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Guam Congress Building

Guam Congress Building, NW Facade
Photograph by William Hernandez

The Guam Congress Building (GCB), commonly known as the Guam Legislature Building, in Hagatña, is a large rectangular concrete building approximately 30 feet wide and 125 feet long. It was originally constructed with two wing sections that were off-centered and perpendicular to the center of the building. In 1989, an engineering study declared the building unsafe, and the Legislature moved to another location. Restoration work was begun and the two wings were removed, the work was later discontinued. The U.S. Navy constructed the building on 6,498 square meters in what was then called the city of New Agana. The building was completed on July 8, 1948, and was dedicated and formally presented to the people of Guam on July 21, 1948. It was the first “strictly all stateside” type of building constructed by the U.S. Navy on post-war Guam.

The island of Guam had been under military governance since it was conquered in 1668. Under Spanish military rule, the indigenous people of Guam--the Chamorros-- suffered terrible consequences of war, disease and cultural dislocation. Through 230 years of Spanish rule, the people managed to hold on to what was left of their culture. As a result of the Spanish-American war, Guam was transferred to the authority of the United States in 1898. Conquered by the Japanese in World War II, Guam was retaken by the Americans in 1944. The Chamorros suffered under Japanese rule for their loyalty to the Americans, and even hid some American military personnel during the occupation.

Guam Congress Building
Photograph by William Hernandez

After WWII the people of Guam remained under U.S. Naval military rule, not free to rule themselves, nor were they American citizens. The civil rights and political status of the people had remained unresolved since 1898. Charles A. Pownall, than Vice-Admiral in the United States Navy, was the appointed Governor of Guam, and it was he who agreed to the first post-war election of the Guam Congress in 1946. In this election, Rosa T. Aguigui became the first Chamarro woman elected to a public office, winning a seat in the House of Assembly.

Legislative powers between the elected Assembly and the U.S. Navy became an issue in the Ninth Guam Congress in 1948. All laws required the approval of the governor.
The Guam Congress members tested their inherent subpoena powers and power to administer oaths. Assemblyman Leon Flores introduced a bill granting subpoena powers to the Guam Congress. It was vetoed by Governor Pownall who assured the Congress that it already had that power. The subpoena power of Congress was tested in a legislative investigation of violations of naval policy. Abe Goldstein, a navy clerk, was subpoenaed on February 5, 1949, but refused to testify. After an intense discussion about Goldstein’s refusal to acknowledge the subpoena, Assemblyman Leon Guerro declared, “I believe it is time for us to have a real test as to whether this Congress has the power to subpoena a witness in connection with the administration of our island laws.” When the House of Assembly issued Goldstein a warrant for contempt of Congress, Pownall intervened and ignored the warrant. The issue became highly charged, and on March 5, Assemblyman Antonio C. Cruz introduced the motion of a walk-out. It was unanimously passed. Assemblyman Carlos P. Taitano had secretly arranged media coverage of the walk-out with visiting stateside journalists at his home in Mangilao. The news of the walk-out reverberated across the United States, resulting in an uproar against the political conditions on Guam, and bringing the Naval Government on Guam to an end. On August 1, 1950, 17 months later, the Organic Act of Guam was passed by the Congress of the United States. Carlos P. Taitano was the only Chamorro invited for the signing ceremony in Washington D.C.

The Guam Congress Building is a large and irregularly-shaped concrete building painted green. The original portion of the building consisted of a long rectangle, parallel to Saylor Street, with a smaller section at right angles in the middle of the back, and another with right angles in the front, but not in line with the back section. The front section has a bicentennial mural painted in the side facing the street. The entrance, consisting of three doors, is to the left of this front section, as one faces the building. Inside is a lobby, paneled in Philippine mahogany, where pictures of legislators hang on the wall. Inside to the left is the session hall, with an end wall with the Speaker’s platform. The other sections of the building hold senators’ offices and conference rooms.

The significance of the Guam Congress Building is its association with the political events and peoples whose actions culminated in a political development that changed the civil status and governance of the Chamorro people and put an end to U.S. Naval military rule in 1950. The Guam Congress Building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on February 1, 2007.

Guam Congress Building | Washington Place
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Images for top banner from NPS Historic Photograph Collection (Rainbow over Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, by Thomas C. Gray, [HPC-001345]) and the Palau Historic Preservation Office.

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