George M. White, Architect of Capitol, Dies at 90
By BRUCE WEBER
Published: June 23, 2011
George M. White, the architect who oversaw myriad federal projects on Capitol Hill, including the construction of the Hart Senate Office Building and the restoration of the old Supreme Court and Senate chambers in the United States Capitol itself, died Friday at his home in Bethesda, Md. He was 90.
The cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease, his daughter Jocelyn said.
From 1971 to 1995, Mr. White was Architect of the Capitol, a presidentially appointed post whose responsibilities are the maintenance and preservation of the buildings and grounds of the Capitol campus. Appointed by President Richard M. Nixon, he was the ninth to hold the position and the last to serve without Senate confirmation. (The appointment became subject to Senate approval in 1989.) He was also the first actual architect to hold the job.
His tenure began with a literal bang. Five weeks after his appointment, a bomb exploded in a first-floor restroom of the Capitol, injuring no one but causing several hundred thousand dollars worth of damage. The Weather Underground, the radical group opposed to the Vietnam War, claimed responsibility.
The repair of the damage and a more general structural refurbishment of the Capitol consumed a good part of Mr. White’s time in office, particularly as Congress debated whether to build an extension of the crumbling West Front of the building or merely repair it. When a section of the wall collapsed in 1983, Congress finally decided the issue, appropriating $49 million to restore it.
Mr. White, who commanded a staff of more than 2,000 — the current staff is more than 2,600 — created a Capitol development plan and envisioned a Capitol Visitor Center, which opened in 2008. He received plaudits for the research and oversight that resulted in the restoration of the Old Supreme Court and Old Senate Chambers. He oversaw construction of the Library of Congress James Madison Memorial Building and the Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building, as well as the Philip A. Hart Senate Office Building, which was completed in 1983 at a cost, eyebrow-raising at the time, of $137.7 million.
George Malcolm White was born in Cleveland on Nov. 1, 1920. After his parents divorced he was reared mostly by his mother, who worked in a knitwear company. He later worked in his father’s architecture firm. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, graduated from Harvard Business School and received a law degree from what is now Case Western Reserve University. He worked as an architect from 1948 to 1971 before joining the board of the American Institute of Architects.
Mr. White’s first marriage, to Louise Gaus, ended in divorce. He is survived by their son, Geoffrey, of Guilford, Conn., and three daughters, Stephanie White Bradford of West Stockbridge, Mass., and Jocelyn and Pamela G. White, both of Washington; his wife of 38 years, Susanne Neiley White; three stepchildren, Stephen H. Daniels of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, Michael S. Daniels of Potomac, Md., and Cynthia E. Daniels of Valencia, Calif.; four grandchildren; and four step-grandchildren.
The current architect of the capitol is Stephen T. Ayers, an architect who was appointed by President Obama.
Mr. White was proud of the Hart Building, at the time the most expensive federal building ever built, though architecture critics and others found it boxy, themeless and lacking notable external features.
“It’s just a sump to hold the overflow caused by Congress’s relentless expansion,” The New York Times said in an editorial.
Mr. White defended it, saying no federal building should outshine the Capitol.