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Full text of "The history and construction of the subways leading from the Capitol to the Senate and the House office buildings / by Presley A. Wedding."

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December 18, 1936 

This Thesis has been prepared and presented as a part of 
the Initiation of Tau Beta Pi. 


These subways are of that class of structures which grew out 
of the imagination of no one person. The construction of the B)use Office 
Building in its preliminary planning required a tunnel to convey power 
lines to the Capitol. Out of this original conception came into being the 
subways as they are today. Authorization for the construction of the two 
subways was made at different times, and on March 7 t 1907, appropriation 
was made to enable work to be started upon them. Construction was begun 
a few days after June 14, 1907 r and finished early in January 1908, 

The structures are of reinforced concrete, being built in an 
open cut excavation. Their dimensions are; length 760', inside width 22* , 
height 11*. Their courses follow sinuous paths from the northeast and 
southeast corners of the Capitol and enter the office buildings beneath 
their principal entrances. 

It may be said that these subways serve a most unique purpose. 



Cities of the Ancient World were well supplied with tunnels, which 
were for the most part secret, and served no worthy use. Today, however, our 
greet cities are honey-combed with tunnels supplying millions of people with a 
rapid means of transportation. Washington, the Capital of our Nation, is devoid 
of great underground systems found in other cities, but there is one subway 
structure of particular interest which will be the subject of this thesis, i.e., 
the subways which lead from the Capitol to the Senate and House Office Buildings < 

The history of these subways is such an integral part of the history 
of the House Office Building especially, and the Senate Office Building to a 
lesser degree, that it is deemed necessary to go back into a brief history of 
these buildings in order that the desirability of the construction of such sub- 
ways may be fully appreciated. 

By the end of the nineteenth century the membership of the House of 
Representatives had grown to such an extent that the lack of office space became 
a serious problem. Offices in the Capitol itself were occupied by committee 
chairmen, occasionally the offices being shared with committee men themselves. 
As a result of this situation, Congressmen were forced to establish headquarters 
in hotels and private office buildings, which were scattered in many different 
parts of the city. This state of affairs created extreme inconvenience to the 
legislators becsuse of the lack of proper office facilities, and the necessity 
of travelling between the Capitol and their several offices, especially at roll 
call. Hence, Congress, in order to meet this need, made the following appropria- 
tion in the Sundry Civil Appropriations Act of March 3, 1901: 


"To enable the Architect of the Capitol to prepare and 
submit to Congress at its next session, plans, specifica- 
tions, and estimates of cost for reconstructing and 
extending, in a fire-proof manner, the Capitol building, 
the renovation end decoration of the rotunda; also for 
the construction of a fire-proof building adjacent to 
the grounds of the Capitol building to be used for offices, 
storage, and power plant purposes connected with the 
Capitol building, One Thousand Fire Hundred Dollars, to 
be immediately available." 
Mr. Edward Clark, Architect of the Capitol at the time, prepared 
and submitted severe 1 preliminary plans for the structure later to be known 
as the House Office Building, but his death prevented his seeing any one of 
them through to completion. Upon his demise the burden of his duties fell to 
his assistant, Mr. Elliott Woods, who was later appointed to the office held by 
the late Mr. Clark, bearing the title of "Superintendent of the U. S. Capitol 
Building and Grounds." 

It may be of interest at this point to note that the construction of 
the proposed subway was one of the considerations influencing the selection of 
the present site of the House Office Building instead of an alternate site on 
the property where the Labor newspaper building now stands, at 10 In dependence 
Avenue, S. W. Mr. Woods, in a statement before the House Appropriations Commit- 
tee in charge of Sundry Civil Appropriations for .1903, pointed out the fact that 
the construction of the subway would be much facilitated by the placing of the 
structure on its present site, since both the office building and the Capitol 
were on practically the same grade. He also pointed out the existence of a sewer 
line which would block the course of the subway to the alternate site. His 
estimate of the cost of the structure at the time was $118,000.00, 

It was originally planned to install in the new Houae Office 
Building a power, lighting, and heating plent sufficient to take care of that 
building and the Capitol, since those existing in the Capitol were rapidly be- 
coming too antiquated for adequate service. Introductory remarks accompanying 
Mr. Wood's statement in the foregoing paragraph advised that a subway was 
necessary to carry the electric lighting, power, steam, and hot water systems 
and "at the same time it would be sufficiently comfortable as a public passage 
way and would be provided with means of transportation both for material and 
persons." From the preceding statements it is reasonable to believe that the 
purpose of the subway in its earliest conception was to carry utility lines to 
the Capitol from the proposed power plant in the new building. As plans were 
developed, however, the conception of the purpose of the sub«fay was broadened 
to include that of providing a passage way between the Capitol and House Office 

The development of further plans and subsequent authorization of 
the construction of the Senate Office Building made apparent the fact that a 
central heating plant for the Capitol, Library of Congress, and the two proposed 
buildings was necessary* The realization of this project would, of course, 
obviate the necessity of the subway conducting power lines between the Capitol 
and House Office Building, but the idea of the subway affording a passageway 
for persons and materials remained, however, for Congress, in the sundry Civil 
Appropriations Act of April 88, 1904, in addition to authorizing the construc- 
tion of the Senate Office Building and central heating plant, made a provision 
for the construction of a subway, which reads as follows: 

"Toward the installation of necessary machinery 

for labor and material, construction of ducts, heating 
mains, subways and traction system connection the 
Capitol Building," 

This plan of providing direct communication between the two build- 
ings seemed to have met with approval of all concerned. The Urgent Deficiency 
Act of February 27, 1906, providing further funds for the Central Power Plant, 
at the same time authorized the construction of a subway to connect the Senate 
Office Building with the Capitol. The expenditure of such a structure was 
limited to $168,500.00. 

