The new Capitol Visitor Center began construction shortly after I arrived in DC, so the whole time I have lived here the whole East side of the Capitol has been hidden behind unsightly construction walls. The project had initially been slated to be done for the 2005 inauguration (that turned out well, didn’t it?) but went so late and over-budget that I seriously wondered if they’d even make the 2009 ceremonies. I’ve always been something of an “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mindset about the whole thing: why spend money on a hole in the ground for tourist lines when just going in and out through the doors on the upper terrace has served for 200 years?
Against my expectations, the Visitor Center finally opened last week, and it’s lovely. The space is much prettier and roomier than the concrete bunker I thought it would be: rather, we found ourselves in “Emancipation Hall,” a grand plaza of marble and granite with glass skylights viewing the dome, accessible via a finely landscaped approach of grassy terraces. There’s an exhibit hall with the history of the Capitol and its resident legislature, a cafeteria-style restaurant serving various cooked and prepared meals, two gift shops, two theaters, ample restrooms, staging areas for tourists about to tour the Capitol itself, and even a winding underground tunnel leading to the Library of Congress. More photos:
Full Capitol Visitor Center photoset here. A nice place, possibly even worth the time and expense it took to make it, and the restored East Capitol plaza and drive is also good to have back open.