Smithsonian ‘Castle’ on National Mall to close for 5-year restoration

One of the National Mall’s iconic landmarks will close soon for a years-long restoration.

D.C.’s Smithsonian Institution Building, widely known as “the Castle” owing to its Gothic revival architecture and sandstone exterior, will close to the public starting Feb. 1 to kick off its first major renovation in five decades.

The restoration is expected to take around five years, and will involve extensive repairs and upgrades throughout the building, the Smithsonian said in a statement Thursday.

From March onward, crews will work to overhaul the Castle’s roofing, stonework, infrastructure and more — but its iconic red sandstone exterior is here to stay.

“When the renovation is complete, visitors will walk into a dramatic Great Hall restored to its original appearance with decorative finishes and terrazzo floors,” the institution said.

“A floor with office space directly above the Great Hall, added in 1968, will have been removed, allowing the Upper Great Hall to return to its original two-story height and become a venue for public programming once again.”

Opened in 1855 as the institution’s first building, the Castle currently houses the Smithsonian’s Visitor Center, a cafe, a gift shop and a small exhibit featuring a selection of artifacts. It also serves as the Smithsonian’s administrative headquarters and hosts offices for its leadership.

In lieu of the visitor’s center, the Smithsonian plans to launch a virtual service in early February to let users plan trips to museums, embark on virtual tours and chat with volunteers. Details about museum hours, entry and accessibility are always available online.

The Enid A. Haupt Garden will remain open, and pedestrian routes on both sides of the Castle will still allow access to the National Museum of African Art, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the garden.

Around 150 staff at the Castle will be moved to another Smithsonian-owned property at 600 Maryland Ave. SW while the work is underway.

Alejandro Alvarez

Alejandro Alvarez joined WTOP as a digital journalist and editor in June 2018. He is a reporter and photographer focusing on politics, political activism and international affairs.

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