Hornbostel had studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris and was inspired by what he had seen and learned there. The building's neoclassical design was probably also influenced by the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago. The columnns are made from Vermont marble.The electroliers on either end of the steps were designed by Charles Keck and show children engaged in various types of activities.
When the Empire State Plaza construction was finished in 1976, the New York State Museum and the New York State Library moved to a new location in the Cultural Information Center at the far end of the Plaza. Today the building holds only the Department of Education.