Smithsonian Institution Building
|Architect||James Renwick, Jr.|
|NRHP reference No.||66000867|
|Added to NRHP||October 15, 1966|
|Designated NHL||January 12, 1965|
The Smithsonian Institution Building, located near the National Mall in Washington, D.C. behind the National Museum of African Art and the Sackler Gallery, houses the Smithsonian Institution's administrative offices and information center. The building is constructed of Seneca red sandstone in the Norman Revival style (a 12th-century combination of late Romanesque and early Gothic motifs; built in the Gothic and Romanesque revival styles) and is nicknamed the Castle. It was completed in 1855 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965.
The Castle was the first Smithsonian building, designed by architect James Renwick, Jr., whose other works include St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City and the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery, also in Washington D.C. The building committee held a nationwide design competition in 1846 and selected Renwick's design by a unanimous vote.Renwick's second design, which was Gothic Revival in style, was used in the design of Trinity Episcopal Church. A cardboard model of Renwick's winning design survives and is on display in the Castle. Renwick was assisted by Robert Mills, particularly in the internal arrangement of the building.
Initially intended to be built in white marble, then in yellow sandstone,the architect and building committee finally settled on Seneca red sandstone from the Seneca Quarry in Montgomery County, Maryland. The redstone was substantially less expensive than granite or marble, and while initially easy to work, was found to harden to a satisfactory degree on exposure to the elements. Scholarly evidence indicates it is likely that slaves were employed at Seneca in quarrying stone for the Castle, though no evidence has surfaced that slaves were involved in the actual Castle construction.
The building committee selected Gilbert Cameron as the general contractor, and construction began in 1847. The East Wing was completed in 1849 and occupied by Secretary Joseph Henry and his family. The West Wing was completed later the same year. A structural collapse in 1850 of partly completed work raised questions of workmanship and resulted in a change to fireproof construction. The Castle's exterior was completed in 1852; Renwick's work was completed and he withdrew from further participation. Cameron continued the interior work, which he completed in 1855.Construction funds came from "accrued interest on the Smithson bequest."
Despite the upgraded fireproof construction, a fire in 1865 caused extensive damage to the upper floor of the building, destroying the correspondence of James Smithson, Henry's papers, two hundred oil paintings of American Indians by John Mix Stanley, the Regent's Room and the lecture hall, and the contents of the public libraries of Alexandria, Virginia and Beaufort, South Carolina, confiscated by Union forces during the American Civil War. The ensuing renovation was undertaken by local Washington architect Adolf Cluss in 1865–67. Further fireproofing work ensued in 1883, also by Cluss, who by this time had designed the neighboring Arts and Industries Building. A third and fourth floor were added to the East Wing, and a third floor to the West Wing. Electric lighting was installed in 1895.
Around 1900, the wooden floor of the Great Hall was replaced with terrazzo and a Children's Museum was installed near the south entrance. A tunnel connected to the Arts and Industries Building. A general renovation took place in 1968–70 to install modern electrical systems, elevators and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.The Enid A. Haupt Garden was dedicated in 1987, along with the Renwick Gate facing Independence Avenue, built from Seneca redstone retrieved from the demolished D.C. Jail.
On January 6, 2023, the museum announced its closure for renovation on February 1, 2023, and the launching of the virtual Visitor Center.
James Renwick designed the Castle as the focal point of a picturesque landscape on the Mall, using elements from Georg Moller's Denkmäler der deutschen Baukunst. Renwick originally intended to detail the building with entirely American sculptural flora in the manner of Benjamin Henry Latrobe's work at the United States Capitol, but the final work used conventional pattern-book designs.
The building is completed in the Gothic Revival style with Romanesque motifs. This style was chosen to evoke the Collegiate Gothic in England and the ideas of knowledge and wisdom. The façade is built with red sandstone from the Seneca quarry in Seneca, Maryland in contrast to the granite, marble and yellow sandstone from the other major buildings in Washington, D.C.
