The Thomas Jefferson Building: A Virtual Tour of the Library of Congress

Chronology of the Thomas Jefferson Building

Image of Ainsworth Rand Spofford, Librarian of Congress1871
Librarian of Congress Ainsworth Rand Spofford suggests a separate building for the crowded Library, then housed in the Capitol.

Congress authorizes a competition to design plans for the new Library. The architectural firm of Smithmeyer & Pelz of Washington, D.C., is awarded the $1,500 first prize for its Italian Renaissance design.

Sen. Justin S. Morrill supports a separate building to be located east of the Capitol.

The Joint Select Committee on Additional Accommodations for the Library appoints three architects to investigate the feasibility of enlarging the Capitol for the use of the Library. They recommend against the idea.

Smithmeyer & Pelz's Italian Renaissance design for the Library of Congress1886
In April, Congress authorizes the construction of a Library building according to the design of Smithmeyer & Pelz (depicted to the right) on a site adjacent to East Capitol Street, and a building commission establishes the exact location, immediately south of East Capitol Street and between First and Second streets. John L. Smithmeyer is appointed architect of the building, and clearing of the site begins in October.

Principal excavations completed, but work stops while cement for foundation is tested.

Work begins on laying the foundation of the building. Bernard Green is appointed superintendent of construction in March, but work is stopped in June by a vote of the House of Representatives. Congress places Gen. Thomas L. Casey of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in charge of the construction in October; he is to be assisted by Green. Smithmeyer is dismissed as architect, and Paul J. Pelz, his former assistant, is put in charge. Construction resumes. Congress asks Casey to submit a new plan for a building that will cost no more than $4 million. In December, Casey submits two plans: one for $4 million, and the more elaborate Smithmeyer & Pelz design, which will cost approximately $6 million.

Congress approves the $6 million plan for the building.

Laying of cornerstone1890
The cornerstone for the building is laid in the northeast corner on Aug. 28 (depicted on the right).

Paul J. Pelz is dismissed as the architect in May, and in December Edward Pearce Casey, the son of Gen. Thomas Casey, is appointed architect and placed in charge of all interior design and decoration.

The last stone in the superstructure is set in place on July 7.

Gen. Thomas Casey dies in March, and Bernard Green is given responsibility for completion of the building in April.

The last of the paintings in the interior of the building is completed Feb. 5, and on Feb. 19 the president signs a law authorizing the reorganization of the Library and the expansion of its staff. Transfer of materials to the new building from the Capitol begins in early April, and on April 22, Superintendent Green reports to Congress that the net cost of the new building was $6,032,124. 54, some $200,000 less than the total appropriation for construction. The Library in the Capitol closes on Sept. 1, and on Nov. 1 the new Library building is opened to the public.

Roland Hinton Perry's fountain in front of the building is completed in February, and in October the building is opened to the public in the evening on a regular basis.

John Flanagan's clock in Main Reading Room1902
John Flanagan's clock is installed in the Main Reading Room (depicted to the right).

Congress appropriates $320,000 to build bookstacks in the southeast courtyard.

The new southeast bookstacks are completed and occupied.

Congress accepts a gift from Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge for the construction of an auditorium (see Concerts from the Library of Congress). It is built in a portion of the northwest courtyard and dedicated with a performance in October.

Because of the need for additional space, another bookstack is added to the Library in the northeast courtyard.

Congress authorizes extension and remodeling of the east front of the building and appropriates $6.5 million for the construction of an annex building, designed by the firm of Pierson and Wilson, with Alexander Trowbridge as consulting architect.

The extension of the east front is completed, providing new, specially designed facilities for the Rare Book Room.

The Juilliard String Quartet, playing the Library's Stradavari instruments1936
Gertrude Clarke Whittall donates funds to the Library of Congress to establish the Gertrude Clarke Whittall Foundation, whose primary purpose is the maintenance of the Stradivari instruments she had given to the Library and support for concerts in which those instruments will be played.

The Annex behind the Jefferson Building is completed, and the transfer of materials out of the main building begins.

The Whittall Pavilion, built with Whittall Foundation funds to house the Stradivari instruments in the northwest courtyard adjacent to the Coolidge Auditorium, is opened in March. In October, the Librarian dedicates the Hispanic Room on the east side of the second floor, designed by architect Paul Cret and decorated and furnished with funds provided by Archer M. Huntington.

Teaching of the Indians - Portinari mural1941
Brazilian muralist Cândido Portinari completes four large paintings in the entrance to the Hispanic Room depicting the succession of periods since the Spanish and Portuguese arrived in America. Through four panels, Discovery of the Land, Entry into the Forest, Teaching of the Indians (shown on the right), and Mining of Gold, the artist represents Indian, black and white peoples in America. On January 12, 1942, the Portinari murals were formally inaugurated in a special ceremony.

The new Woodrow Wilson Room, located on the second floor across the hall from the Rare Book Room, is dedicated in January. It will house Wilson's private library.

Air conditioning is installed in the Congressional Reading Room.

The Poetry Room is dedicated in April on Shakespeare's birthday. Located in the northwest corner of the third floor of the building, it is decorated and furnished with funds provided by Mrs. Whittall.

Librarian of Congress L. Quincy Mumford notes the need for a third building.

The Main Reading Room is closed in May for cleaning and the installation of new lighting, heating and air conditioning systems.

Image of Main Reading Room 1965
The Main Reading Room reopens in August. In October, Congress authorizes the construction of a third Library structure, the James Madison Memorial Building, which is designed by DeWitt, Poor and Shelton.

The Main Building is officially renamed the Thomas Jefferson Building in June, and the Annex becomes the John Adams Building. In July, temporary partitions and utilities on the second floor of the Great Hall are removed following the transfer of Library staff to the new Madison Building.

The firm of Arthur Cotton Moore Associates is hired as consulting architects for the renovation/rehabilitation of the Jefferson and Adams buildings.

The Architect of the Capitol and the Library of Congress agree on a renovation plan to be carried out in two distinct phases.

Congress approves an appropriation of $81.5 million for the restoration of the Jefferson and Adams buildings.

The Main Reading Room of the Library of Congress1985
Neptune Plaza and the Neptune Fountain are restored.

Phase I of the renovation of the Jefferson Building begins.

Main Reading Room closes for renovation in December (depicted on the right).

Phase I of the renovation is completed.

West front main door of the Jefferson Building and the Great Hall are closed in June, shortly after the last concerts are held in the Coolidge Auditorium.

The Main Reading Room reopens in June. The Rosenwald Room, opposite the Rare Book and Special Collections Reading Room, is dedicated in September. It is a partial replication of the gallery that Lessing J. Rosenwald maintained at his home in Jenkintown, Pa.

Restored hallway in the Jefferson Building1997
The Library celebrates the reopening of the Thomas Jefferson Building on the 100th anniversary of its opening (restored space depicted to the right).

On April 24, 2000, the Library celebrated its Bicentennial with a day-long series of events and entertainment kicked off by ceremonies marking the issuance of the Library of Congress commemorative stamp and the silver and bimetallic commemorative coins. The launch of a new, easy-to-use and entertaining Web site (, designed especially for children and their families, and the unveiling of a national public service advertising campaign in partnership with the Ad Council followed the coin and stamp ceremonies.

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