About one year later, on March 7, 1907, the following appropriation 
was made: 

"To complete the construction of a building for a heating, 

lighting and power plant. construction of ducts, 

heating mains, subways, and for all other appliances, and 
for each and every purpose in connection with all of the 
foregoing, One Million Two Hundred Thirty-Seven Thousand 
Dollars, to continue available until expended." 
Of this sum $337,000,00 was allotted to the construction of both subways. 

After bids had been duly received and opened, the contract was 
awarded to the Rudolph S. Blame Company of Chicago, on June 14, 1907, and work 
was started shortly thereafter The construction progressed satisfactorily, 
and the subways were finished early in January 1908* 

The completion of the buildings and subways proved to be a great 
convenience to Congressmen. In addition to providing a comfortable way of 
communicating between the buildings in inclement weather, the subways had other 
advantages, as is intimated in a whimsical comment by the Washington Times of 
July 20, 1907: 

"When the snow, sleet and ice is above ground, say the 
lawmakers, and a constituent standing guard at both the 
Capitol and office building doors, Representative Blank 
may whistle for his subway car, and like the Czar of 


Russia when escaping from a bomb artist, go underground 
from office to Capitol and escape in safety to the floor 
of the House." 
In fact, this system proved so popular that the Hon. Mr. Green of 
the House of Representatives, introduced on January 5, 1909, a resolution which 
was passed ordering the Superintendent of the V, S. Capitol Building and Grounds 
to investigate the feasibility of constructing subways between the office 
buildings, end extending the system to the Union Station, Government Printing 
Office, and proposed Post Office Building. Mr. Woods, in his report, recom- 
mended the carrying out of such a plan, stating that it was entirely feasible. 
For some reason this plan was not carried out. 

Now thet the subways were finished, means of transportation were 
taken under consideration. Specially designed electric automobiles built by 
the Studebaker Company were the first conveyors put into service* After a 
period of time, however, they proved rather slow transportation, and a rail 
system was studied. A scheme was presented whereby a tramway would be installed 
the route of which would include a complete circuit of the House Office Building, 
making stops especially at each corner of the building at the elevators. A sim- 
ilar arrangement in the Senate Office Building was prevented by the structure's 
"U" shape plan. (In recent years a fourth side has been added, making this 
plan symmetrical with thet of the House Office Building.) The estimated cost 
of this entire system was $75,000.00. The House rejected its portion of this 
system, and that subway has since been without means of transportation except 
ordinary hand ccrs for transporting materials. The Senate, however, because it 
was of smaller membership, and therefore would require a system of lesser 
capacity and expense, authorized installation of a system of transportation as 
provided for in the Sundry Civil Appropriations Act of March 4, 1911, between 
the Senate Office Building and the Capitol, At this time the head of the 


Columbia Construction Company brought to the attention of the Senate, through 
the Architect of the Capitol, a monorail system which he had developed. 
Ultimately the contract for installation of a system for transportation was 
awarded to this company, and installed shortly thereafter. 

Soon after the cars were put into operation, repairs were necessary 
due to the general type of construction, although fundamentally the idea was 
sound. Maintenance costs began to run so high that Mr. Woods, who had proved 
himself to be verycapable and versatile in other fields of endeavor, redesigned 
the cars and submitted his plans to the Navy Yard for manufacture. Since that 
time the cars have been improved upon as defects are revealed by wear, replace- 
ment parts being manufactured at the Navy Yard. Until the present time satis- 
factory service has been given by this system. 

CONSTRUCTION AND EQUTHJENT: The .course of the Senate subway starts 
at the northeast corner of the Capitol and following a sinuous path enters the 
office building at the corner of Delaware and Constitution Avenues. The center 
line follows the corner axis of the building from a point 100 f out from the 
face, end enters the basement at the rotunda which provides a turn-around space 
for the subway monorail. The course of the House subway is essentially sym- 
metrical, starting at the southeast corner of the Capitol. 

The amount of the bid submitted by the Blome Company was $164,800.00 
for one subway, both subways, however, were included in the terms of the contract. 
Completion of the work five months after date of formal acceptance was required, 
A fine of $100.00 for every secular day's delay was provided. The contractor was 
required to guarantee his work for two years after date of final payment. It 
was also stipulated that work be started simultaneously on both subways. The 
method of excavation was to be open cut rather than tunnelling, the depth of 
cut being from 18' to 22' below the surface of the road way. Approximately 
20,000 yds. of earth were excavated. 


