Internet access, you can call 202-266-8000 for the Office of Visitor Services.
Large groups can use the online reservation system for group reservations.
Visitors to the Capitol also have the opportunity to watch Congress in session from either the House or Senate galleries. Passes are required to enter either gallery at any time. You can obtain House gallery passes from my office, so be sure to let us know when you are planning to visit.
New Washington Office
Speaking of new venues, my staff in Washington is in the process of moving to our new office in room 2236 of the Rayburn House Office Building.
Following each election cycle, a number of offices become available due to retirements and lost elections. Members, if they choose, can participate in a lottery and are able to draw a number to determine in what order they can choose from the available offices.
This year, with increased seniority and a little luck, I was one of the first in my class to have the opportunity to select a new office.
While we have been based in the Cannon House Office Building for the past six years, the new office in the Rayburn Building provides my staff with a little more elbow room – 70 square feet to be exact; however, in Washington, space - no matter how small - is a premium.
If you or your family are planning a visit to Washington anytime soon, please note our new office location. The D.C. phone number, (202) 225-4931, will remain the same.
My staff and I work for you. If we can ever be of service, do not hesitate to call my office toll free at 1(800) 288-8721 or visit my website at http://bonner.house.gov.
Jo Bonner is a U.S. congressman. His column appears weekly.