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D.C. Museums Near End of Pricey Facelift

The original Patent Office in Washington, D.C., considered one of the country's best examples of Greek revival architecture, is nearing the end of a $300 million renovation. When the building reopens on July 1, the two Smithsonian museums it houses -- the National Portrait Gallery and the American Art Museum -- will be newly accessible to the public.

The Patent Office building was a pivotal part of President Andrew Jackson's plan to turn Washington into a great world capital. Jackson enlisted Robert Mills, the original architect of the Washington Monument, to design three neo-Greek buildings (including the Patent Office) that would symbolize the spirit of the American people.

The building, which takes up two square city blocks, became home to the Patent Office in 1842 and was completed in 1867. It has gone through many changes over the years: Several architects contributed to the final design, and parts of it were rebuilt after being damaged by a major fire in 1877. In the 1950s, it was slated for demolition to make way for a parking lot. After a successful campaign to save it, the building was renovated and transformed into a museum space.

Closed to the public for the last six years, the site's museums are only partially finished. When they open, just in time for Independence Day, collections that were previously in storage will be unveiled to the public. Museum officials hope the building itself will be part of the attraction as well.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lynn Neary is an NPR arts correspondent covering books and publishing.