An Architectural Tour of the Castle from 1864 to Today

Smithsonian Castle Postcard to Mabel Roper 1904 (1904) by Foster & ReynoldsSmithsonian Institution Building, The Castle

The Smithsonian Institution Building, commonly called “The Castle,” was the first home of the institution. Its nine dark asymmetrical towers and its fortress-like embattlements represented a powerful departure from the neoclassical norm of the District.

Smithsonian Institution Building North Front from 1847 photograph - Annual Report of 1903 (1847) by Smithsonian Board of RegentsSmithsonian Institution Building, The Castle

This stark contrast was deliberate – it visually captured the unique mix of public function and private monies, as well as the English origin of the Smithsonian, represented by James Smithson’s bequest.

- Castle seen from Northwest in 1847

Postcard of the Smithsonian Institution Castle (1930/1944) by B.S. Reynolds Co.Smithsonian Institution Building, The Castle

This distinction is also represented in the building material chosen: the red sandstone, quarried in Maryland, stood in striking contrast to the pale Aquia Creek sandstone used for previous buildings in Washington.

Smithsonian Institution Building from Northwest - from 1847 steel engraving - Annual Report of 1903 (1903) by Smithsonian Board of RegentsSmithsonian Institution Building, The Castle

James Renwick Jr. won the Smithsonian building committee’s 1846 competition. The building model he designed was intended from the beginning to be a model for the nation. The large, showy structure had to allude to its many functions as a laboratory, library, lecture hall, gallery, and more.

James Renwick's Building Plan Recommended (1846-11-30) by James Renwick, Jr.Smithsonian Institution Building, The Castle

Renwick's Proposal

Smithsonian Institution Castle: James RenwickSmithsonian Institution Building, The Castle

Smithsonian Castle Model - from right (1846) by James Renwick, Jr.Smithsonian Institution Building, The Castle

One of the earliest examples of an American architectural model to exist, this wood and paper model was presented to the Smithsonian's building committee by James Renwick, Jr. with his proposal for the building in 1846. Renwick included an interchangeable north tower, seen in the background, offering the option of symmetrically balanced towers.

Smithsonian Institution Castle: Renwick ModelSmithsonian Institution Building, The Castle

Smithsonian Institution Building from Mall - 1858Smithsonian Institution Building, The Castle

The Smithsonian Institution Building seen from the northeast in 1858.

Smithsonian Institution Building South Facade (1885)Smithsonian Institution Building, The Castle

Few changes had occurred on the south facade of the Smithsonian Institution Building by 1885 except for the wooden shed to the right of the south door and the alteration of the entrance on the south side of the east wing into a freight loading platform ( removed in 1971). Benches have been placed along paths in the South Yard.

The Smithsonian Castle today, seen from the South.

Smithsonian Building Great Hall (1965)Smithsonian Institution Building, The Castle

Inside the Castle

The Great Hall

Visitors to Lower Main Hall, SIB (1867)Smithsonian Institution Building, The Castle

This 1867 photograph looks east into a newly decorated Lower Main Hall, or the Great Hall, of the Smithsonian Institution Building. Visitors pose in the center. The second floor galleries are clearly visible. The delicate stencil work on the ceiling is by architect Adolf Cluss, who following the repair of water damage in the Lower Main Hall, used the opportunity to enhance the walls and ceiling.

Smithsonian Institution Castle: The Great HallSmithsonian Institution Building, The Castle

The Great Hall in 2015, looking West. Through the far doors are Schermer Hall and the Castle Commons.

James Smithson Monument (1829) by Photographer - Neil GreentreeSmithsonian Institution Building, The Castle

Inside the Castle

Jamse Smithson's Crypt

Tomb of James Smithson in Italy, Near Genoa (1897) by Prematio Studio Fotographico (Genova, Italy)Smithsonian Institution Building, The Castle

Smithson's remains were brought to the United States by Smithsonian Regent Alexander Graham Bell in 1904, when the Protestant Cemetery in Genoa, Italy, where Smithson was buried, was to be moved.

20160707-161359 Levels and CurvesSmithsonian Institution Building, The Castle

Many plans were made for an elaborate memorial to the Institution's benefactor, but the lack of an appropriation dictated a more modest course. Smithson's marker from the Italian gravesite was incorporated into a room adjacent to the north entrance, and a gate was fashioned from pieces of the fence that had surrounded the site. Architects Hornblower and Marshall redesigned the room to give it a more somber classical feeling, replacing the ceiling, windows, and the floor.

Smithsonian Institution Castle: James SmithsonSmithsonian Institution Building, The Castle

Smithson's Crypt in 2015.

Castle Children's Room - Knowledge Begins in Wonder (1901)Smithsonian Institution Building, The Castle

Inside the Castle

Children's Room

Castle Children's Room 1901-1930 (1901/1930)Smithsonian Institution Building, The Castle

The Smithsonian was one of the first museums in the country to develop a special children's place during the early part of the 20th century. Convinced that museums could provide a fertile environment conducive to children as well as adults, then Smithsonian secretary Samuel Pierpont Langley (1834-1906) converted a room on the first floor of the Smithsonian Institution Building's south tower into a gallery of natural history exhibits aimed specifically at children.

The Children's Room in 2015; now the South Entrance.

Smithsonian Institution Building - Original Ground Plans - Annual Report of 1903 (1903) by Smithsonian Board of RegentsSmithsonian Institution Building, The Castle

Inside the Castle

The West Cloister

Smithsonian Institution Castle: CloistersSmithsonian Institution Building, The Castle

The original cloister would have been behind the offices on the right. Schermer Hall is through the far door.

Smithsonian Institution Building - West Range (Schermer Hall) - Exhibition of Insects - Annual Report of 1903 (1903) by Smithsonian Board of RegentsSmithsonian Institution Building, The Castle

Inside the Castle

From West Range to Schermer Hall

Smithsonian Institution Building West Range with Shindler Portraits (1871)Smithsonian Institution Building, The Castle

The West Range in 1871, which had formerly served as part of the Gallery of Art, was arranged to display ethnological specimens of North American Indian workmanship along with artifacts from China, Japan, and prehistoric France for purposes of comparison. Along the arcades hang portraits depicting American Indian delegates, who visited Washington between 1858 and 1869, painted by United States National Museum artist Antonio Zeno Shindler. At the end of the hall hangs a large portrait of the French historian and statesman Francois Pierre Guillaume Guizot painted by George Peter Alexander Healey.

Smithsonian Institution Building - West Range (Schermer Hall) - Exhibition of Insects - Annual Report of 1903 (1903) by Smithsonian Board of RegentsSmithsonian Institution Building, The Castle

By 1871, the West Range had been fireproofed and redesigned in the Aesthetic style.

Smithsonian Institution Castle: Schermer HallSmithsonian Institution Building, The Castle

Schermer Hall in 2015

Smithsonian Castle Commons - Dining Room (1971-03-30)Smithsonian Institution Building, The Castle

Inside the Castle

The Commons

Smithsonian Institution Castle: The CommonsSmithsonian Institution Building, The Castle

The Castle Commons in 2015.

Credits: Story

Images and Text from
Smithsonian Architectural History & Historic Preservation Division
and
Smithsonian Institution Archives

Compiled by
Marc Bretzfelder
Office of the Chief Information Officer
Smithsonian Institution

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Google apps