Steve Green has briefly showcased artifacts from his family’s compilation of Biblical texts — believed to be the largest private collection in the world — in Atlanta, the Vatican, and his hometown of Oklahoma City, but now he has found a permanent home for them two blocks from the National Mall.
At the end of July, a group started by Green and his family, who own the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores, bought a 29-year-old brick building at 300 D St. SW for $50 million. Over the next four years, they plan to turn the property, currently home to furniture and fabric sellers of the Washington Design Center, into a museum dedicated to the Bible and its history.
Nearly three years ago, the Green family began acquiring rare Biblical texts, scrolls and other religious manuscripts, many of them hundreds of years old. The Green Collection includes the Codex Climaci Rescriptus, one of the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament, early Bibles of Martin Luther and a 1631 version of the King James Bible.
In all there are more than 40,000 artifacts, valued at perhaps as much as $40 million.
Green and his father, David, whose net worth Forbes pegs at $4 billion, decided years ago that they wanted to open a national Bible museum. So they created a nonprofit, the Museum of the Bible, to consider sites in Dallas, New York and Washington.
Mark DeMoss, one of the group’s board members, said the Greens, “have a passion around this book and would say it has changed and improved their lives, and they want people in large numbers not just to read the Bible but appreciate the Bible and learn about how the Bible came to this point.”
Although the Greens are religious, DeMoss, who runs a Christian-based public relations company, said their intent was not to press the importance of Christianity to elected leaders. He said the nonsectarian venue would include the world’s largest collection of Jewish texts and offices for Biblical scholars that the family sponsors.
“We want it to be a museum that people of any age and any faith, including those with no faith, can come and be enlightened about the bestselling book of all time,” DeMoss said.
Once the group decided on the District, it spent months looking at properties, including the federally owned Cotton Annex, the vacant former Franklin School, and sites near the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast and Nationals Park in Southeast. The D Street building is at the Federal Center Metro station and near the planned memorial for President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Harry Hargrave, a Dallas-based real estate consultant who guided the search, said lawmakers including Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) aided the search.
“Even though there are a lot of government buildings around us, we feel like the tourists are going to find us,” he said.
The group hopes to attract at least 1.5 million visitors a year, Hargrave said. About half a million visitors and worshipers come to the Washington National Cathedral, and nearly a million visits annually are tallied at the basilica.
Privately owned museums have fared well in Washington in recent years, said Elliott L. Ferguson, chief executive of Destination D.C., the city’s tourism agency. He said the District’s role in hosting major church conventions was likely to help such a venue.
“When you look historically at why people come to D.C., you’re talking about people who are coming to learn about this history of the country, and the Bible plays a role in that of course because the founding of the country was based on freedom of religion,” he said.