At the National Building Museum, 409 Mini Memories

Over here lies Frank Lloyd Wright’s Johnson Wax Research Tower.

Over there? The Travel and Transportation Building from Chicago’s 1933 Century of Progress International Exposition.

And those things back there? Grain elevators from rural Kansas.

Sure, they’re small. And no, they’re not exactly to scale, because they’re not really models. Instead, they’re souvenirs, on display at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.

There are 409 of them, to be exact. They’re just a small portion of the 3,000 collected by David Weingarten, a California architect who’s been at it for four decades. Over time he and his wife, Lucia Howard, amassed them from 70 countries.

In 2019, they donated his collection to the museum. And now they’re on display, starting on Oct. 28, for two years. They’re part of an exhibition designed to encourage visitors to see buildings in their environment in a new way.

“They got into it in the late 1970s with a cathedral in Germany and it grew from there,” says Caitlin Bristol, exhibitions developer for the museum. “It was a natural hobby for an architect to collect them.”

The museum is trying to encourage an association between the built environment and memory. “They remind you of where you’ve been,” she says. “When you buy a souvenir, it’s often a building, a bridge, a monument or a statue that associates memory and architecture and creates a stand-in for a real-world location.”

Like San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, a souvenir reminds us of how important the built environment is to us. And it associates a building with a place as a whole. Many of these on display are from vacations of a lifetime, like the Empire State Building, the Hoover Dam or Disneyworld.

“They’re meant to commemorate events, like world’s fairs and international expositions, with temporary buildings that serve as homage to architecture that’s long gone,” she says. “Some are completely fictional or never were, like the Fountain of Youth with St. Augustine.”

The exhibition’s arranged with half dedicated to geography and the other to objects. “There’s a whole wall for the U.S. and each state has a cube. “There are at least one to six souvenir buildings per state.”

Except one.

Alas, Montana slipped through Weingarten’s and Howard’s fingers.

No worries, though.

“I’m sure someone will come forward, so we’ll have a Montana souvenir soon,” she says.

But what would a souvenir of an ephemeral Big Sky look like, anyway?

For more, go here.

Photos Courtesy the National Building Museum