The building comprises a central section, two extensions or ranges, and two wings. Four towers contain occupiable space, while five smaller towers are primarily decorative, although some contain stairs. As constructed, the central section contained the main entry and museum space (now the Great Hall), with a basement beneath and a large lecture room above. Two galleries on the second floor were used to display artifacts and art. This area is now the Visitor's Information and Associates' Reception area. The East Range contained laboratory space on the first floor and research space on the second. The East Wing contained storage space on the first floor and a suite of rooms on the second as an apartment for the Secretary of the Smithsonian. This space is currently used as administrative offices and archives. The West Range was one story and used as a reading room. The West Wing, known as the chapel, was used as a library.The West Wing and Range are now used as a quiet room for visitors to go.
On the exterior, the principal tower on the south side is 91 feet (28 m) high and 37 feet (11 m) square. On the north side there are two towers, the taller on 145 feet (44 m) tall. A campanile at the northeast corner is 17 feet (5.2 m) square and 117 feet (36 m) tall.
The plan allowed for expansion at either end, a major reason for the informal medievally-inspired design, which would not suffer if asymmetrically developed.
The Smithsonian Castle houses the administrative offices of the Smithsonian. The main Smithsonian visitor center is also located here, with interactive displays and maps. Computers electronically answer most common questions. A crypt just inside the north entrance houses the tomb of James Smithson.
The Smithsonian Institution, or simply the Smithsonian, is a group of museums and education and research centers, the largest such complex in the world, created by the U.S. government "for the increase and diffusion of knowledge". Founded on August 10, 1846, it operates as a trust instrumentality and is not formally a part of any of the three branches of the federal government. The institution is named after its founding donor, British scientist James Smithson. It was originally organized as the United States National Museum, but that name ceased to exist administratively in 1967.
James Renwick Jr. was an American architect in the 19th century. The Encyclopedia of American Architecture calls him "one of the most successful American architects of his time".
The Arts and Industries Building is the second oldest of the Smithsonian museums on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Initially named the National Museum, it was built to provide the Smithsonian with its first proper facility for public display of its growing collections. The building, designed by architects Adolf Cluss and Paul Schulze, opened in 1881, hosting an inaugural ball for President James A. Garfield. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1971. After being closed since 2004, the building reopened in 2021 with a special exhibition, Futures, scheduled to run through July 2022.
The Smithsonian American Art Museum is a museum in Washington, D.C., part of the Smithsonian Institution. Together with its branch museum, the Renwick Gallery, SAAM holds one of the world's largest and most inclusive collections of art, from the colonial period to the present, made in the United States. The museum has more than 7,000 artists represented in the collection. Most exhibitions take place in the museum's main building, the old Patent Office Building, while craft-focused exhibitions are shown in the Renwick Gallery.
Romanesque Revival is a style of building employed beginning in the mid-19th century inspired by the 11th- and 12th-century Romanesque architecture. Unlike the historic Romanesque style, Romanesque Revival buildings tended to feature more simplified arches and windows than their historic counterparts.
The Renwick Gallery is a branch of the Smithsonian American Art Museum located in Washington, D.C. that displays American craft and decorative arts from the 19th to 21st century. The gallery is housed in a National Historic Landmark building that was opened in 1859 on Pennsylvania Avenue and originally housed the Corcoran Gallery of Art. When it was built in 1859, it was known as "the American Louvre".
Oak Hill Cemetery is a historic 22-acre (8.9 ha) cemetery located in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C., in the United States. It was founded in 1848 and completed in 1853, and is a prime example of a rural cemetery. Many famous politicians, business people, military people, diplomats, and philanthropists are buried at Oak Hill, and the cemetery has a number of Victorian-style memorials and monuments. Oak Hill has two structures which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places: the Oak Hill Cemetery Chapel and the Van Ness Mausoleum.
The historic Old Patent Office Building in Washington, D.C. covers an entire city block defined by F and G Streets and 7th and 9th Streets NW in Chinatown. It served as one of the earliest United States Patent Office buildings.
