Vice President George Bush's elegant and historic office in the Capitol has just been restored to its 19th-century grandeur. So has Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker's suite. Materials, furnishings and outside contracts for these restorations cost an estimated $82,000.
Of this, $44,000 for architectural restoration came from the Capitol's fund for miscellaneous improvements, according to William Raines Jr. of the Architect of the Capitol's staff. Money for the furnishings came out of the Sargent at Arms' budget.
An estimated $8,000 also has been spent on furnishings for the office of Senate President Pro Tempore Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.). Labor costs--for painters, cabinetmakers and other skilled workers employed at the Capitol--are not included in these figures.
Bush's office in the Old Executive Office Building next door to the White House also was redecorated and restored last year--at a cost of $33,864.04, according to his office and the General Services Administration. Of this, $12,000 came from money left over from his abortive 1980 presidential campaign, according to Shirley Green, Bush's acting press secretary.
That $12,000 paid for upholstery, curtains, a rug and other furnishings for his EOB office, Green said. A chandelier, owned by the White House and restored with a donation from Bush's friend Robert Mosbacher, a Texas oil and gas man, also has been installed there.
The GSA, according to the division in charge, spent $21,864.04 for the meticulous restoration of the EOB office.
President Reagan, shortly after his inauguration in January 1981, directed Cabinet members not to redecorate their offices, but the directive has not been sternly enforced.
By Washington standards, these are modest improvements.
In Bush's offices in the Old Executive Office Building, the GSA maintenance and building crew supervised by Buddy Respass has hidden plumbing and wiring under new pilasters, repaired and refinished the intricate parquet floor ($2,399), chipped old paint out of the plaster ornaments, and polished up the brass hardware with its naval motifs. When the building was completed in 1888 it was called the State, War and Navy Building.
Bush's room was originally the office of the Secretary of the Navy. For 30 years after World War I, it was used by Gen. John Pershing. President Herbert Hoover worked there briefly after a fire in the Oval Office.
For his EOB office, Bush, a student of antiques, has borrowed a chandelier that earlier hung in the White House's Green Room, a pair of couches once in the Oval Office and a bronze Tiffany desk set from the State Department.
His desk there has been signed by three presidents (Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson and Dwight Eisenhower) as well as by former vice president Nelson Rockefeller.
Bush's third and most used office is in the West Wing of the White House. According to Shirley Green, some of its furniture has been reupholstered. A portrait--from the White House collection of President Franklin Pierce, a distant ancestor of Bush's wife, Barbara Pierce Bush, has been moved in. "We didn't think anyone else would enjoy it as much," Green said.
Claus Mahnken, a Washington free-lance interior designer, planned the redecoration of Bush's, Baker's and Thurmond's Capitol offices, all in consultation with Senate Curator of Art and Antiquities James R. Ketchum and the Senate sergeant at arms.
Vice presidents originally had only one office, in the Capitol's Senate side. Presiding over the Senate is the vice president's only constitutional duty.
One vice president, Henry Wilson, died in his Capitol office. Another, Garret A. Hobart (elected with William McKinley), had a silk velour slumber robe made to match the velour cushions of the office sofa, according to Ketchum.
Though the sofa is long gone, Vice President Bush, as have others before him, sometimes dozes on a folding cot in the room during all-night Senate sessions.
The office has now been replastered and painted. Five new chairs have been made by the Capitol cabinet shop. They are copies of chairs designed by Benjamin Latrobe, early architect of the Capitol, for the Supreme Court and the Senate. (He copied them from Thomas Hope's 1807 book "Household Furniture and Interior Decoration.") A high-back version of the Supreme Court chair also was made for Bush's Senate office.
The room is filled with antique furnishings that have historic associations. Richard Nixon was so fond of the mahogany, double-pedestal partners desk that he took it into the Oval Office--and wired it to make the famous Watergate tapes. The resulting holes were filled in by order of President Ford. President Carter sent the desk back to the Senate for use by his vice president, Walter Mondale.
Mahnken says he found the large rosewood cabinet standing forlorn and in need of repair in a back hall of the Capitol.
"I showed it to the vice president and Mrs. Bush and they liked it a lot," Mahnken said. "So we had it restored and moved into a recess in the room. Later, I found out that it had stood in that recess for a hundred years, until 1965."
Ketchum said: "The cabinet is known as the John Nance Garner Liquor Cabinet, after Franklin D. Roosevelt's vice president." A gilt-framed mirror, which hangs rather awkardly over the great grandfather clock, has been associated with the Senate suite since 1859.
"It was all done on the cheap," Mahnken said, discussing the Senate redecoration. "They paid me less than a carpenter's wage. I donated much of my time. As for the cost, well, it would be hard to do a decent living room on what we spent. Everyone was very concerned about cost. For Senator Thurmond's office, for instance, I bought 10 reproduction chairs at W & J Sloane's Clearance Center.
"I knew the redecoration was necessary when I opened a door accidently in Senator Baker's suite and saw the King of Jordan standing next to a cigarette-burned, 1950s vinyl-covered sofa," Mahnken added.
The most extensive restoration in the Capitol's Senate side was the restoration of the majority leader's suite, rooms S230 through 234, in the northwest corner.
The restoration became necessary when Baker became majority leader. Instead of bumping his predecessor, Robert Byrd, from the majority leader's suite, Baker kept the minority leader's suite and took over five adjacent rooms that had been used as a disbursing office. According to his press secretary, Tom Griscom, Baker said: "Why should I move? I have the second greatest view in Washington: the Washington Monument and the Mall. The only better one is the White House's."
This oldest continuously occupied part of the Capitol, once one room, has also served as the Supreme Court, the House of Representatives chamber, the Senate chamber and the vice president's office. Its history is the subject of a study by curator Anne-Imelda Radice of the Architect of the Capitol's office that was requested by Baker and paid for by the architect's office.
In Baker's suite, a magnificent stencil-painted ceiling, plus an arch ornamented with recessed rosettes, both long-covered by acoustical tiles, have been revealed during reconstruction. The ceilings have been carefully restored with gold leaf and gilt paint.
The walls of Baker's private office are covered with photographs he has taken himself, and a portrait of his father-in-law, the late minority leader Everett Dirksen, whose office this once was.
A new sofa and new chairs in the reception room face the view Baker so admires. Over the two reproduction marble fireplace mantelpieces (cost $13,428) are two elaborate gilt-framed mirrors. One has an original Art Nouveau frame; the other was copied to match. (Costs for the restoration and the reproduction totaled $10,000.) The new Lightolier chandelier cost $5,176.
During the War of 1812, when the room was the Library of Congress, the British piled up the books and the furniture and used them to set fire to the Capitol.
Griscom said Baker hopes that with private donations new bookshelves could be built from original Latrobe designs and filled with appropriate editions. About $1 million would be needed.
"But I don't know what's going to happen now that he's announced he isn't going to run again," said Griscom.
Senate President Pro Tempore Strom Thurmond's offices, in a newer part of the Capitol, have been redecorated, but not as extensively. They now include an antique table, antique reproductions and a red, white and blue paint job.
"At first, Senator Thurmond didn't like the furniture," Mahnken said. "When each piece would arrive, he'd move it back out into the hall. But when I put it all together, he and Mrs. Thurmond wrote me letters saying how much they liked it."
Mahnken gives Thurmond full credit for one piece of decoration in the room--a 25-cent framed road map of South Carolina.