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DC Preservation League Files Interior Landmark Designation for the Historic Corcoran Gallery of Art

By Anthony L. Harvey

In a bold move to thwart any prospective plans to cannibalize or alter the magnificent, purpose-built, interior spaces of the Corcoran Gallery of Art at 17th Street and New York Avenue, NW, the DC Preservation League late in the afternoon of October 1st filed an elegantly written, powerful argued, and scholarly researched 68-page nomination with the District’s Historic Preservation Office.

The nomination calls for both DC and federal historic landmark designation of the Corcoran’s atrium, grand staircase, hemicycle, rotunda, exhibition galleries, auditorium, the Salon Doré, and several large studio spaces in the 1897 college wing of the Gallery building.

This action by the Preservation League follows the recent announcement by the Corcoran’s Board of Trustees of its decision to engage the nationally-known real estate firm of CBRE to shop the Corcoran’s historic building to prospective purchasers and to scout the Washington metropolitan area for a suitable site on which to build a new, affordable and sustainable — according to the trustees – down-sized gallery and art school. The trustees have also engaged a headhunter executive recruiting firm to find the Corcoran a new director.

The exterior of the Corcoran is already protected by an historic landmark designation for its entire building — the 1897 Ernest Flagg-designed original structure with its imposing entrance on 17th Street across from the Ellipse; the 1925 Charles Platt addition to the south along E Street to house the Clark Collection; a second, small addition next to the Clark expansion; and the exterior alterations that occurred when the Corcoran added in 1915 a Waddy Wood-designed second floor gallery to the auditorium in the hemicycle, and punched windows in its exterior wall to allow natural light into that gallery.

By all accounts, these Beaux Arts and Classical Revival features of the Corcoran’s building are among the architectural treasures of Washington. Shortly after the building was completed and dedicated in 1898, architect Flagg asserted, “I have tried to make it simple and monumental and above all give it the appearance of an art building.”

The interior spaces of all parts of the Corcoran were planned and constructed, according to the richly detailed, profusely illustrated, and amply documented historic designation nomination, to support and enhance the exhibition of paintings and sculpture, the education of art students, and for the provision and use of ceremonial spaces in the nation’s capital.

While the nomination of the interior for historic landmark designation is pending before the District’s Historic Preservation Review Board, no alteration to these purpose-built interior spaces proposed for designation can be made.

[Note: A comprehensive report with images will be available in the October issue PDF that will be published on Friday, the 12th.]

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