- For similar uses and terms, see Smithsonian (disambiguation).
The Smithsonian Institution Building
, located on the National Mall
in Washington, D.C.
behind the National Museum of African Art
, houses the Smithsonian Institution
's administrative offices and information center. The building is constructed of red sandstone
in the faux Norman
style (a 12th-century combination of late Romanesque
and early Gothic
motifs) and is appropriately nicknamed The Castle
It was the first Smithsonian building, begun in 1847 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. In August 1853, the Smithsonian's Board of Regents declared that the work of the original architect, James Renwick, Jr., was done. Lieutenant Barton S. Alexander
of the U.S. Army
Topographic Engineers was asked to take up the architect's responsibilities for the slowly progressing Smithsonian Building. Under his supervision, the building was finished in 1855.
Over the years, several reconstructions have taken place. The first followed a disastrous fire on January 24 1865, which destroyed most of the upper story of the main segment and the north and south towers. In 1884, the east wing was fireproofed and enlarged to accommodate more offices. Remodeling from 1968 to 1969 restored the building to the Victorian atmosphere reminiscent of the era during which it was first inhabited.
This building served as a home for the first Secretary of the Smithsonian, Joseph Henry, and his family and for many years housed all aspects of Smithsonian operations, including an exhibit hall from 1858 until the 1960s. In 1901, Washington's first children's room was installed in the Castle's South Tower Room where the original decorated ceiling and wall stencils were restored in 1987. Located inside near the north entrance is the crypt of James Smithson, benefactor of the Institution, while outside on the Mall, a bronze statue of Joseph Henry, executed by William Wetmore Story, honors the scientist who was the Institution's first secretary. In 1996, as the Smithsonian celebrated its 150th anniversary, a bell was added. Although Renwick had intended for a bell in his original plan, there was not enough money to add it to the Castle. It now chimes hourly.
The Smithsonian Castle acts as the 'brain' of the Smithsonian, in that it houses all the administrative offices and carries out all Smithsonian operations. In addition, the main Smithsonian visitor center is also located here, with interactive displays and maps. Computers electronically answer most common questions.