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Correction to This Article
Earlier versions of this story, including in today's print edition of The Washington Post, gave an incorrect Web address for the Capitol Visitor Center. The correct address is http://www.visitthecapitol.gov.
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6 Years Later, Capitol Visitor Center Puts Out Long-Awaited Welcome Mat

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Three years behind schedule and almost $360 million above budget, the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center prepares to open its doors to millions of tourists. Video by AP

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It will open tomorrow, and it is spectacular.

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Behind a low profile of Virginia granite wrapped around nearly five acres of Pennsylvania sandstone walls and graced by floors of pink marble from Tennessee lie the history and heroes of Congress and the American people.

There are fountains, a spiral staircase, six skylights and statues of 24 people, ranging from former members of Congress, as might be expected, to notables including Helen Keller, Hawaiian King Kamehameha and Confederate Gen. Wade Hampton, and Sakakawea (also spelled "Sacagawea"), a Native American woman who helped guide Lewis and Clark on the northwest expedition.

The exhibition hall is dominated by a pair of curving, 93-foot marble walls lined with telling artifacts from U.S. history and banks of interactive touch-screen displays. Included are an 11-foot cutaway model of the Capitol and the ceremonial trowel President George Washington used to place the cornerstone in 1793. Among the displayed documents: President John F. Kennedy's speech in which he vowed to put a man on the moon; President Franklin D. Roosevelt's call to Congress for a declaration of war after the attack on Pearl Harbor; and Washington's letter informing Congress of "a reduction of the British Army under the Command of Lord Cornwallis" in the Battle of Yorktown in the final major battle of the Revolutionary War.

In addition to the lavish setting and abundant history, the visitor center harbors one of the most coveted destinations on the Mall: restrooms. In fact, it has 26 of them, equipped with automatic, low-flow toilets.

The center also has a restaurant, a pair of gift shops and an ATM if Capitol price tags demand it. Foreign-language versions of films are available. Sign-language interpretation of tours is also available with advance notice, as are wheelchairs.

After tomorrow's private opening ceremonies, which will include speeches by the likes of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) or Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), the center will open to the public about 1 p.m., said Sharon Gang, communications director for the visitor center. "December 2nd usually isn't a high tourism day for the Capitol, but we want people to come," she said.

When the doors open after lunch, it will be something of an open house, Gang said, and no reservations will be required. A new reservation system that will allow visitors to book a tour of the Capitol will go into effect this week. The online reservation service at http://www.visitthecapitol.govtol.com is intended to eliminate the long lines that formed outside the Capitol's visitor entrance. A constituent can also call the office of a House or Senate member for a reservation.

The center is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day of the year except Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day and Inauguration Day. Although use of the advance registration system is the best bet for avoiding delays, there will be a few same-day passes available at the tour kiosk on the east front of the Capitol or at the information desks on the visitor center's lower level.


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