National Archives Building: Overview

Introduction Credits:
Randolph H. Lytton, Pim van den Assum

Introduction Date:

Introduction Text:
The National Archives Building, located at 700 Pennsylvania Avenue with its Exhibit Hall Entrance on Constitution Avenue between 7th and 9th Streets, N.W., was designed by John Russell Pope in 1935. The sculptors were Adolph A. Weinman, James Earle Fraser, and Robert Aitken. In 2003 renovations were carried out by Hartman-Cox Architects.

For the National Archives Building, Pope modified the ancient mausoleum design, which he used on the earlier Scottish Rite Temple (1915), with classically inspired temple entrances surrounded by colonnades on all four sides of seventy two 52-foot-high Corinthian columns.

In the center of the pediment on the Constitution Avenue (south) side (supported by eight Corinthian columns) is The Recorder of the Archives, who has the appearance of a seated Roman patriarch. Other classical features include winged horses, based on the mythical Pegasus, as well as symbols of ancient writing materials: the papyrus flower for paper, and rams for parchment. Each of the corners of the pediment has a 12-foot-tall eagle, ‘guarding’ the archives. On either side of the southern entrance are two neoclassical figures: Guardianship, a male holding a helmet (Protection) and fasces (representing Unified Government) with helmets and weapons at his feet. The female figure, Heritage (representing Protection of the Home) is portrayed with a sheaf of wheat, a child, and an urn. Look for other classical features on the nearby tripod-lamps and on the pedestals of the statues.

On the Pennsylvania Avenue (north) side of the National Archives Building are neoclassical sculptures: Guardians of the Portal, two figures clothed as Roman soldiers on either side of the doorway. In front of the entrance are two free-standing seated figures: Past on the right, modeled after a Roman scholar with a scroll and closed book, with the inscription “Study the Past.” Future, on the left, is a woman holding manuscripts and an open book, with the inscription below; “What is Past is Prologue.” Again, notice the neoclassical decorations on the bases.

Whereas, the exterior of the National Archives Building is an architectural marriage between an ancient mausoleum and a temple, the interior hall is reminiscent of the Roman Pantheon.

Document List

National Archives Building, Washington, D.C. (no date)
National Archives Building, which will be located on 10th Street, N. W., between B Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, is a unit of the proposed group of buildings which will form a triangle between 15th Street, N. W., and the Capitol. A complete model of the entire group may be seen at the Treasury Department.
Exhibition Hall, National Archives Building (no date)
In this Hall are displayed from time to time the Bill of Rights, the Emancipation Proclamation, laws, treaties, and oter significant documents of the Federal Government preserved by The National Archives.
National Archives Building, As Viewed from Constitution Avenue (no date)
The Natinoal Archives, established in 1934, preserves and makes availble for use permanently valuable records of the Federal Government.
New Archives Building, Constitution and Pennsylvania avenues, Washington, D.C. (no date)
THE ARCHIVES BUILDING occupies the square bounded Constitution Avenue, 9th Street, Penn Avenue and 7th Street. It is 406 feet long and 300 feet wide and the cost was approxiimately $12,000,000. The upper part is constructed of Indiana Limestone, and the lower of Mass. granite. The statues on the Contitution Avenue front symbolize The Protector of the Archives and Future Generations. Those on Penn Avenue front typify Past and Future History. The large figure on the tympanum symbolizes Destiny, and the eagles on the side, Lofty Courage. In this building is kept all important documents of every Department of U. S.