The Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Luce Foundation Center for American Art is the first visible art storage and study center in Washington, D.C.
This innovative public space on SAAM's third and fourth floors offers visitors new ways to experience American art.
Have questions? Museum staff members are available at the Luce Foundation Center information desk seven days a week to answer visitor questions and conduct tours. Or try our free audio tour!
About the Historic Luce Center Space
The Luce Foundation Center occupies 24,000 square feet on the third and fourth floors of the historic Patent Office Building’s west wing. Built between 1836 and 1862, the Patent Office Building is one of the oldest public buildings in Washington, D.C. The west wing was built between 1852 and 1857 under the direction of Thomas U. Walter, architect of the Capitol. It was in this space that the patent models, which had been submitted and rejected for patent, were on view to the public. During the Civil War, the First Rhode Island Regiment camped here, bunking in between the patent model cases. President Abraham Lincoln hosted his second Inaugural Ball on the building’s third floor. Guests promenaded through the east wing to the south wing for dancing. Dinner took place in the west wing, where the 4,000 guests rushed en masse to the buffet tables, overcrowding them and causing quite a mess. In 1877, a fire destroyed the upper floors of the north and west wings and nearly 87,000 patent models. Adolf Cluss, who also designed the Smithsonian's Arts and Industries Building and Eastern Market, and his partner Paul Schulze oversaw the rebuilding of the damaged areas.
The Patent Office moved out of the building in 1932 and the Civil Service Commission occupied the building for the next 30 years. During the 1950s, the building avoided demolition with the help of D.C.’s budding historic preservation movement and in 1965 became a National Historic Landmark. Congress passed ownership of the building to the Smithsonian in 1958 and the American Art Museum (then called the National Collection of Fine Arts) and National Portrait Gallery opened in the space in 1968. The west wing housed the Archives of American Art and a branch of the Smithsonian Libraries until 2000, when the building once closed for expansive renovations. In 2006, the building reopened with the groundbreaking Lunder Conservation Center and Luce Foundation Center occupying the west wing’s upper floors.
In 2001, the Henry Luce Foundation gave $10 million to establish the Luce Foundation Center for American Art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The center opened July 1, 2006, following an extensive renovation of the museum’s historic building.
Other centers supported by the Henry Luce Foundation include the Henry R. Luce Center for the Study of American Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Henry Luce III Center at the New-York Historical Society, and the Luce Center for American Art at the Brooklyn Museum. The Henry Luce Foundation has funded these study centers out of a profound desire to acquaint more museum visitors with the diversity and excellence of American art.