Doors of Monumental Proportions

Today’s post comes from Jessie Kratz, Historian of the National Archives. On June 19 the National Archives celebrates its 80th anniversary.

Constitution Avenue Entrance with doors closed, June 13, 1936, 64-NA-79, Records of the National Archives
Constitution Avenue Entrance with doors closed, 6/13/1936. (National Archives Identifier 7820634)

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 in their frame stand about 38 feet, 8 inches high and are 10 feet wide and 11 inches thick. Each weighs roughly 6.5 tons.

Constitution Avenue Entrance with doors open, 6/13/1936. (National Archives Identifier 7820636)

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.

Constitution Avenue Foyer, doors closed, 1/12/1936. (National Archives Identifier 7820616)

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.

Constitution Avenue Entrance and Pediment, 1/12/1936. (National Archives Identifier 7820626)

6 thoughts on “Doors of Monumental Proportions

  1. These doors were made by the John Harsch Foundry who is my great great grandfather.
    My name is Charles Irish and I am proud to say that I am a 5th generation foundryman and the owner of Irish Aluminum and Bronze Foundry in Seattle, Washington.

    1. Why did they make giant doors? They look nice but seem impractical and expensive during a time when many in this country didn’t have food to eat during the Great Depression.

  2. I have recently retired and have moved to Williamsburg, Virginia.
    I would truly appreciate an opportunity to come and see these doors.
    It is my understanding that they are in the open position and are closed only on specific occasions.

    Charles Irish 206 351 0444

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