Renovations of History Museum Take Shape

Posted November 30, 2007 at 5:31pm

From the inside, the building on the west side of the National Mall that once housed Dorothy’s ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz” and other pieces of the National Museum of American History’s collection is virtually unrecognizable thanks to a yearlong demolition. But soon it will take a new shape, officials said last week during an update on renovation efforts.

The building was closed in September 2006 for the project. The exterior, which was constructed in 1968, still stands, though that too will look different once the makeover is complete.

“The central core demolition is nearly finished, the shell for the new Star-Spangled Banner gallery is taking shape, and we have raised the necessary funds to complete the construction,” Museum Director Brent Glass said in a statement. “Visitors will be amazed at the results when we re-open.”

The entire project, which was designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, cost $85 million, $45.9 million of which came from federal funding. The museum embarked on a capital campaign to raise $180 million for the renovations and to meet other needs, and it has raised $153 million to date.

The refurbished museum will feature a center staircase, a newly designed Star-Spangled Banner Gallery, which houses the flag that inspired the national anthem and a skylight. There will be more open space in the center of the building, with an atrium where the famed Foucault Pendulum once hung. The pendulum, which was removed in 1998 to make room for the Star-Spangled Banner exhibit, was designed to swing in different directions and demonstrate the rotation of the Earth. Glass described the soon-to-come atrium as a “town square” where evening events can be held.

The museum, the most popular of the Smithsonians with an average of 3 million visitors each year, will still be home to many of the same exhibits and artifacts. However, some will be displayed a bit differently. For instance, the Star-Spangled Banner Gallery will go a few steps further in telling the story of the flag with added information plaques and an abstract flag composed of 960 tiles that will hang above the entranceway.

“This will be a major destination in Washington, an inspirational spot,” Glass said.

Glass has not yet announced an opening date for the museum, though he has said he will release a date in February. Until then, visitors can turn to the “Treasures of American History” exhibit in the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. The collection includes the ruby slippers, Kermit the Frog and the Greensboro lunch counter.