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Meet the Press
April 22, 2006

Old Patent Office Building in the 1950s

The Old Patent Office building housed government offices in the 1950s.

Last week All Things Considered ran a feature by Lynn Neary about the restoration of the Old Patent Office building, which houses the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. The audio clip gives some indication of the conditions of the restoration, which is entering its final stretch (before the building opens July 1). You can hear SAAM director Elizabeth Broun speaking over the whirring, buzzing, and pounding sounds of construction. When I toured the building for the first time several months ago, the place was more Home Depot than Smithsonian museum.

As far as restorations go, this one involves a “pincer” approach, which I think is probably unique—an effort to restore the building to its 1883 condition while simultaneously ushering it into the twenty-first century. So, on the one hand, there’s work to retool the building’s entire air conditioning system, which involves refitting massive boiler-room units to tunnel hot air with a great degree of control through an old, giant building. On the other hand, the restoration also involves erasing the evidence of restorations since 1883—opening skylight domes that were included in the original design but have been boarded over for decades, for example. Chief Curator Eleanor Harvey pointed out a nineteenth-century document dumbwaiter that had been more or less forgotten before it was recently exposed. (I’m told there are no plans to use it to ferry art between floors.)

While I’m on the press roundup tip, Going-Out-Guru Julia Beizer wrote a great, short post about a recent tour (one that DCist picked up, too). And the WaPo put together a photographic slideshow.

Posted by Kriston on April 22, 2006 in American Art Here


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