The second-largest cathedral in the United States is passing off its design and construction archives to the National Building Museum (NBM), in Washington, D.C., where its contents will be digitized, organized, and conserved, and likely used in future exhibitions. The collection comprises more than 32,000 architectural drawings, photographs, and microfiche detailing the evolution of the Neo-Gothic Cathedral of Saint Peter and Paul (commonly known as the Washington National Cathedral), as well as other historical buildings on the 57-acre campus in Washington, D.C.'s northwest quadrant, from the site’s selection in 1896 through 2007.
As custodian of the archive, NBM will add the materials—which include trace-paper sketches, correspondence with contractors and craftsmen, renderings, cartoons, and drawings of architectural details such as millwork, ironwork, carved stone, and stained glass—to its permanent collection of prints, drawings, and other documents and objects. Architects and firms represented in the archive for their work on the cruciform cathedral include its principal architect Philip Hubert Frohman, as well as Ernest Flagg, George F. Bodley, Henry Vaughn, the firm Smith, Segreti and Tepper, and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. The archive also contains other work across the country by Frohman.
“We are honored to be entrusted with the preservation and safekeeping of this invaluable, historically important collection that has national significance,” said Chase Rynd, executive director of the museum, in a press release. “The Cathedral is one of the great national architectural marvels and we are thrilled to be able to tell that story.”
The move also makes the cathedral’s archive more accessible to the public. Following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the archive was relocated to a secure, climate-controlled warehouse in Rockville, Md., largely out of the reach of cathedral staff and researchers.
Chartered to the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation in 1893 and completed in 1907, the building today is ecumenical and has no government ties. In 2011, a 5.8-magnitude earthquake that rocked the Mid-Atlantic caused more than $34 million in damages to the structure; repairs are ongoing. In addition to the cathedral, the campus is also home to St. Alban's School, for which Skidmore, Owings & Merrill renovated and expanded the Marriott Hall academic building in 2009.