Old Main, Bethany College is a historic building group on the Bethany College campus in Bethany, West Virginia.
The Treasury Building in Washington, D.C., is a National Historic Landmark building which is the headquarters of the United States Department of the Treasury. An image of the Treasury Building is featured on the back of the United States ten-dollar bill.
Seneca Quarry is a historic site located at Seneca, Montgomery County, Maryland. It is located along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal on the north bank of the Potomac River, just west of Seneca Creek. The quarry was the source of stone for two Potomac River canals: the Patowmack Canal on the Virginia side of Great Falls; and the C&O Canal, having supplied red sandstone for the latter for locks 9, 11, 15 - 27, and 30, the accompanying lock houses, and Aqueduct No. 1, better known as Seneca Aqueduct, constructed from 1828 to 1833.
The Oak Hill Cemetery Chapel, also known as the Renwick Chapel or James Renwick Chapel, is a historic building in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C., United States. Designed by James Renwick, Jr. in 1850, Oak Hill Cemetery Chapel is the architect's only known example of Gothic Revival church architecture in Washington, D.C. It is located on the highest ridge in Oak Hill Cemetery, near the intersection of 29th and R Streets NW. The chapel is one of two structures in Oak Hill Cemetery listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the other being the Van Ness Mausoleum. The chapel, mausoleum, and cemetery are contributing properties to the Georgetown Historic District, a National Historic Landmark.
The Alexandria City Hall also known as the Alexandria Market House & City Hall, in Alexandria, Virginia, is a building built in 1871 and designed by Adolph Cluss. It was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1984. The site was originally a market from 1749 and courthouse from 1752. A new building was constructed in 1817 but after an extensive fire in 1871 it was rebuilt as a replica of the former building.
The Orleans County Courthouse Historic District is one of two located in downtown Albion, New York, United States. Centered on Courthouse Square, it includes many significant buildings in the village, such as its post office and churches from seven different denominations, one of which is the tallest structure in the county. Many buildings are the work of local architect William V.N. Barlow, with contributions from Solon Spencer Beman and Andrew Jackson Warner. They run the range of architectural styles from the era in which the district developed, from Federal to Colonial Revival.
The Department of Agriculture Building was the original headquarters of the United States Department of Agriculture located on the National Mall between 12th and 14th Street SW in Washington, D.C. after its creation in 1862. It was first occupied in 1868. However, it was not compatible with the McMillan Plan and was subsequently demolished in 1930.
The Lottie Roth Block is an historic commercial building located near downtown Bellingham, Washington and is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Built by quarry manager and Washington State Legislator Charles Roth and named after his wife, Lottie, the building is clad in the famous Chuckanut Sandstone from his Bellingham Bay Quarry that would be used in countless building projects across the region. Completed in 1891, it was one of the last large commissions of noted Northwest architect Elmer H. Fisher and his only project in Whatcom County. While initially built as an office/retail building in anticipation of the commercial expansion of the town of Whatcom, it was converted entirely to Apartments by 1918 when commercial development moved in the opposite direction towards New Whatcom, which after 1903 became the new city of Bellingham's downtown. Still strictly serving as a residential building to the current day, the Lottie Roth Block was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 12, 1978.
Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States, has a unique and diverse architectural history. Encompassing government, monumental, commercial, and residential buildings, D.C. is home to some of the country's most famous and popular structures designed by some of the leading architects of their time. The popularity of Washington's buildings is evident by the fact that a 2007 poll of Americans by the American Institute of Architects found that six of the top 10 most popular U.S. structures were located in Washington, D.C. Overall, 17 of the top 150 most popular structures were located in the capital.
Trinity Episcopal Church was an Episcopal church that stood from 1851 to 1936 on the northeast corner of 3rd and C Streets NW in the Judiciary Square neighborhood of Washington, D.C.
The construction of the original Smithsonian Building in 1847-1855 was funded from the accrued interest on the Smithson bequest.