11.12.17: Smithsonian castle

Smithsonian Institution Building, commonly known as the castle, Washington, D.C. 


Technical information

June 6, 2006,
6:49 a.m.

38°53’21” N,
77°1'34" W
(Show in Google Maps)

Canon EOS 20D

Canon EF-S 10-22 f/3.5-4.5 (10mm)


1/80th second


When visitors to Washington, D.C., plan a trip to the Smithsonian Institution their itinerary usually includes the Natural History Museum, or the Air and Space Museum or the new African American Museum, or the various art galleries that are part of the collection of 19 museums and galleries in the various buildings that form the Smithsonian complex. 

After all, the Smithsonian is known as “the nation’s attic,” with more than 154 million items stored or displayed within the museum’s walls or on its grounds.

But the most identifiable Smithsonian location is the Smithsonian Institution Building, commonly known as the castle. It was the museum’s first building, completed in 1855, and now houses the institution’s information center and administrative offices.

The castle was designed by architect James Renwick, Jr., who also designed St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. It is built of Seneca red sandstone from the Seneca Quarry in Montgomery County, Maryland. The design is faux Norman style, which (according to web sites I checked) is a combination of early Gothic and late Romanesque designs popular in the 12th century.

The castle was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1965.

This photo shows a view of the front of the castle, taken from the south side of The Mall in Washington. The statue in front is of Joseph Henry, who was the first Secretary of the Smithsonian from 1846-1878. The yellow flowers form the Smithsonian’s logo.

The front view is the most recognizable views of the castle, but one of my favorite areas is behind the building. That’s where I discovered the Enid A. Haupt Garden, a public garden that covers four acres filled with a wide variety of flowering plants and brick walkways. It’s a great place to spend time on a summer day. 

Each week I will post a photo from my collection with an explanation of how I got the shot. Previous photos of the week are in the archives.