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Washington, D.C., August 29, 1967. Hon. KENNETH J. GRAY, Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C.
DEAR KEN: Many thanks for your letter of August 25, regarding the proposed National Visitors' Center.
I shall be happy to get in touch with my Senatorial colleagues on the National Visitors' Center Commission with a view to having your bill, H.R. 12603, introduced in the Senate. Best personal regards, Sincerely,
Hugh Scott, U.S. Senator.
Washington, D.C., September 12, 1967.
DEAR KEN: Thank you for your recent letter in which you bring us up-to-date about the work of the commission to study the need for a National Capital Visitor's Center.
I was pleased to learn of the progress the commission has made and of the suggestions it has proposed. I commend you and the other members of the commission for doing such a fine job in this area and I wish you every success. Sincerely,
CHARLES H. PERCY,
U.S. Senator. Mr. Gray. The first witness scheduled this morning is our esteemed colleague from the Washington metropolitan area, Congressman Gilbert Gude, of Maryland.
We are delighted to have you with us this morning, Mr. Gude, and would you please come forward.
I appreciate your interest in taking time out of your busy schedule to be with us this morning. You may proceed in your own fashion.
STATEMENT OF HON. GILBERT GUDE, A REPRESENTATIVE IN
CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF MARYLAND
Mr. GUDE. Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, I am pleased to have the opportunity to appear before this subcommittee to discuss legislation of importance to the Nation and to the National Capital area. I wish to commend the chairman for his leadership in bringing together in this legislation the various elements of the plan for the National Visitors' Center. H.R. 12603 provides the Congress with the opportunity to assist in bringing real dignity to an important part of the economy of our National Capital. Previous witnesses have pointed out the sizable financial dollar volume of trade which tourism brings to Metropolitan Washington. A much greater contribution can be made, both financially and educationally, by the establishment of the Visitors' Center.
More than 80 percent of the area tourists arrive here in unorganized, unscheduled groups with no reliable guidance. It is these visitors for whom the Center will furnish such valuable assistance. By such a Center, the National Capital, which offers so many great attractions to its citizens as well as to world travelers, can provide appropriate direction to, and interpretation of, the historic and cultural points of
the area in a manner of dignity and reliability worthy of the name of Washington, D.C.
Our guests will understand better the fabric of history and government which they observe. With a warm reception they will wish to stay longer, or to return again.
Not competing but complementing our great Capital are points beyond the District of Columbia. In my own Congressional District the famous Chesapeake and Ohio Canal provides a panorama of American history in the magnificent natural setting of the Potomac Valley; and hospitable world-famous dining places await the travelers.
These and many attractions of neighboring Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia, as well as other points of interest on the eastern seaboard are as much a part of visits to the Washington area as some of the Capital landmarks. Virginia's Williamsburg, Stratford, and Fredericksburg, and Maryland's Annapolis and Fort McHenry, and Harpers Ferry in West Virginia could well be inclụded as part of the documented tourist information which will be featured at the Visitor Center.
Certainly these additional historic attractions of the surrounding States from the cradle of democracy, with the fine restaurants and lodging facilities of the area, will only increase the enjoyment and extend the stay of all the visitors.
This opportunity for the updated utilization of the refurbished Union Station, so long a part of the Capital Plaza and its plan, is a logical and practical development because of its central location for transit and rail facilities, freeway accessibility, the 4,000 parking spaces, and the frequency of bus service. These facilities and the related planning will provide the area with a system of sensible traffic patterns for tourists.
Mr. Chairman, I believe that this legislation, which has the support of a special 21-member commission established by the Congress last year to study such a Center, merits favorable consideration of this subcommittee and the Congress.
Thank you, sir.
Mr. GRAY. Thank you very much, Mr. Gude. That was a very informative statement, and we appreciate the contribution that you and your constituents are making to the great metropolitan area Washington. Thank you for your consideration. Mr. GUDE. Thank you.
Mr. Gray. The statement of Hon. William B. Widnall, New Jersey, will be inserted here.
