The Smithsonian Institution Building, known as the “Castle,” is closing Wednesday, Feb. 1, for its first major renovation in more than 50 years. All elements of the building will undergo extensive repairs and upgrades starting in March, and the renovation is expected to last about five years.
The Castle, located at 1000 Jefferson Dr. S.W., currently houses the Smithsonian’s Visitor Center, a café, a gift shop and a small exhibit featuring a sampling of Smithsonian artifacts. It is also the administrative headquarters of the Institution and includes the offices of the Secretary and Smithsonian senior leadership.
During construction, the Enid A. Haupt Garden will remain open and pedestrian routes on both sides of the Castle will allow access from the National Mall to the National Museum of African Art, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the garden. To continue to serve in-person and virtual visitors, the Smithsonian’s Visitor Center will expand its online services while exploring other in-person visitor services opportunities.
The virtual Visitor Center website will launch in early February and include several new features that enable users to build an itinerary, interact with live volunteers who can help plan visits and embark on virtual tours hosted by live docents. Visitors will also be able to download the Adventure Lab app, which will guide them through touchless scavenger hunts to enhance the exploration of the Smithsonian. The online center will continue to feature information about museum hours and locations, entry guidelines, brochures and maps, dining and shopping options, accessibility and details about visiting with groups.
Approximately 150 staff members who work in the Castle will be relocated to Capital Gallery, a nearby office building owned by the Smithsonian, located at 600 Maryland Ave. S.W.
When the renovation is complete, visitors will walk into a dramatic Great Hall restored to its original appearance with decorative finishes and terrazzo floors. The café, shop and restrooms will have been expanded and moved to the lower level. Also, a floor with office space directly above the Great Hall, added in 1968, will have been removed, allowing the Upper Great Hall to return to its original two-story height and become a venue for public programming once again.
Designed by James Renwick Jr., the Castle opened in 1855 as the first Smithsonian building. The Castle’s exterior of Seneca sandstone has remained largely unchanged. Yet, over the decades, as the Smithsonian’s mission and staff grew, the Castle’s interior spaces underwent many modifications that altered their historic nature.
The Castle’s last major renovation was in the late 1960s. In addition to interior upgrades, the upcoming renovation will include restoration and replacement of windows; restoration of the roof and exterior stonework; replacement of all mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems; and replacement of life-safety, security and information technology systems. The building’s red sandstone exterior will remain unchanged.
The Castle is a designated National Historic Landmark. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is part of the National Mall Historic District. During construction, visitors are encouraged to begin their trip to the Smithsonian’s museums online.