Smithsonian Institution Building

Washington, D.C., United States

The Smithsonian Institution Building is constructed of Seneca red sandstone in the faux Norman 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 designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965. A statue of Joseph Henry is displayed in front of the building.

The Castle was the first Smithsonian building, designed by architect James Renwick, Jr. The building committee held a nationwide design competition in 1846 and selected Renwick's design by a unanimous vote.

The 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.

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.

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.

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Founded: 1847-1855
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More Information

www.si.edu
en.wikipedia.org

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User Reviews

Josh Bilyk (31 days ago)
A must see! Free entry into the original location of the Smithsonian. It has a small gift shop and hall showcasing representative pieces from most of the other Smithsonian museums - iconic things like the dollar bill signed on the moon, Thomas Edison's first working light bulb, etc.
Patrick Prentice (2 months ago)
Beautiful building! Awesome staff with tons of helpful tips and recommendations! Good place to start when planning your day on the mall ??
Matthew Dieck (2 months ago)
I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Smithsonian museums, and the first stop on that fantastic journey was the castle. Laying everything out for you, it's an excellent introduction to the museums at large. Here you'll find a walk through the history of the Smithsonian institution and why these museums exist in the first place, a biography of it's rather curious benefactor, and a brief showcase of its museums. This is a great place to begin an exploration of the associated museums, and can act as a launchpad for expectations from each.
Cheryl McGinnis (3 months ago)
Smithsonian Castle is so beautiful. Its a great first stop on your museum visits. There is a visitor center in there and they are quite helpful.
david lynn (3 months ago)
Definitely worth the trip. Take a few days to see it all. Great history and fun things to see. Never gets old. Wear comfortable shoes...!
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