Folger Shakespeare Library (and Interiors)

The Folger Shakespeare Library's simple, modern exterior hides an Elizabethan interior with a full-scale 17th century English theater, and the world's largest collection of Shakespeareana.

The Folger Shakespeare Library was constructed on the site of Grant's Row, owing to the acquisition of the land in 1928 by Henry Clay Folger. Folger, a millionaire Standard Oil executive, devoted a great deal of his life to the acquisition of the largest collection of Shakespearean materials in the world. Folger intended for the building to be of Elizabethan design, but architect Paul P. Cret convinced him that an Elizabethan design would clash with the classical buildings surrounding the Library on Capitol Hill.

Instead, the building was built in the classical style but with an Elizabethan theater and spaces for 75,000 books inside. Construction lasted from 1929 until 1932, with the cornerstone laid in 1930, two weeks before Henry Clay Folger's death. His will appointed the Trustees of Amherst College to administer the Library, which continues to operate as an important research center on Shakespeare and his time -- in addition to staging theatrical productions in the Folger Theatre.

The original building’s exterior was included in the National Register in 1969, but, following the practices of the time, the documentation accompanying the nomination was limited. A new amendment to the nomination (accepted in 2018) contains additional documentation of both the original building’s and the addition’s interiors. Spaces now included in the National Register nomination are as follows: the Great Hall, the original Reading Room (now known as the Gail Kern Paster Reading Room), the Founders’ Room, the Shakespearean Theatre, and the New Reading Room.

DC Inventory (Exterior): November 8, 1964 (Joint Committee on Landmarks)
DC Inventory (Interior): December 20, 2018
National Register (Exterior): June 23, 1969
National Register (Additional Documentation): June 13, 2019
Within Capitol Hill Historic District



201 East Capitol Street, SE