Today’s post comes from Jessie Kratz, Historian of the National Archives.
On June 24 at noon, the National Archives celebrates its anniversary with a special film event: From the Vaults: 80th Anniversary of the National Archives
If you have ever visited the National Archives in Washington, DC, you may have noticed two very, very large bronze doors that mark the original Constitution Avenue entrance to the building. Visitors enter through the Constitution Avenue entrance to view the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights as well as the many other exhibits the National Archives Museum offers.
These bronze doors stand about 37 feet, 7 inches high and are 10 feet wide and 11 inches thick. Each weighs roughly 6.5 tons. The building’s architect, John Russell Pope, understanding the national significance of the structure, sought to design a public exhibition hall of monumental proportions. As a reminder to visitors of the importance of the building’s purpose, the public exhibition hall Pope designed—the rotunda—measures 75 feet high; the bronze doors leading into the exhibition hall match that in size and character.
The doors were first opened on October 18, 1935. Then visitors to the National Archives climbed up 39 steps on Constitution Avenue and walked past two rows of giant Corinthian columns before passing through the large, motorized doors. Each morning, guards opened the doors by turning a key to slide them open. In the evening, the guards would close them for the night. Just past the bronze doors are another, smaller set of doors that kept out the elements.
For 65 years, visitors walked through these stunning doors to visit National Archives exhibits. When the Archives reopened in 2003 following a two-year renovation, the bronze doors remained closed. Visitors now enter on the sidewalk level of Constitution Avenue. While the bronze doors are now opened only on special occasions, they remain a notable feature of the building and continue to remind visitors of the significance of the National Archives and its work.