Capitol Power Plant Architecture

Soon after the Capitol Power Plant was authorized in 1904, the Superintendent of the Capitol, Elliott Woods, appointed an advisory board to help him build a state-of-the-art facility. Among those who served on the board were MIT Professor S.H. Woodbridge, an expert on heating and ventilation, Dr. S.S. Stanton, head of the Bureau of Standards, Charles Bromwell of the Corps of Engineers, and the chief electrical engineer of the Capitol, C.P. Gleim. The board traveled to a dozen cities inspecting facilities and manufacturing plants in order to gather the latest information that could be put to use in Washington. After enough information had been collected it was time to engage architectural and engineering consultants to design what was then called the "Heating, Lighting, and Power Plant." For architectural services Woods engaged Nathan Wyeth, a 36-year-old Washington architect. The firm of J. G. White & Company of New York City was retained as consulting engineer. Both consultants were hired in September 1906. Wyeth produced a pleasant design with subtle references to Mediterranean architecture seen in the building's tile roof and the curvilineal gable over the central pavilion. Exactly how much of the final design is attributable to Wyeth is somewhat problematic, however: he was dismissed in 1908 because the building's requirements had changed and the project was given over to the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company. Still, the architectural merit of the original design should be credited to Wyeth. Enlargements over the years were made without reference to the plant's original architecture. The results were a predictable patchwork of industrial pieces fit together as expediency and economy might dictate. Some architectural interest was given to the west refrigeration plant during its enlargement in the mid 2000s, when giant steel louvers were installed to improve appearances.