Providers of welcome, protection, and passage, doors can be far more than just slabs on hinges — often, they have a story to tell about the place you’re about to enter or what the world was like when the door was first hung. From monumental doors honoring history and literature, to massive portals taller than moon rockets, to decorative entryways that are masterpieces of style, these cool doors will knock your socks off.
Bronzed and beautiful doors
Doors of DC
As symbols of American history and democracy, it’s only appropriate that Washington DC’s federal institutions have doors worthy of their status. All the main buildings of the Library of Congress have elaborate doors, but perhaps the most famous are the doors of the John Adams Building. Sculpted by American artist Lee Lawrie, the doors depict mythical and historical heroes of the written word, including Hermes, messenger of the Greek gods, and Sequoyah, a Native American who created an alphabet for the Cherokee language. To make the doors more compliant with safety regulations, the bronze reliefs were recently recast in glass —the original doors are on display nearby, set into niches.
Not to be outdone, the U.S. Capitol boasts 3 sets of monumental bronze doors. The main entrance doors depict the life of explorer Christopher Columbus, the Senate doors are decorated with scenes from the Revolutionary War and the life of George Washington, and the House doors feature major events from American history, such as the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783.
Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, CA
Longing to see the Renaissance art treasures of Italy, but can’t go that far afield? Visit San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral instead. The church’s gilded, 15-foot-high main entrance doors, which depict scenes from the Old Testament, are replicas of the Gates of Paradise by Renaissance master Lorenzo Ghiberti (the originals were crafted in 1452 for the Baptistery in Florence’s Piazza del Duomo). The Grace Cathedral doors are considered to be the most accurate replicas in existence since they were cast from molds made from the original doors.
Impressively massive doors
NASA Vehicle Assembly Building, Kennedy Space Center, FL
When an upright space rocket needs to pass through your doors, no ordinary egress will do. This 525-foot-tall building was constructed in 1966 for the assembly of the Apollo / Saturn V moon rockets, and the entrances to its 4 construction bays are each 456 feet high — the largest doors on earth. For the next 30 years, the building was used to build shuttle orbiters and other equipment for space shuttle missions. Public tours of the interior were offered between 2011 and 2014 (after the space shuttle program ended), but those tours were halted when NASA began work on its awesomely named new rocket, the Space Launch System for Deep Space Flight. Visitors can still view the massive building from the outside.
Stratolaunch Systems hangar, Mojave, CA
What kind of vehicle needs the world’s largest garage door? The world’s largest plane, of course. This aircraft, the Stratolaunch Carrier, is being built at the Mojave Air and Spaceport inside a humongous hangar specially constructed for the purpose. The plane will have a wingspan of 385 feet, requiring hangar doors wider than the length of a football field.
Viking Stadium, Minneapolis, MN
Speaking of football … when the Vikings’ new football stadium opens for the 2016 season, fans will enter and exit through what the designers are calling the world’s largest “operable” doors. While their meaning of the word “operable” is rather vague (and while the 2 huge doors listed above seem pretty operable), these doors may well be the world’s largest pivoting glass doors. Standing 95 feet high, they’ll swing open to create an entranceway 350 feet wide.
Adorably miniature doors
Tiny Doors ATL, Atlanta, GA
Walking along the streets of Atlanta, you may be surprised and delighted to come across a 6-inch door set into the base of a tree or the column of a tunnel. Is Atlanta populated with tiny people? Not that anyone knows of. The mini portals are the work of Tiny Doors ATL, an artist cooperative “bringing big wonder to small spaces.”
Art Deco divas
Chrysler Building, New York City, NY
Manhattan is filled with stunningly ornate Art Deco facades, but its crowning glory may well be the Chrysler Building. Completed in 1930, this skyscraper is the Jazz Age personified, from the shimmering curves of its iconic spire to the gleaming stainless-steel doors and jewel-shaped windows of its 42nd-Street entrance.
Cochise County Courthouse, Bisbee, AZ
Big cities aren’t the only places you’ll find Art Deco treasures — the town of Bisbee in southeastern Arizona boasts a gem. Founded in 1880, Bisbee was known as the “Queen of the Copper Camps” and was home to some of the richest ore deposits in the world. It soon grew from a bustling town into a highly cultured city, filled with fine examples of period architecture. Because of its prosperity, the county seat was moved to Bisbee from its nearby rival, the notorious town of Tombstone, in 1929. A courthouse was duly built in the latest Art Deco fashion, with a striking pair of copper doors featuring stylized images of justice.
Famously fabulous doors
Hammond-Harwood House, Annapolis, MD
The ornate white doorway of this graceful eighteenth-century mansion has been called the “most beautiful door in America.” Festooned with garlands of plaster flowers and topped with an elaborately carved pediment, the doorway — and the home itself — is a prime example of Anglo-Palladian style (influenced by sixteenth-century Italian architect Andrea Palladio, who in turn was inspired by the classical temples of ancient Rome).
Frederick C. Robie House, University of Chicago Campus, Chicago, IL
This house is the quintessential expression of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie style, characterized by bold horizontal lines that evoke the flat plains of the Midwest. Wright used stained glass extensively in his Prairie designs, creating what he called “light screens.” The living / dining area of Robie House features a band of 24 stained-glass doors, which bathe the rooms with natural light and blur the line between exterior and interior.
Palmer House Hotel, Chicago, IL
Reopened in 1873 after the original building was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire, the iconic Palmer House has been in continuous operation longer than any other hotel in the U.S. and is decorated in opulent Beaux Arts style. If you enter via Monroe Street, you’ll pass through 2 exquisite bronze doors adorned with peacocks. Acclaimed artist Louis Comfort Tiffany designed these doors for the storefront of the hotel’s C.D. Peacock jeweler (a historic retailer that was the city’s first incorporated business). The doors were relocated to the Monroe Street entrance in 2006 so visitors could better appreciate their beauty.
Want to make your own front door more impressive? A fresh coat of paint and some updated hardware can add curb appeal and might even raise your property value. Be sure to protect your door and everything behind it with reliable homeowners insurance.