On Friday, April 13, 2018, the memorial dedicated to Thomas Jefferson—our third President and principal author of the Declaration of Independence—turns 75.
The memorial’s architect, John Russell Pope (1874–1937), was also architect of the National Archives Building. While Pope lived long enough to see the opening of the Archives, he died before groundbreaking for the Jefferson Memorial had even commenced. His partners, Daniel P. Higgins and Otto R. Eggers, had to take over the memorial’s construction.
After Pope’s death, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Commission, which oversaw the project, made changes to Pope’s design to counter some criticism about the scale of the memorial and address an outcry over plans to remove numerous cherry trees around the Tidal Basin. Construction on the revised plans began on December 15, 1938. The following November, President Franklin D. Roosevelt attended the cornerstone-laying ceremony.
Earlier in 1938, the commission had held a competition to select sculptors for the memorial. From more than 100 entries, they chose Rudulph Evans as the main sculptor and Adolph A. Weinman to sculpt the pediment relief located above the entrance. Weinman also designed the pediment on the north side of the National Archives Building, facing Pennsylvania Avenue, titled Destiny.
President Roosevelt returned on April 13, 1943, to dedicate the memorial, which coincided with the 200th anniversary of Jefferson’s birth. Due to metal shortages during World War II, Evans had not yet been able to complete the 10,000-pound, 19-foot-tall bronze statue of Jefferson, and instead a plaster cast was painted to mimic bronze (the bronze statue was not installed until 1947).
During the dedication celebration, the original Declaration of Independence was on display in the new memorial. Guarded 24 hours a day by a Marine Honor Guard, the document had been brought out of its war hiding place, Fort Knox. At that time, the Library of Congress had custody over the Declaration and moved it out of the city as a war precaution.
Seventy-five years later, the Declaration is housed at the National Archives. And the Jefferson Memorial still stands over the Tidal Basin as a favorite designation for viewing the cherry blossoms each spring.
Happy 275th Birthday to Thomas Jefferson and 75th to the Jefferson Memorial!