07.17.22: Balcony view

This area is known as the Great Hall and was redecorated in the 1880s using a Victorian renaissance style. The room, once the longest in America, was the site for Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural ball.

Historic art housed in an historic building

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery is a great place to visit during a trip to Washington, D.C. 

My wife and I spent the better part of two days on separate trips wandering the three floors and mezzanines of the National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum and still didn’t see everything. We’ll go back.

But you have to make a bit of an effort to find the National Portrait Gallery. It’s not located along The Mall like many of the other Smithsonian museums. It’s about four blocks to the north, at the corner of F Street and 7th Street NW.

There’s much more to see than the artwork spread through the many, many rooms across the massive building. 

The building itself is historic. Its stories are as impressive as the artwork it houses.

This photo was taken on the third floor (the top floor) of the National Portrait Gallery. This area is known as the Great Hall and was redecorated in the 1880s using a Victorian renaissance style. The room, once the longest in America, was the site for Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural ball.

Construction began on the building — planned as the home of the U.S. Patent Office — in 1836, but it took 31 years to complete the massive structure. The Patent Office began using the building more than a decade before the construction was completed. 

According to Wikipedia: “From 1854 to 1857, Clara Barton worked in the building as a clerk to the Patent Commissioner, the first woman federal employee to receive equal pay. During the Civil War, the building was turned into military barracks, hospital, and morgue. Wounded soldiers lay on cots in second-floor galleries, among glass cases holding models of inventions that had been submitted with patent applications. The American poet Walt Whitman frequented ‘that noblest of Washington buildings’ and read to wounded men. The building was chosen as the venue for Lincoln's Second Inaugural Ball in 1865. Whitman worked in Bureau of Indian Affairs, located in the building, from January 24 to June 30, 1865, before being fired for having a copy of Leaves of Grass in his desk.”

The Patent Office occupied the building until 1932 when it became home to the Civil Service Administration. Then the threats began. A street-widening project in Washington, D.C. cut away the stairs to the south portico. Legislation was introduced in 1953 to demolish the building to create a parking lot. President Dwight D. Eisenhower stepped in, signing legislation in 1958 giving the building to the Smithsonian. It was renovated for use as a museum and, in 1965, the building was designated a National Historic Landmark.

So the building has a history in addition to room after room of art. And be sure to visit the south wing of the third floor. You won’t be disappointed.

The hallway on the top floor of the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., Is surrounded by a balcony with additional exhibits.

The hallway on the top floor of the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., Is surrounded by a balcony with additional exhibits.

Tech specs

  • Date/time: Sep 3, 2016 4:11 PM   
  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II
  • Lens: EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM 
  • Focal length: 16mm
  • Aperture: f/4.5
  • Shutter: 1/320 second
  • ISO: 1000

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