The National Museum (later Arts and Industries Building) (28)The Mall
Constructed in 1879-81
In the 1880s, the role of the museum was to exhibit collections in as complete a fashion as possible in order to let them demonstrate their educational value. Visitors could view large portions of the collection in order to learn through observation.
The Smithsonian's first dedicated museum building was entrusted to the firm of Cluss and Schulze. Their design was advanced in its day because of its flexible spaces and ample provision of natural light. No uninterrupted solid wall separated the 17 spacious exhibition halls. The large, open space was lit by natural light from the windows on all four sides of the building and on the roof. For information about the building's history, see: http://siarchives.si.edu/history/exhibits/bairds-dream.
Although the building welcomed 50,000 visitiors in 2003, the Smithsonian Institution has closed it in 2004 due to the urgent need for repairs. All exhibits and staff were moved to other locations. The building will remain closed until the Smithsonian raises funds and determines the building's future purpose.
The Association of Oldest Inhabitants of the District of Columbia approved a resolution at its May meeting 2005 urging Congress to "direct the Smithsonian Institution to maintain this unique building entrusted by the nation to its care." The resolution points out that "decades of deferred maintenance have caused the National Museum to deteriorate." Their resolution argues, "further inaction to preserve this masterpiece from its roof down would constitute 'demolition by neglect' of a locally beloved national treasure."
The Arts and Industries building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has added the Smithsonian Institution's Arts and Industries Building to its Most Endangered Buildings list. Richard Moe, President of the National Trust, described the building as "an enormously significant building. It is the best preserved example of 19th-century exhibition architecture in the country."
In 2012, stabilization work is being done to strengthen and repair the exterior of the building. Work at the interior has also been done since 2010. In January 2014, the Smithsonian Institution announced that the building will remain closed for the foreseeable future: see Article in the Washington Post, January 28, 2014