Arts Desk

Howard Theatre Restoration Means a Major Music Venue for Shaw

theater-aboveThe Howard Theatre opened 100 years ago this year, and was once one of the most important music venues in the city—it hosted performances from Duke Ellington and Roberta Flack and the mainstays of go-go. Housing Complex reported yesterday that the restoration of the Shaw venue, closed since the '80s, will be underway by late August. And from the looks of it, the organization behind the theater's "rebirth," the Ellis Development Group, has some serious ambitions.

Ellis' plan for the property has three arms: a medium-sized stage and seating for 500-600 patrons, upscale food and beverage services to "complement a destination entertainment experience," and community-use spaces such as classrooms and recording studios. According to the plan, the Howard will be "symbiotic but not competitive with the other stars in the constellation of Washington theatres," focusing on music while other facilities, like the nearby Lincoln Theatre on U Street, will have "different but aligned missions."

History—the theater was at one point "the largest colored theatre in the world"—gets some emphasis amid new construction, too.  An addition will house a 600-square foot museum and gift shop showcasing "the astounding array of artists and guests that graced the Howard in years past."

The Howard's honorary board is rife with big names and industry heavy-hitters. Former chairman of Motown Records Clarence Avant, comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory, Sony BMG Executive Vice President Lisa Ellis, recording artist Wyclef Jean, and producer Quincy Jones are all listed as affiliates of the project. And, for what it's worth, its MySpace page lists Earth, Wind, and Fire and Chaka Khan among its top friends.  The project doesn't seem to have a set date of completion, but it'd be undeniably cool to see the Godfather of Go-Go perform once the Howard emerges from years of neglect.

Image courtesy Ellis Development Group

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  • SS

    9:30 is in Shaw, so is DC9, and Velvet lounge (much smaller) but I understand this shall be for high-priced music bookings

    this project has a long way to go. stop by and see how deteriorated the block between Florida and 7th on T Street NW looks

    the loitering and public drinking 2 blocks away from an elementary school is ridiculous.

    the carry out Chinese food shop on the corner of 7th and T still has bullet proof glass up. and from that store to the Shaw Metro there is a hair salon but the rest is abandoned store fronts ( (taking their time))

    please don't let racism be the problem here

  • andrew

    Roberta Flack, right? Otherwise, sounds awesome!

  • Jonathan L. Fischer

    My fault, not the writer's. Love Roberta, though!

  • Steve K

    Isn't an organization called the Howard Theatre Preservation Project concerned that the proposal will alter the original look of the theatre by removing seats and making part of the theatre more like the State Theatre in Falls Church which replaced some seats with bar style tables.

  • dj

    Sorry to play devil's advocate but why do this when the nearby Lincoln Theatre is often dark?

  • Reid

    I really hope this gets off the ground, but like the O St. Market, I'll believe when I see it. (And also, it's not like the Lincoln Theater is exactly booked solid with shows. I hope the Howard Theater puts a little more hustle into their bookings).

  • monkeyrotica

    I really hope the Howard Theater succeeds where the Lincoln Theater fails. The honorary board looks like it might actually be competent enough to pull off some shows that make money, instead of keep the theater dark most of the year. The Lincoln Theater continues to be a money loser for the theater; their budget is in the red year after year after year. And there is zero motivation for them to stay open for more than a couple months a year; why make money when the taxpayer foots the bill for step shows and one gay film festival? But apparently, that's what the neighborhood wants.

  • alex baca

    To dj: From my understanding, the Howard will take the high-end, seated concert route (comparable to the Warner Theatre, perhaps?) whereas the Lincoln seems to fulfill stage performances.

  • Casey

    Is this really the start of construction or just another one of the symbolic but meaningless milestones of this project? They already pretended to start construction many months ago by spending a few days chipping off the stucco on the front facade and hailed this as a milestone. The media also reported that event as the start of the project just because the developer said so, despite that it was completely obvious to anyone who bothered to look that they were just doing this to take some heat off for having delayed for so long.

    This project has recieved huge government subsidies and sat dormant for years as loitering and drug dealing grew worse and the building continued to crumble. The city's taxpayers and neighbors deserve the truth about what's going on and some ACTUAL movement. Please prove my skepticism wrong - would love to see this move forward for the sake of the history and the neighborhood.

  • Stevek

    The Lincoln has hosted both concerts (King Sunny Ade, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Swell Season) and plays but is rarely used now, except by Arena Stage while their new theatre is being constructed. With the Strathmore, U. of Md's Clarice Smith Center, Howard University's Crampton Aud., GW's Lisner Auditorium, George Mason's Center for the Arts, the Harmon Center, Georgetown's Gaston Hall, the National Theatre and the Warner Theatre plus potentially Live Nation's planned megaclub in Silver Spring all available for concerts, can the Lincoln and the Howard survive in the competition to get artists onstage? Plus, whether the Howard remains a theatre as it once was, or becomes a modified partial theatre, partial nightclub ala the State Theatre, will Live Nation or the 930/IMP or the U St. Music Hall want to book events there or try to book them in their own locations?

  • alex baca

    Casey: Housing Complex reported on Monday (link here: that groundbreaking is scheduled for August 22.

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  • Mike Licht

    The mixed use planned for the Howard restoration compares favorably with the Lincoln Theatre’s 1927 re-design, which put the 1,200 seat Lincoln Colonnade under the theater auditorium. Many of the musical acts said to have played the Lincoln actually played for dancers in the Colonnade.


  • John Chapman

    We are most concerned with the lack of thought behind theater restoration. I will donate my time for any theater that needs help. My company, Chapman Painting Contractors, Inc. in buisness since 1978 has completed 100's of new and old theaters. We are finishers and have the know how for the restoration of a building. Especially theater buildings. This goes all the way back to my uncle who did all the ornate plaster in Chicago and San Francisco after the Great Earthquake. Call us or email is prefered. or 760-451-1550. I am here to help just let me know