About 1,000 people, including several U.S. congressmen, rallied yesterday to protest a planned remodeling of the West Front of the Capitol.
The noon rally on the Capitol steps, sponsored by the American Institute of Architects and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, added fire to the debate over a $73 million proposal to add congressional office space near the Senate and House chambers by rebuilding the West Front.
Sixteen sandstone blocks crumbled from the West Front April 27.
David Meeker Jr., executive vice president of the American Institute of Architects, told the crowd that restoration, not expansion, of the West Front was what was needed. The AIA has voiced strong opposition in the past to plans to modify the last remaining original wall of the building, whose cornerstone was laid by George Washington.
The AIA and the Trust for Historic Preservation not only object to the proposed modification, but also say that the vista of the Capitol dome would be partially obscured by projecting the building's wall an additional 38 feet out onto the grounds, as currently proposed. The plan will be considered by the House Appropriations Committee next week.
At yesterday's noon rally, Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R-NY) brought up the subject ofbudget reductions. He said that Capitol Architect George White's proposed budget of $73 million for expanding the West Front could expand to $200 million once inflation, interior costs and furniture were included.
A fellow New Yorker, representative Samuel S. Stratton (D-NY) had fewer figures but more fire. "You wouldn't change the design of St. Patrick's Cathedral to make room for a place to play bingo in, would you?" he asked the mostly young, dressed-for-success crowd. They shouted a loud "No!" and waved small American flags in reply. "Well, we don't want to deface the Capitol just because some people want a few extra offices!" he said, and was cheered again.
"The crumbling of part of the West Front's facade brought to the attention of the Congress that the issue of restoration can't be stalemated any longer," said Raymond P. Rhinehart, a spokesman for the AIA.