Alteraate bids of brick and concrete were Invited, and although 
prices on brick construction were somewhat lower, concrete was selected as the 
structure} material. The typical section is 22' wide inside, wall to wall! 
widening to approximately 25' at the Capitol stations, being 11' high in the 
clear* The roof is 2*-6" thick in the center, tapering off to l'-lO* on each 
side, reinforced with 1-1/8" round rode and stirrups. Walls and floor, exclusive 
of track foundation, are l'-3 w thick reinforced with 3/4" round rods. A side 
walk 7* wide on one side is provided under which are placed vitrified clay ducts 
for service wires. Exterior of walls and roof are protected by water-proofing 
which, during back filling, was protected on the roof by a layer of common brick 
placed flat. Back filling was to be properly rammed and rolled so that resurfac- 
ing of the streets could take place immediately upon completion. Special re- 
inforcement under street car tracks was provided by a aeries of 20" I beams— 
80 lbs ./ft., placed transversely across the roof 2* on centers at the center of 
the subway. Sixteen beams were necessary for this purpose for the House subway 
and 46 for the Senate subway. The tracks over the Senate subway have since been 
removed. Under the steps to each office building a special beam and girder con- 
struction is provided in the roof to support the unusual load. 

Forced draft ventilation was provided by fans. Recently, however, 
air conditioning equipment has been installed, making this equipment obsolete. 

Covering the outside of the subway walls from foundation to roof 
is a thickness of 4-§" hollow brick to take care of seepage drainage. Resting 
on a projection of the foundation Just outside of this brick covering is a 6" 
cast iron soil pipe which is connected every 50* by 4" soil pipe branches to 
the bottom of the hollow brick facing. These 6" pipes lead to the regular city 
drainage system. Drainage within the subway itself is provided by gutters and 
half "S" traps which lead from the gutters to the outer edge of the subway excava- 
tion at which point they are connected to the regular street drainage system, 


special care being required for the passage of the drain pipes through the 

Excerpts from the specifications for materials which may be of 
interest are as follows; 

"All cement used in the work to be done under this contract 
shall be Portland cement of standard and well known brands, 
and must be equal in all respects to the requirements and 
teste called for in the standard method of testing and 
latest specifications for cement preparation by the American 
Society for Testing Materials. Tests were to be made by the 
Bureau of Standards at the expense of the U. S, Government, 
"Sand is to be of first quality, clean, sharp washed river 
aand free from loam, mud, organic matter, or other impurities. 
The source of supply shall be subject to the approval of the 

Superintendent • 

"Broken stone is to be of crushed granite limestone, or sound 
trap rock, screened topass -through a l n xl" mesh Bcreen and 
over a £*x£" mesh. 
"The steel shall have an ultimate strength of 60,000 lbs. to 
70,000 lbs. per square inch and an elastic limit of not leas 

than one-half the ultimate strength .....It shall bend 

180° with a diameter equal tothe thickness of piece tested 
without fracture.*' 
The concrete was specified to be 1:2:4 mix by actual measure, 
and instead of including the now familiar slump test requirement, the specifica- 
tions stated that "The mix shall be Just wet enough to quake when rammed.'' The 
drop from conveyor was limited to three feet, mixing by hand or machine being 
permitted. Continuous mixers, however, were not allowed. Cement finish and 


mortar were of 1:3 mix. 

The sidewalks were to conform with the District of Columbia Building 

Water-proofing was to be accomplished by application of four layers 
of "Hydrex" water-proof felt or its equal. It was to be cemented by hot elastic 
"Hydrer" compound. 

CARS; The cars themselves have a capacity of eighteen passengers. 
They are driven by two l\ horse power motors, of 115 volts and 58 amperes, 
direct current. The control mechanism is placed in the middle of the car to 
facilitate easy reversal of motion with a maximum of efficiency. 

There is an overhead track attached to the ceiling along which 
travels an overhead assembly containing balancing wheels, thrust wheels and 
electrical contacts serving the same purpose as a trolley. This overhead 
assembly is connected to the car itself by two hollow steel bars, which make 
sliding contact, conveying the electric cables from the overhead trolley to the 
motor to take care of the uneveness of the ceiling. 

The car travels on two flange wheels along a light, single track, at 

a speed of 18 miles per hour. Their general appearance resembles that of the 
cars used on "scenic railways'* of present day amusement parks. 

However modest the subways may be In their structural size and 

importance, it may be safely said that they serve one of the most, if not the 

most, unique purpose of any in our country today. 


House Report 2291 

Sixty-first Congress, Third Session 
"U. S. Statutes At Large 

Volume 34 

Volume 33 
Washington Times 

Saturday, July 20, 1907 

Report of Mr. Elliott Woods, Superintendent of U. S. Capitol 
Building and Grounds 
March 3, 1909 

Miscellaneous House Committee Hearings 

Volume 600 
Records of Architect of Capitol 
















View of the Subway Car 

Capitol Station of the Senate 

View Looking Down Straightaway 

Beam and Girder Construction under Office Building Steps 

Opening to Fan Vault 

Portion of Rotunda in Senate 

Showing Beginning of Turn 
Around and Overhead Construction 



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