The oldest of the three United States Library of Congress buildings, the Thomas Jefferson Building was built between 1890 and 1897. It was originally known as the Library of Congress Building and is located on First Street SE, between Independence Avenue and East Capitol Street in Washington, D.C. The Beaux-Arts style building is known for its classicizing facade and elaborately decorated interior.
John L. Smithmeyer and Paul J. Pelz won the competition for the architectural plans of the library in 1873. They took several trips to Europe to study other great libraries and continued developing details of the design for another nine years until the final submission of plans in 1892. At this point the plans were turned over to Brig. Gen. Thomas Lincoln Casey, Chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, for construction of the building. Edward Pearce Casey, the twenty five year old son of Brig. Gen. Thomas Lincoln Casey, was the artistic supervisor during construction.
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 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; 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 Court of Neptune Fountain 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.
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. The building 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.
Senate, House and Supreme Court pages formerly attended school together in the Capitol Page School located on the attic level above the Great Hall. Upon the separation of the programs (and the closure of the Supreme Court Page Program), the schools split. Senate Pages now attend school in the basement of their dormitory. The House Page Program was closed in August 2011. The former School's corridor is home to the official office of the Poet Laureate of the United States.
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.
Henry Oliver Walker, Lyric Poetry, 1896.
Erotica, One of the eight panels representing literature by George Randolph Barse (1861-1938)
Gari Melchers, Mural of War, 1896.
Elihu Vedder, Minerva of Peace, 1896.
Edward Emerson Simmons, Melpomene, 1896.
Charles Sprague Pearce, Labor, 1896.
A portion of Edwin Blashfield's Evolution of Civilization, located on the dome above the Main Reading Room, 1895.
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