This section is from the book "The National Capitol. Its Architecture Art And History", by George C. Hazelton, Jr. Also available from Amazon: The National Capitol Its Architecture Art and History.
That the House has not been completed, has been simply owing to this, that its completion was impossible in itself. When the President of the United States did me the honor to entrust to me the charge of the buildings, I found the north wing already constructed, and a commencement made in the erection of the south wing.
The designs of the public buildings at Washington were chosen from a collection obtained by public advertisement, offering a reward for the plan most approved by the then president of the United States. This mode of procuring designs of public buildings, though exceedingly common, is certain of defeating its own end. It brings into competition all the personal vanity of those who think they have knowledge and taste in an art which they have never had an opportunity to learn or practice ;* . . . and it keeps out of the competition all who have too much self-respect to run the race of preference with such motly companions, and especially of all regularly educated professional men,—who understand their business too well not to know that a picture is not a design.
I frankly confess that excepting in a few details, all my ideas of good taste, and even of good sense in architecture were shocked by the style of the building.
The entrance to the south wing from the ground or office story will be in the recess. That in the east front will be closed, it being intended for a window. It has been opened to the ground only for the convenience of the workmen. The outer door leads into a hall or vestibule. On the left hand is a door opening into a committee room. From the t On reflection I must admit that the style of the Capital is very plain, and almost destitute of decoration considering it is the highest order, ttie Corinthian; especially if we compare it with some of the most admired works of the ancients ; particularly the Maison Quarrc of Nismes, the frieze of which is remarkably rich, and all the dressings of the doors and windows, etc. are very highly ornamented by carving, while those of the Capitol are plain and the frieze of the entablature has 'not a stroke of carving, or ornament. The Maison Quarrc is thought by the President, and others, to be one of the finest pieces of antiquity, a model of which he sent and recommended for the plan of the Capitol at Richmond, but which is said to be spoiled by deviating from the plan, which I saw when I was building that Chef D'Oeuvre, the Penetentiary House, in that city. However, I am sorry to say I for one diner from this great man; but he cannot attribute to this declaration any intention to offend, when I say I differ with every great architect for these three or four hundred years back. He would never have thought of the Maison Ouarre, if he could have formed an idea of my Centre house, Philadelphia. The Bank of Pennsylvania I Know has been much admired, but it would have been much handsomer if Joseph Fox and the late John Blakely, Esqrs. directors, who had travelled, had not confined me to a copy of the Parthenon of Athens, which circumstance the world are not generally acquainted with* The lantern on the top 1 claim as my own, tho' every body who wants taste thinks it spoils the whole*
* When I wrote this I did not know that our Present Chief Magistrate of the Union [Jefferson], was then Secretary of State: and that he published in his oivn name for the plans, and aided General Washington, the then President, in the choice of the one selected : but let me at the same time add, that as / was not in the country, it became a matter of necessity ; as there is not a scientific man in the country but myself, as I once told the present Secretary of the Navy, before several witnesses. I cannot on this subject say less, though modesty and delicacy prevent me from saying much more.
* On the south front ... I must own I do not know what the workmen were doing- in building up two windows, with expensive hewn freestone, which I shall be obliged to cut down and altar into doors : but I was not present when they made these foolish blunders. They likewise built up the wall of the projecting recess and omitted three windows which I have been obliged to cut out first. The stairs to which these window doors will hereafter lead, offer something as amusing as the brickkiln at the bottom of the nth page. As I was going up one of these stone stairs their want of height knocked off my spectacles, on which there was a general laugh ; whereupon, I immediately ordered the workmen to cut away the under part of each step, which has been done; and now there is room enough for a man 5 feet 6 inches to walk up without stooping. These steps have some how or other separated from the walls, but that will never be seen when plugged and plastered.
That it will be a splendid room,—probably the most splendid Legislative Hall that has ever been erected,—is certain : & it will also be extremely convenient in its arrangement, and remarkably warm in winter and cool in summer.
The whole of the wing excepting the Legislative Hall is vaulted. It was originally intended that this dome should also be turned in bricks, and the construction is such that it may at any time, should the present dome of timber decay, be covered with a brick or stone dome.
On the ground floor of the north wing, including lobbies and stairs, are 12 apartments, —in the south are 22 apartments, lobbies & stairs, & 11 depots of records, & fuel cellars of cheaper construction ; in all 33.
Note.—In recapitulating the expenses of the south wing, I beg leave to state, that I have not included any of the fine fiat stone taken up from the footways from the Capitol to George-Town, nearly, which cost the commissioners eight or ten thousand dollars ; for why should I reckon stones picked out of the streets . . . They are clear gain : nor have I reckoned what I took from the foundations in the front; nor have I calculated many tons of free-stone rejected by the commissioners as unworthy, of the front. If I show the skill of working up what they thought unworthy, I ought to claim credit, instead of allowing such items as charges.