Contact: Craig D'Ooge (202) 707-9189

July 11, 1997

American Architecture Featured in Library of Congress Exhibition

Exhibition Is Housed in Newly Restored, 100-Year-Old Thomas Jefferson Building

Historic architectural drawings are among the more than 200 items on display in "American Treasures of the Library of Congress," the Library's first permanent, rotating exhibition in its nearly 200-year history.

The exhibition is housed in the newly restored Thomas Jefferson Building, which was called 'the most beautiful public building in America' when it opened 100 years ago.

In the exhibition, an original competition drawing (1793) for the Capitol building by Stephen Hallet is displayed next to Benjamin Latrobe's watercolor "Elevation of the South Front of the President's House." A design for a church (ca. 1855) by Richard Upjohn that served as a pattern for the development of church buildings throughout America shares a case with a perspective drawing of Storer House (1923) by Frank Lloyd Wright and an original design sketch for the Woolworth Building (1910) by Cass Gilbert.

An audiovisual station plays rare film clips related to architecture, including a time-lapse film of the Star Theater in New York City being dismantled brick-by-brick in 1901, a pan of the Buffalo skyline taken from daylight to night during the Pan American Exposition, and an audio recording of Frank Lloyd Wright with a montage of stills and designs of his buildings.

These and more architectural treasures are among the more than 200 items that are on display in "American Treasures," the first permanent exhibition of the rarest and most significant items in the history of the world's largest library. The "Treasures" exhibition opened May 1 in the Thomas Jefferson Building. The exhibition is the centerpiece of a yearlong celebration marking the official reopening of the Jefferson Building after a 12-year restoration.

The Jefferson Building is a monument to the idealism and optimism of the last decade of the 19th century. Its Italian Renaissance facade evokes memories of great European buildings, and its marble columns, bronze and plaster statues, elaborate mosaic floors and decorated ceilings, stained glass windows and murals on walls and ceilings dazzle the eye. Every feature of the building is rich in allegory and meaning; taken together they serve as a tribute to learning, knowledge and human understanding. There are myths and legends from classical literature, the seasons of nature, the ages of man and the written traditions of the world. The building also celebrates the civilizing institutions of the family, government, religion and art, and the quotations on the walls drawn from the great minds of the past serve both to educate and inspire the viewer.

Especially notable in the restoration is the cleaning of the marble and artwork, which has lightened and brightened the soaring spaces of the Great Hall and "the Rotunda," now known as the Main Reading Room. Great care was taken throughout the restoration process to ensure that modernization did not mar the original design of the Jefferson Building. Sprinkler heads -- fire protection was a major feature of the renovation -- are artfully hidden in the classical ceiling rosettes, and telecommunications cables are hidden in custom extruded aluminum baseboards to match original features. Wooden doors were removed and sent out for repair and refinishing; original light fixtures were refurbished; windows were restored and new storm windows were added; original colors and details of decorative plaster, painting and gilded areas were carefully restored. Old electrical and mechanical systems were removed and new ones installed. The heating, ventilating and air- conditioning system were modernized, and an asbestos control management plan was carried out. Finally, some 20 conservators cleaned and restored more than 100 of the murals in the Jefferson Building.

"Now with the grand restoration of the Jefferson Building, we have an appropriate venue to delight and inform millions of visitors with the 'American Treasures' exhibition. We hope that all Americans will come here to see the cultural patrimony that the Library of Congress holds in trust for them," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington.

Besides those listed above, other architecture-related pieces in the exhibition include:

  • George Lawrence's photographic panorama of San Francisco after the earthquake and fire in 1906
  • Pierre Charles L'Enfant's plan of Washington, D.C., 1791
  • Sanborn Fire Insurance map of Tombstone, Arizona, showing the O.K. Corral, 1861
  • A bird's-eye view of the city of Hannibal, Missouri, 1869
  • George Washington's map of the city of Alexandria, Virginia, drawn when he was 17 (1749) and his school copy-book, open to a geometrical exercise that shows his interest in surveying, 1745-1748
  • Plan of Savannah, Georgia, showing buildings destroyed by fire in 1796
  • John Rubens Smith watercolor of the west front of the U.S. Capitol, including cows grazing on the grounds, ca. 1830

Non-architectural highlights of the exhibition include the earliest surviving book printed in North America, early baseball cards, the contents of Lincoln's pockets on the night of his assassination and Susan B. Anthony's personal copy of the transcript of the trial resulting from her arrest in 1872 for voting.

The exhibition was made possible by a grant of $1.1 million from the Xerox Foundation.

An audio tour, featuring selections from the holdings of the Library, will enrich the visitor's experience with an array of memories. For example, listeners can hear both narration about and the actual voices of presidents, poets and other famous figures from the Library's audio collections, including Theodore Roosevelt, Robert Frost and Woodrow Wilson. The 2.5-hour audio tour also features music, including the voices of Beverly Sills and Jelly Roll Morton.

The listening device is a digital audio wand that enables visitors to listen to as much or as little as they wish of audio clips related to selected portions of the exhibition. The Soundtrack Tour by Thwaite Productions allows the user random access to audio presentations at various points in the exhibition through the use of a numeric keypad. Visitors may rent the wand for $2.50, a reduced rate that will continue for one year.

Harry N. Abrams Inc. has published a companion volume with an introduction by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Garry Wills and a foreword by Dr. Billington. American Treasures in the Library of Congress: Memory/Reason/Imagination ($39.95) is available in the Library sales shops and wherever books are sold. Select items from the exhibition are also available on-line at

Exhibition hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Same-day, timed-entry tickets are available free from 10 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. at the Visitors' Information Desk in the Jefferson Building at 10 First St. S.E. For a recorded announcement about the exhibition, call (202) 707- 3834. Advance tickets are available only from Ticketmaster for $2.75 plus a $1.25 handling fee per order by calling (202) 432-SEAT in Washington, (410) 481-SEAT in Baltimore and (703) 573-SEAT in Virginia. Out-of-state callers may dial (800) 551-SEAT toll-free.

Note to press: color transparencies of some of the architectural items in the exhibition and of the Thomas Jefferson Building are available from the Public Affairs Office. Call (202) 707-9191 to arrange for delivery of duplicates.

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PR 97-103
ISSN 0731-3527

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