DC’s Historic Howard Theater’s Rebirth

>Public art is part of the restoration of the historic Howard Theater in Washington, DC.

The Howard Theater was a Beaux Arts Style theater built in Washington, DC in 1910. During its hayday it catered to African American clientele and was an extension of U Street’s “Black Broadway”. Many famous performance artists came through the Howard including Duke Ellington, Danny Kaye, Abbott and Costello, Pearl Bailey, Buddy Holly, Sarah Vaughn, Dinah Washington, Sammy Davis, Jr., James Brown and the Flames, Otis Redding, Lena Horne, Lionel Hampton, Redd Fox and Chuck Brown – so many amazing shows!

The theater closed in 1980 and has sat empty for the past 30 years. The D.C. Preservation League listed it among the District’s Most Endangered Places in 2002. The renovation and restoration work that began five years ago is just about complete but for a few finishing touches and the reopening is scheduled for next week.

The sculpture will be the building’s crowning finial – replacing the original “Apollo” sculpture that was lost long ago.

Artist Brower Hatcher and his team at Mid-Ocean Studios won the commission to create a public art installation at the Howard Theater. Installation of “Jazz Man” sculpture to the facade of the Howard Theater is this weekend, with a ribbon cutting ceremony to be held on April 9, 2012.

Initial concept of “Jazz Man” sculpture by Brower Hatcher in 2007.

Brower’s eight foot sculpture called “Jazz Man” is the image of a man holding a trumpet formed by a scaffold-like metal frame. The framework is painted in the sculptor’s favorite color – blue. “They call it Brower blue,” Brower said, “Blue works particularly well because as a color it’s quite transparent. Certainly against the sky, it almost absorbs light.” That allows the metal frame to almost disappear, as reflective objects attached to the frame and dangling inside make the whole piece sparkle.

Often, it is the practice of Mid-Ocean Studios to work with artists in the cities that they have received commissions and they invited WGS’ master of glass and concrete castings – Sean Hennessey to create the trumpet for the Jazz Man sculpture.

Sean Hennessey’s shop drawing of the Jazz Man’s trumpet – made in cast concrete and glass.

Sean gives an insight into his work as a component of the historic building’s sculpture on his blog Scenic Artisans.

“This is a dream project for me in many ways” said Sean. “The Howard Theater is a building I walk by often. It is only 6 blocks from my house and with both my history in working in theater and my fascination of urban American ruins, I have been very drawn to the space. I have also been looking for ways to get into public art and haven’t yet had the opportunity. This is a great thrill and honor for me. And I’ve been so excited I can hardly stand it!”

Sean created original forms that would then have urethane rubber poured around to create a negative mold.

“The overall trumpet will be in cast concrete -the bell of the trumpet will be glass” said Sean as he outlined his process, “…to create the final piece I will construct a mock up in clay, wood, metal pipe, cut glass, and found pieces, then make a 2 part rubber mold of the maquette … I will fit the glass sections into the rubber mold, add a stainless steel armature, and pour tinted concrete into the void. After the concrete sets up I will demold the piece, clean it up, and seal it.”

Sean pours urethane rubber around the positives he made, creating an accurate mold for the later concrete pour.

After the urethane sets up, the mold is opened to clean and prep for the next stage.

Sean worked with glass artist Dave D’Orio to create the trumpet’s glass flare.

The finished cast concrete and glass trumpet for the sculpture.

The trumpet is integrated into the sculpture at Brower Hatcher’s studio as the work is prepared for the installation atop the refurbished building.

Installation of “Jazz Man” sculpture to the facade of the Howard Theater is this weekend, with a ribbon cutting ceremony to be held on April 9, 2012.

“It’s like the Cotton Club inside The Apollo,” said Michael Marshall, partner at Marshall Moya Design, the District-based architectural firm hired to create the theater’s new interior, creating a cabaret-style ambiance, with tables and chairs on the main floor, a balcony with banquettes. The “new” Howard Theater is expected to offer a balance of national events and community performances. The Howard’s future cabaret-style format will host a variety of cultural events and is expected to lead the rebirth of jazz, R&B, soul, blues, and funk in Washington D.C. The theater’s $25 million rebuilding project will also feature a museum and gift shop.

The ribbon-cutting, which is open to the public, will be on Monday, April 9 from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm. You can get a tour of the theater and witness the unveiling of “The Jazz Man” followed by live performances by Robert Thompson & The James Brown Experience Band, along with a host of other talents.

The Grand Opening Gala is April 12.


The Howard Theatre
Monday April 9th
11:30-2:30 PM
620 T St NW
Washington, DC


UPDATE – for pix of the installed sculpture atop the Howard Theatre and to find out why there are two trumpets made by Sean- click HERE

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