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Letter to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House Proposing Establishment of a National Visitor Center in the Nation's Capital

February 28, 1966

Dear Mr. President: (Dear Mr. Speaker:)

Visitors to the Nation's Capital are increasing every year. In 1960, their number was estimated to be 15.4 million, and this number is expected to rise to 24 million in 1970 and to 35 million in 1980. They come from every State in the Union, and increasingly from foreign countries as well. They come to learn as well as to see.

While not all of these millions come to Washington as tourists, the need for better facilities for visitors has long been a matter of concern. Student visitors in particular are coming in constantly greater numbers and should be helped to make their visits more rewarding--more instructive in our history, in the manner our government operates, in the development of our democratic institutions. The unique educational opportunity which Washington should afford to American and foreign visitors alike is largely lost without perspective on the historic, political and symbolic significance of the places and institutions to be visited.

This is particularly a Federal concern. The 'prime attraction of Washington is the presence here of the Federal Government. Here one can observe its immediate, day-today workings, can visit its buildings and shrines, and can examine the records of its past. As a nation we are properly interested in fostering, through visitors to our National Capital, a better appreciation of our democracy. We can be justly proud of what Washington offers to those who come here, and we should see to it that our visitors are not disappointed or disillusioned by inadequate facilities for their help.

To meet this need I am transmitting, for the consideration of the Congress, the attached bill to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to establish a National Visitor Center in the District of Columbia.

Under this proposed bill, the Secretary is authorized to establish a Center which will provide through exhibits, films, lectures and displays an orientation in the history and operation of the Federal Government, as well as information on the Nation and its Capital. The bill also authorizes him to make arrangements with the individual States to have their own exhibits, and to provide help and encouragement for foreign visitors in particular in visiting other parts of the United States.

The Secretary will also be authorized to arrange at the Center, through concessions and otherwise, for the kinds of assistance to visitors which should add to their comfort and convenience and make their visit more enjoyable and rewarding. He can give special assistance to student groups and foreign visitors. He can provide necessary auxiliary services, such as parking, shuttle buses, and subsidiary information centers.

An Advisory Committee would be established to assist the Secretary in designing and administering the program. The Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution is included on the Advisory Committee in furtherance of the objective of taking full advantage of the resources of the Smithsonian Institution, which will be of great value in carrying out the activities of the Center.

It may not be necessary to construct a new building to house a Visitor Center if a suitable existing facility can be obtained. The bill is flexible in permitting the Secretary to explore a wide range of alternatives, including the feasibility of adapting the Pension Building to this use, or acquiring Union Station and preserving it as a landmark, with appropriate improvements. The bill does not foreclose any specific course of action, but will make it possible to move ahead toward accomplishing our basic objective.

I hope that the Congress will give early and favorable consideration to this legislation.



Note: This is the text of identical letters addressed to the Honorable Hubert H. Humphrey, President of the Senate, and to the Honorable John W. McCormack, Speaker of the House of Representatives.

The text of the draft bill transmitted by the President is printed in House Document 389 (89th Cong. 2d sess.).

Legislation to establish a Visitor Center in Washington was not enacted by the 89th Congress.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Letter to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House Proposing Establishment of a National Visitor Center in the Nation's Capital Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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