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The Thomas Jefferson Building at the Library of Congress

The oldest of the three United States Library of Congress buildings, the Thomas Jefferson Building was built between 1890 and 1897. It is known for its classicizing facade and elaborately decorated interior, designed by John L. Smithmeyer who was replaced by his assistant, Paul J. Pelz, who was in turn succeeded by Edward Pearce Casey.[1] The Library of Congress Building as it was at first known, is located on First Street SE, between Independence Avenue and East Capitol Street in Washington, DC.

The Thomas Jefferson Building, containing some of the richest public interiors in the United States, is a compendium of the work of classically-trained American sculptors and painters[2] of the "American Renaissance", in programs of symbolic content that exhibited the progress of civilization, personified in Great Men and culminating in the American official culture of the Gilded Age;[3] the programs were in many cases set out by the Librarian of Congress, Ainsworth Rand Spofford. The central block is broadly comparable to the Palais Garnier in Paris, a similarly ambitious expression of triumphant cultural nationalism in the Beaux-Arts style that had triumphed at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, 1893. On the exterior, sculptured portrait heads that were considered typical of the world's races were installed as keystones on the main storey's window arches. The fountain of Neptune centered on the entrance front invites comparison with the Trevi Fountain; its sculptor was Roland Hinton Perry. The copper dome, originally gilded, was criticized at the structure's completion, as too competitive with the national Capitol Building.



The Main Reading Room

Needing more room for its increasing collection, the Library of Congress under Librarian Ainsworth Rand Spofford suggested to the Congress that a new building be built specifically to serve as the American national library. Prior to this the Library existed in a wing of the Capitol Building. The new building was needed partly because of the growing Congress, but also partly because of the Copyright Law of 1870, which required all copyright applicants to send to the Library two copies of their work. This resulted in a flood of books, pamphlets, maps, music, prints and photographs. Spofford had been instrumental in the enactment of this law.

After Congress approved construction of the building in 1886, it took eleven years to complete. The building opened to the public on November 1, 1897, met with wide approval and was immediately seen as a national monument. Originally called simply the "Library of Congress Building," its name was changed on June 13, 1980 to honor former U.S. President Thomas Jefferson, who had been a key figure in the establishment of the Library in 1800. Jefferson offered to sell his personal book collection to Congress in September 1814, one month after the British had burned the Capitol in the War of 1812.

Capitol Page School

Tall hall with many arches. The vaulted ceiling is about 25 meters up and is lavishly decorated in a gold and red theme. Many white arches and pillars decorate the two stories. A marble staircase goes up, with a statue holding a globe aloft.
The Great Hall in 2007, viewed from the second floor west corridor

Senate, House and Supreme Court pages used to attend school together in the Capitol Page School located on the attic level above the Great Hall. Upon the separation of the programs (and the abolishment of the Supreme Court Page Program), the schools split. Senate Pages now attend school in the basement of their dormitory, while House Pages continue to attend classes at what is now the House Page School above the Great Hall. The School's corridor is also home to the official office of the Poet Laureate of the United States.

Coolidge Auditorium

The Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Auditorium, which opened in 1933, has been home to more than 2,000 concerts, primarily of classical chamber music, but occasionally also of jazz, folk music, and special presentations. Some performances make use of the Library's extensive collection of musical instruments and manuscripts. Most of the performances are free and open to the public.

Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge was a wealthy patron of the arts and was no relation to Calvin Coolidge, who, coincidentally, was President of the United States at the time the original bequest for the auditorium was made in 1925.


More than fifty American painters and sculptors produced commissioned works of art.[4]

See also

External links

The references below are public domain websites of the Library of Congress


  1. ^ Casey was the son of Brig. Gen. Thomas Lincoln Casey, Chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
  2. ^ Over forty artists were commissioned to produce sculpture, bas-relief panels, frescoes and empanelled canvases, and deisns for mosaic, according to the on-line official guide.
  3. ^ According to a contemporary guidebook, "America is justly proud of this gorgeous and palatial monument to its National sympathy and appreciation of Literature, Science, and Art".
  4. ^ THE THOMAS JEFFERSON BUILDING - On These Walls: Inscriptions and Quotations in the Buildings of the Library of Congress - the John Adams Building

Coordinates: 38°53′19″N 77°00′17″W / 38.8887°N 77.0046°W / 38.8887; -77.0046



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