U.S. CoC Library Regains Beauty and Function

A green-room, reception-area, and conference space bring multi-function back to an under-performing library. The eye-catching ceiling consists of individual painted canvases glued to lime plaster.

A green-room, reception-area, and conference space bring multi-function back to an under-performing library. The eye-catching ceiling consists of individual painted canvases glued to lime plaster.

Prominent on the main level of the 1924 Cass Gilbert-designed U.S. Chamber of Commerce Building, which faces the White House across Lafayette Square, is the Library Reception Room. Long neglected and under-used, the once-grand space’s function as a green room for presidents and dignitaries speaking in the adjacent Briefing Center was diminished when through-access was blocked. The chamber’s many prominent speakers had to go through a staircase to reach the lectern.

As they were initiating renovations throughout the building, the CoC leadership decided it was time to clear out the library shelving and a central glass meeting nook and recapture the grandeur of the original space. Morgan Gick McBeath & Associates came on at the beginning of 2012, says Principal Michael Gick, AIA, with the task of restoring the room to its original use as a reception area and venue for moderately sized but prominent conferences.

“As you enter the space, you have a 4×12-foot door on ball bearings at the front and, at the back, a door on either side,” Gick explains. “Through the left back door, one originally went into an octagonal vestibule to enter the auditorium from the stage side or right onto the stage.” Years ago, that door had been sealed.

“The program for the restored reception room was to provide a seating area that works as a green room, conference area, and independent galley,” Glick explains. “The client needed to be able to do video interviews from their conferencing area and use it to watch developing events. The initial such event that drove the project-completion date was the November 2012 election returns.”

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The galley is convenient yet invisible from the conference area. Photos courtesy of MGMA.

The spatial progression MGMA implemented was to provide a relaxed seating area at the front of the room, furnished in what Glick calls “Old Club Style,” with stuffed chairs and a lounge. “Then, in the middle, we had a series of conference tables that were almost Craftsman Style and could be bolted together,” he says. “It was completely wired for Internet, and beyond that is a curved wall with a video monitor on the conference-table side and a hidden galley on the back. To the left we opened up the door to the octagonal vestibule so that the international leaders who would address the Chamber of Commerce in the Briefing Center could once again have properly direct and dignified access to the stage.”
Out came the book shelves, and in went a new wooden floor. Wood blinds screen the east-facing windows. And the design maintained the original black walnut used on the doors.

George Dunn Jr., president of the Heffron Company, orchestrated the renovation of the entire building, Glick says. And, among Heffron’s many crucial contributions was to bring on a lime-plaster craftsman, Danny Roth.

“The ceiling, which is about 16 feet high, was falling apart,” Glick recalls. “But it was too wonderful to ignore. We had to get rid of the blinding down-lighting added in the 1980s and put in up-lighting. Each of those ceiling panels is different, and Danny made drawings and photographs of every one of them. He put a coat of stabilizing plaster over the whole thing, then painted and numbered each panel on canvas in his studio, which he applied like wallpaper. He also restored the look of the beams with veneer and touched up the damaged cartouches.

“The space was outstanding to begin with, but with the talent and teamwork—from Shannon DiBari, representing the CoC, and Heffron, to our own people—this was an amazing job.”

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