Non-Smithsonian Museums Around DC

The city of Washington, DC, has much more to offer than just what can be seen in the Smithsonian.


Non-Smithsonian Museums Around DC

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by kwasiak on January 17, 2006

While studying at American University in DC I spent most of my free time exploring what DC had to offer. In this journal I will review the museums I visited that are not Smithsonian affliated. One of my favorite non-Smithsonian museum is the National Archives. It is quite the experience to see the original Declaration of Independence, as well as one of the few surviving original copies of the Magna Carta.${QuickSuggestions} The Smithsonian Museums can get very crowded, but some of the non-Smithsonian Museums are also great museums without the crowds. The National Archives sometimes requires a wait in line to get into the building and through security. It is most crowded in the summer and other holiday times. I visited in the middle of a winter day and did not have to wait in any line and encountered very few other visitors in the museum.${BestWay} The best way to get around in DC is the Metro. I will try to give the Metro stations that are nearest to each musuem and which lines serve those stations.

The National Building Museum

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by kwasiak on January 17, 2006

The National Building Museum is located near DC’s Chinatown. The nearest metro stop is Judiciary Square, which has an exit that comes out right across the street from the Museum. The station is located on the Red Metro Line. You can also easily walk to the Museum from the Gallery Place-Chinatown, which is served by Red, Yellow, and Green Metro Lines. The museum is open from 10am to 5pm Monday through Saturday and 11am to 5pm on Sundays. It is closed on New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. The admission to the Museum is free, although a $5 donation is suggested.

Photography is not allowed in any of the Museum’s exhibits, however, you may still want to bring you camera along to photograph the Great Hall and/or outside of the building. The Great Hall’s ceiling is several stories high and the rooms of all the levels open up to the middle, where there is a walkway to go around. This building was once the United States Pension Building.

The Museum has two long-term exhibits on display. One is Cityscapes Revealed: Highlights from the Collection. Some of the most important artifacts in this collection are original fragments of the United States Pension Building that were found during the conversion of the Pension Building into the National Building Museum. The other long-term exhibit that the Museum has is Washington: Symbol and City. This exhibit gives the history of the United States Capital City from the perspective of the evolving architecture. This exhibit has touchable models of important DC buildings such as the Capital Building, the Washington Monument, and the White House.

The temporary exhibits on display during my visit were Liquid Stone: New Architecture in Concrete (on display until January 29, 2006), Investigating Where We Live (on display until February 19, 2006), and Jewish Washington: Scrapbook of an American Community (on display until July 4, 2006). The Liquid Stone exhibit walks you through the modern history of architecture built using new techniques involving concrete. It shows models of some famous buildings such as the Sydney Opera House and some less known buildings such as the GGG House in Mexico City. The Investigation Where We Live Exhibit is an exhibit put together by DC students with the help of photography and other Museum experts that shows the little known areas in their neighborhoods. Jewish Washington is an exhibit that walks you through the history of the Jewish community in DC from the arrival of the first Jew in 1795 to today. I found this exhibit the most interesting, as it relates to my main field of study, Religious Studies.
National Building Museum
401 F Street NW
Washington, D.C., 20001
(202) 272-2448

National Archives: More than just the Charters

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by kwasiak on January 20, 2006

The National Archives is located on Constitution Avenue between 7th and 9th Streets. The nearest metro stop is Archive-Navy Memorial-Penn Quarter, which has an exit that comes out right across the street from the Archives. The station is located on the Yellow and Green Metro Lines. The Archives is open from 10am to 5:30pm daily from Labor Day to March 31 and 10am to 7pm from April 1 until Memorial Day weekend and 10am to 9pm from Memorial Day Weekend until Labor Day. It is closed on Christmas. The admission is free.

Most people come to the National Archives to see the Charters of Freedom and I will admit that I did not visit the Archives for a while because I thought that the Charters of Freedom were the only things on display. I learned that more was on display and rather enjoyed seeing the other exhibits and the Charters of Freedom.

I started my visit by watching the Democracy Starts Here film in the McGowan Theater. It is a great introductory to what the National Archives contains and has on display in its different exhibit areas. It also gives information on using the National Archives for genealogical research.

After the movie I went upstairs to the exhibit floor. I started in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery. This area is for changing exhibits that give visitors a glimpse at what the National Archives has in its non-exhibited collections. During my visit the exhibit on display was “The Way We Worked,” which is on display until May 29, 2006. The exhibit consisted almost entirely of photographs depicting people in the workplace. Like most of the things in the Archives, the photographs come from government agencies. Many of the photographs were taken as part of investigations or regular checks on how the companies treat their employees.

