Hoyer's Archives

May 11, 1994

It isn't often that a single politician can rightly claim credit for a $300 million construction project that should firmly establish Maryland as a preeminent location for historians and researchers delving into the American past. But that's the case tomorrow when the National Archives and Records Administration opens its giant new building on the College Park campus of the University of Maryland. It should be called Hoyer's Archives.

For 25 years, the National Archives has been looking for a new home. It wasn't high on anyone's priority list, though. So the agency made due with an outdated building on The Mall in Washington and leaky annexes in Alexandria, Va., and Suitland. Enter Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer, the consummate political insider and rising power on the House Appropriations Committee.

When a Hoyer aide heard that the National Archives was looking at building in Northern Virginia, the congressman went on the offensive. That quickly led to an offer from the University of Maryland to lease a 33-acre site. This was followed by $6 million in planning money Mr. Hoyer squeezed from his committee and an unusual financing arrangement that cleared the way for construction.

Stored at the site will be nearly all U.S. government records since World War II -- billions of documents contained on 520 miles of motorized shelves in climate-controlled vaults. Air locks safeguard the purity of the atmosphere, green windows protect the material against ultraviolet rays.

The structure is nearly half the size of the Pentagon. Books of written records, maps, architectural drawings, motion pictures, video tapes, photographs, electronic recordings will be on file. So will the presidential collection of Richard M. Nixon. Some 800 employees will work at the facility.

What a coup for the University of Maryland! What an attraction for star-quality historians! Within walking distance of the classrooms lies the world's biggest treasury of American government documents. The history profs must be lining up.

BTC If school officials capitalize on this good fortune, UM could quickly rise to a lofty perch in American historical scholarship. While the archives' headquarters will remain in Washington -- tourists can still look at the Declaration of Independence and other exhibits -- scholars will flock to College Park. For many historians, Hoyer's Archives will be as close to heaven as they can get.

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