The Library of Congress was housed in the U.S. Capitol’s west center building until 1897, when the Thomas Jefferson Building opened. The Library of Congress began in 1800 with a small allowance to buy reference books to be used by members of Congress. The British had destroyed the previous collection, so they purchased Thomas Jefferson’s personal library, which included 6,487 books. Although the Capitol’s west center building went through various enlargements and remodeling, there was never enough space to house the growing collection. In 1886, it was decided that the library would be moved to its own building. The Library opened to the public in 1897. The Library of Congress ranks among America’s greatest achievements. It celebrates nationalism and learning, while representing America’s optimistic future. The Library of Congress reflects its own time and atmosphere while emphasizing the achievements and significant figures of western civilization.
The design was based on the Paris Opera House. Although, at the time, it was considered to be Italian Renaissance style, it is now recognized to be of the Beaux Arts Style. This style is theatrical, heavily ornamented, and flamboyant. This classical style considers the function of the space. The Thomas Jefferson building is a perfect example of the Beaux Arts style given some of the materials used consisted of fifteen varieties of marble, four hundred thousand cubic feet of granite, bronze, gold, and mahogany. Although expensive, these materials would last thousands of years. The Library’s plan is a hollow rectangle with a rotunda, book stacks and four courtyards occupying the core. The front faces the Capitol Building, rising four stories above grade, with a 23-carat gold-plated dome atop the central reading room. The exterior is made of granite; rusticated at ground level, but grows smooth and fine as the walls rise. Corinthian columns were constructed at the central portico. The detailed front entrance and Great Hall lead to the central reading room, where one can take advantage of the Library’s vast resources. The Library’s elaborate interior, with more than forty painters and sculptors commissioned to work on it, was designed to surpass European libraries and show the beautiful future of America. Architects John L. Smithmeyer and Paul J. Pelz submitted the plan chosen by Congress. After much controversy and mishaps, the building came under the direction of Gen. Edward Pearce Casey and civil engineer Bernard R. Green. The building’s elaborate decoration was only possible because Gen. Edward Pearce Casey and Bernard Green fulfilled their reputation as being efficient engineers, completing the building for less than the amount appropriated by Congress.
Various libraries throughout Europe inspired the grand scale of the building, but many elements were modeled on structures housing the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The Library was designed to house the nation’s library as well as showcase art and culture of the growing country. The Thomas Jefferson Building resides on Capitol Hill, facing west, across the street from the U.S. Capitol. The building sits on ten acres, commanding the attention of all who pass by. Upon first approach, two things stand out; the Neptune Fountain and the grand stairway leading to the Main Entrance. The Neptune Fountain represents a scene in Neptune’s court. The gigantic bronze statue of Neptune would be about twelve feet, if standing. On both sides of the fountain, granite stairways lead up to the central landing, in front of the Main Entrance. The triple-arched porch shows off the building’s unique window ornamentation. Wrapping around the entire building, thirty-three ethnological heads sit atop the first floor windows. The second-story windows feature nine portico busts of influential men in history.
Entering the building, you feel an immediate sense of awe. “The removal to that airy and spacious