The next exhibit I went into was the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom. Here in the very dim lit room you can see the original Declaration of Independence, Constitution of the United States, and the Bill of Rights. Also, in this area are the Articles of Confederation, our failed first Constitution, and the original document for the Louisiana Purchase. While it is amazing to see the original Declaration of Independence, I suggest checking out the copy that can be seen in the Public Vaults exhibit. This copy is made from a 1800s printing plate that was made to preserve the way the Declaration of Independence looked when first created. The printing plate it is printed from is also in the case.

The Public Vaults is a very interactive area of the Archives. Here you can see documents relating to our nations history, as well as see video and hear audio relating to our history. You can listen to recordings of Presidential phone calls. Some of the audio is very hard to hear, as the recording technology had not yet been perfected. You can also make a D-day video and make your own United States seal.
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
700 Pennsylvania Avenue, Nw
Washington, DC, 20408
(202) 357-5350

National Geographic Society Museum

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by kwasiak on January 22, 2006

The National Geographic Society Museum at Explorers Hall is located on M Street and 17th Street. The nearest metro stop is Farragut North. The station is located on the Red Metro Line. The Farragut West and McPherson Square Metro Stops, which are on the Blue and Orange Metro Lines, are also pretty close to the museum. The Museum is open 9am to 5pm Monday through Saturday and 10am to 5pm on Sunday. It is closed on Christmas. The admission is free.

My visit to the National Geographic Society was somewhat of a disappointment, as I had heard great things about the permanent exhibit and the permanent exhibit was not open during my visit. The only things open were the two temporary exhibits.

The temporary exhibits that are put on display at the National Geographic Society change at least twice a year. During my visit the exhibit on display were Wide Angle: National Geographic’s Greatest Places and Through the Eyes of the Gods. Wide Angle contains photos of places on every continent that come from the National Geographic archives and are part of book with the same name. Through the Eyes of the Gods is also a book and the images are all aerial images of Africa. I particularly like the one of animals in Kruger National Park, as I will be visiting the park in a couple months.

Both photographic exhibits were well worth seeing, as the photos live up to National Geographic’s reputation of great photography. I was glad I got to see these exhibits as they close January 25, 2006, just a couple days after my visit. The next exhibit opening opens January 25, 2006, and is on display until May 2006. It is called Archipelago Portraits of Life in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

I also enjoyed the area between the two National Geographic buildings. Here there are some statues of animals and a water fountain.

The museum also has a shop, where you can buy some nice National Geographic stuff. You can get DVDs of some of their specials shown on the National Geographic Channel. They also had a lot of stuff relating to the March of the Penguins, their recent hit documentary.
National Geographic Society Museum
1145 17th Street N.W.
Washington, D.C., United States, 20036
(202) 857-7588

National Gallery of Art's Sculpture Garden

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by kwasiak on February 5, 2006

The National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden is located on Constitution Avenue between 7th and 9th Streets. The nearest Metro stop is Archive-Navy Memorial-Penn Quarter. The station is located on the yellow and green Metro lines. The Federal Triangle and Smithsonian metro stops, which are on the blue and orange lines, are also nearby. The Sculpture Garden is open from 10am to 5pm Monday through Saturday and 11am to 6pm on Sundays. From mid-November to mid-March, depending on the weather, the ice rink is open 10am to 11pm Monday through Saturday and 11am to 9pm on Sunday. The admission is free for the sculpture garden. There are fees for skating, renting skates, and locker rentals. For 2005, the prices were $7 an hour and $3 for skates.

The Sculpture Garden has an unique assortment of sculptures by artists from around the world. There is the most popular "House I," by the American artist Roy Lichtenstein. One of my favorite sculptures here by an American is the "Cluster of Four Cubes," by George Rickey. Despite that the cubes appear to need electrical power to continuously move, they are, in fact, powered only by wind. Another one of my favorite sculptures here is “An Entrance to the Paris Metropolitain,” by the French artist Hector Guimard. This once was an entrance to a metro station in Paris, and for all who have been to Paris, it is definitely recognizable as part of the same architectural style of the many Metro stations he designed.

Be sure to check out the “Six-Part Seating” sculpture, as it is the only one you can touch without getting into trouble. It, in fact, welcomes you to sit on it. To me, it is always fun when you can truly interact with a piece of art, especially when one is meant to be interacted with, as this one is.
National Gallery of Art and Sculpture Garden
4th and Constitution Avenue NW
Washington, D.C., 20565
(202) 737-4215

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