(The statement follows:)
STATEMENT OF HON. WILLIAM B. WIDNALL OF NEW JERSEY
Mr. Chairman, thank you for this opportunity to testify on the legislation now before your Committee to establish a National Visitors' Center on the site of the Union Station here in Washington, D.C. As you know, I have long advocated the use of the station as a visitors' center and warmly endorse the proposal now under consideration. My own support for this type of project goes back to 1963. In the 88th Congress and again in the 89th Congress, I proposed legislation which sought to save Union Station from the fate of the bulldozer and wrecker's hammer by providing that it become a transportation museum and visitor's center. In this Congress, I have introduced HR 12760, similar to HR 12603, introduced by our colleague, Rep. Kenneth Gray (D-Ill.), to acquire Union Station and create a National Visitors Center. I still have high hopes that a suitable location for a monument to the magnificent story of mankind's develop ment of transportation from the wheel to the wing and beyond-ean be found. This in no way limits my enthusiasm for the proposed use of Union Station, as I recognize first, the compelling need for a National Visitors Center in Washington, and second, the ideal suitability of the station for this purpose.
The need for a National Visitors Center has become more critical over the years. Few major tourist attractions operate without a central and convenient location where visitors can acquaint themselves with the information they need to måke their sojourn more enjoyable. Williamsburg, Virginia, for example, has à visitors center where a short orientation program is offered so that visitors will receive maximum benefit from their trip. Surely, Washington, D.C., where the average tourist spends only a few days trying to take in the highlights of a city which by expert's count could exhaust three weeks time, is in need of a center to assist the traveler to help plan his stay in order that he may make the most profitable use of this time. This need grows as the number of visitors mounts yearly, and more people are in need of such elementary information as what to see and where to go.
As a proposed Visitors Center, Union Station offers several advantages. First, its size; second, its location; third, its beauty; and finally, the relatively inexpensive cost to the taxpayer to convert this impressive and imposing edifice into a reception center for the millions of Americans and citizens from other nations who visit this world capital each year.
In the early years of its existence, period pieces noted that Union Station, "contains in the passenger concourse the largest room in the world under one roof.” Recent D.C. guidebooks suggest that this fact may still be true, noting that in comparison to New York's Penn and Grand Central Stations, the Union Station concourse is almost as large as the two combined. That the size is ade quate to handle the daily crowds anticipated to the Visitors Center is evidenced by the fact that during World War II, the Station handled over 100,000 persons per day; up to 175,000 on holidays. It was closed only once due to over-capacity and that was on December 24, 1944, when an estimated 250,000 persons jammed the Station. As further proof of its size, the Station once served as the dining facility for 3,000 persons. In 1936, when the engineers at the Third World Power Conference were in need of a hall large enough to permit a sit-down dinner for all of the delegates, only Union Station was large enough and the waiting room was converted for the banquet.
Union Station is ideally located for a Visitors Center. It has been called at various times, the "gateway to the city," "gateway to the Nation,” and by one magazine, as '... the grandest front door in the world.” Surely, there is no more imposing or appropriate introduction to the citadel of democracy, and the seat of our Nation's Government, than the vista of the Capitol with its majestic dome that greets the visitor as he emerges from the main door of the Station. It is as breathtaking to the uninitiated as to those of us who have focused on it in awe throughout the years.
Long recognized as a building of great beauty in its own right, the Union Station was hailed as "the most beautiful building architecturally in America," by the American Architect magazine when the building first opened. And over the years this vast Roman palace of shining white Berthel granite with its central pavilion modeled after the Arch of Constantine has been cited as an inspiring example of the true conformation of function and design. In the style and the use of materials it is both ornamental and useful. As such, the White House consultant was prompted to note: “Union Station is a significant landmark with historic and esthetic value to the National Capital, and as part of our Capital's heritage, it should be preserved."
For this reason alone, many have asked that Union Station be saved from the fate suffered by New York City's Penn Station. I have received letters from such organizations and groups as Downtown Progress, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Commission of Fine Arts, to name a few, all of whom concur on the one point that Union Station ought to be preserved. And most agree that a fitting use of this stately and dignified structure would be as a National Visitors' Center.
A final argument in behalf of the proposal before this Committee is the low cost of the project. Assuming there is agreement that a National Visitors Center is a necessity, the comparative cost between demolishing an existing structure to make way for a new one and renovating an existing building to serve the purpose
leave little room for discussion. The latter course is far less expensive. Add to this the factor that the expense of renovation and upkeep will be recovered with a nominal charge to users and the taxpayer as well as the tourist is obtaining an excellent bargain.
Equally, significant, to my mind, is the contribution of the railroads to the renovation. It is a commendable gesture on the part of the Washington Terminal Company, and its parent organizations——the B&O-C&O and the Pennsylvania Railroad. But, it is also a fitting conclusion to a marriage of private and public funds that began with the building of the Station when the generous financing of Union Station by the railroads was applauded as "the finest example on record of a conscious and costly cooperation on the part of railroad companies to beautify a great city." Similar sentiments can be expressed today.
