Arts and Industries Building

Washington, D.C., United States | C.1879

Photo Credit: Waqar Ahmad

Surrounded by the historical monuments and the numerous Smithsonian Museums that line the Washington, DC National Mall, the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building is nestled behind the Smithsonian Castle. Claiming the honorable title of the second oldest of the Smithsonian museums on the National Mall it was built to house the US National Museum which had been housed at the Smithsonian Castle since the 1850s, but had outgrown the space.

Designed by architects Adolf Cluss and Paul Schulze, the museum adorns a Renaissance Revival style with Greek features. The building was constructed with the symmetry of a Greek cross and a central round rotunda. The interiors are partially lit by skylights and church-like windows, complimented with electrical lighting that was fairly new for the time. The opening event held in 1881 was an inaugural ball for President James A. Garfield, and occurred before the final floor and permanent exhibits were installed.

In 2004, the Museum was closed for renovation due to its deteriorating condition. In 2006, the uncertain future of the Museum led the National Trust for Historic Preservation to name it in 2006 as one of America’s Most Endangered Places. The plea for preservation was met by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and it received $25 million in funds for renovation work.

After being closed for over 12 years, 40 percent the Arts and Industries Building reopened for special events in the fall of 2015 and has hosted several activities, including the 2016 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Smithsonian officials claim that the building has been architecturally stabilized, and they hope to reopen by the spring of 2021.

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