The old U.S. Patent Office building June 11 2009

1244738439436The Great Hall at the old U.S. Patent Office Building in Washington, D.C. These photos were taken during a visit in March, 2009.One of the most majestic structures in Washington D.C. is the old U.S. Patent Office Building, which fills an entire city block at Eighth and F Streets, NW. The building now houses two Smithsonian Museums --the National Portrait Gallery and the National Museum of American Art -- so it is free and easy to get inside and explore the porticoes, colonnades and curving double staircase.

The building's most stunning feature is the vaulted gallery on the third floor (shown above). Known as the Great Hall, it was once the largest room in the United States and was originally used to display models that were submitted along with patent applications. In March 1865 the gallery was the site of President Lincoln's second inaugural ball.

The building was designed by architect Robert Mills in the Greek Revival style and construction was started in 1836 and completed in 1867. Following the Civil War battles of Bull Run, Antietam and Fredricksburg the building was put into service as a hospital and morgue.

In 1932 the Patent Office moved out of the building and was replaced by the Civil Service Commission. The building came close to being demolished in 1953, but historic preservationists helped saved the structure and President Dwight D. Eisenhower made it official in 1955 when he signed legislation protecting the building.

In 1968 the Smithsonian galleries opened in the building after several years of renovation work. From 2000 to 2006 the building underwent another round of renovation that restored the building to its original condition and enclosed the center courtyard.

The photos shown here were taken during a trip I made to the city in March, 2009.

1244738657283The Great Hall at the old U.S. Patent Office building.

1244738664795The Great Hall at the old U.S. Patent Office building.