Jefferson Memorial

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Jefferson Memorial

The Thomas Jefferson Memorial, a Washington, D.C. monument to our third President of The United States of America, was completed on April 13, 1943, and is built in the neoclassic architectural style of Rome. The memorial’s designer, John Russell Pope, created the structure to resemble in part the Pantheon in Rome, partially in tribute to Jefferson’s own love of the Italian structure (Jefferson himself built the Rotunda at University of Virginia, which also takes its architecture from the Pantheon). The site chosen for the memorial was one of the few remaining spaces open for important structures in Washington, as it sits at the shorefront of the Potomac River’s Tidal Basin. From the small hill, one can look out over the Potomac directly across the water to The Washington Monument. The structure itself is circular in design, with rings of white marble steps leading up to a round portico. In the center is a strong rectangular neoclassical entrance, supported by Greek columns, with a center open-air dome also supported by a series of Greek columns.
The idea for a monument to President Thomas Jefferson was first thought of by President Franklin Roosevelt, who thought that the city’s current offerings of memorials to other great presidents (Washington, Lincoln) was incomplete without a tribute to Jefferson as well. Congress passed a resolution to begin the creation process on June 26, 1934. Pope was immediately contracted to design the memorial, and was already well-known in Washington as having designed the National Gallery of Art. The first cornerstone, however, wouldn’t be laid until two year’s after Pope’s death, on November 15, 1939.

The $3 million price tag for the construction was largely due to the superior quality of the materials used. With the exception of the limestone dome, the entire structure was created with marble from various parts of the country. Gray marble from Missouri was used for the pedestal, white marble from Georgia was used for the interior, the floor was crafted with pink marble from Tennessee, while the exteriors of the walls and columns were covered with white marble from Vermont. Despite these extravaganzas, however, many Americans were critical of the actual Roman and Greek design of the memorial, claiming that the neoclassical style was “dead” and “tired.” Many felt that this memorial should take on a more modern-day look, in part to represent the progress of America herself. While this criticism was ignored by the government and the architects, the Jefferson Memorial proved to be one of the last great memorials constructed in America using this style.

While the memorial was dedicated on Jefferson’s 200th birthday in 1934, the real completion, however, did not occur until nearly four years later, with the placing of a 19- foot tall bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson in the center of the dome. Designed by sculptor Rudulph Evans, it was accompanied by interior wall engravings of some of Jefferson’s most famous writings and speeches. The most prominently displayed was a strong-stance sentence from Jefferson’s letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush on September 23, 1800: “I have sworn upon the alter of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”

Today, the Jefferson Memorial is governed by The National Park Service. Despite it’s location, it is one of the few monuments not considered to be part of The National Mall, largely due to it’s separation by the Potomac River. Nonetheless, the memorial and its surrounding cherry blossom trees and waterside location prove to be a popular photographic choice and a prime place to hold events, including Washington’s annual Easter Sunrise Service and the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival.

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