In conclusion, I earnestly hope that this Committee will act favorably upon this proposal. I believe such action by this Committee will not only preserve a historic landmark, but also alleviate the need for a pavilion to welcome the visitor to our Nation's Capital.
Mr. GRAY. Our next witness will be Mr. Thornton W. Owen, president of the Terminal Committee, Inc., Washington, D.C.
Mr. Owen, would you please come forward. We are delighted to see you this morning, and appreciate your patience and appreciate your coming
STATEMENT OF THORNTON W. OWEN, PRESIDENT, TERMINAL
COMMITTEE, INC., WASHINGTON, D.C. Mr. Owen. My name is Thornton W. Owen, and I am president of the Terminal Committee, Inc., a nonprofit civic organization established several years ago for the purpose of developing a permanent industrial exposition and transportation center in Washington.
May I say that we are most grateful for this opportunity to appear before your committee to compliment you, Mr. Chairman, and the members of your committee on the wise selection of the Union Station for the Visitors Center. Such a center fulfills a longfelt need in the Nation's Capital and is of great advantage not only to Washington but to the Nation as a whole.
We feel that this opportunity to appear is most timely as the civic groups represented here have long been working on a project which we believe is not only entirely compatible with the interest of H.R. 12603, but that both complement the other and that together they offer far more advantages to Washington.
On the easels are maps showing both the Union Station and the location of our project at Mount Vernon Square. We propose to build on the latter a permanent industrial exposition above ground and a trans
a portation center below. The latter will consist of separate terminals for interstate and suburban buses, 3,500-car parking, direct underground connection to the subway at Eighth and G Streets, as well as connection by escalators to the local buses on the city streets. By all means we agree that school buses and chartered buses bringing groups of visitors to Washington should go to the Visitors Center. What we are planning is permanent underground terminals for the regularly scheduled bus lines. I believe that the representatives of the two major interstate lines, Continental Trailways and Greyhound, will confirm the difference between these two categories, as well as the urgent necessity of new terminals for their constantly increasing traffic volumes.
We have done much work, and at considerable expense, in developing the many phases of our project; we believe it is practical and of material benefit not only to Washington but, as a permanent exhibit of our industrial resources, to the Nation as a whole. We have retained the nationally known firm of architects, Hellmuth, O'Bata & Kassabaum of St. Louis, for the purpose of assuring that this great complex will add to the beauty and dignity of the Nation's Capital.
The Terminal Committee has established a subcommittee composed of Col. W. H. Press, executive vice president of the board of trade; Gerald A. Siegel, vice president of the Washington Post, and John W. Thompson, vice president of the Star, as the nucleus of the organization that will coordinate with industry on their requirements for space.
We have studied H.R. 12603 carefully and are unable to find any points of conflict with the complex we propose. I wish to take this opportunity, Mr. Chairman, to congratulate you on the care and forethought which has been given to the Visitors Center, a most welcome addition to Washington. We need here, with our millions of annual visitors, the Visitors Center, as well as a permanent industrial exposition, with the most modern facilities for rail, bus, and plane.
We have tried to make this presentation as comprehensive but as short as possible in the hopes that we will have the opportunity to answering your questions.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, I would appreciate your courtesy in being permitted to comment briefly after the statements of the others prepared to testify.
Mr. GRAY. Yes, Mr. Owen, we would be delighted to either hear them orally or you can submit those statements for the record, whatever you choose to do, if we have the time.
I want to congratulate you on your statement; and, if I may ask you a few questions for the record:
First, this seems like a very ambitious program, and I wonder what it represents in the way of dollar investment. Have you placed any price tag on this proposal ?
Mr. OWEN. The total investment would be about $200 million. It would be done by private enterprise, would not entail any Federal subsidy.
Mr. GRAY. What means would you use to raise this amount?
Mr. Owen. We have been in contact with industry and also of course the transportation people are involved. We would raise the equity money, which we estimate to be necessary, around $20 million or $25 million. The balance would be financed through insurance companies, through a mortgage.
Mr. GRAY. How would you amortize this project?
Mr. Owen. Amortized through the rental of the exposition space and the commercial revenues on the ground floor.
Mr. GRAY. How far would this be from Union Station?
Mr. Owen. This project extends from H Street on the south, you know where Mount Vernon Square is, I am certain, and it extends from Mount Vernon Square, New York Avenue, Massachusetts Avenue on the north, southerly to H Street. Mr. Gráy. About a mile away?
a Mr. OWEN. About a half a mile away. Union Station is roughly at North Capitol Street, probably a block east of North Capitol. We