Arts Desk

Corcoran Gallery Considers Selling Building, Moving Elsewhere

Corcoran Gallery May Sell Building, Move to Alexandria

The Corcoran Gallery of Art is considering leaving its longtime home at 17th Street and New York Avenue NW, according to three sources at the museum.

The sources said the institution's board will vote on a plan to put the Corcoran's Beaux-Arts building up for sale. Besides those sources, several current and former trustees confirmed the board was meeting today but would neither confirm nor deny that the board was voting on the sale of the Corcoran's building, which has been its home since 1897. Corcoran board chairman Harry F. Hopper III hung up when Washington City Paper called him.

A potential new location for the Corcoran has not been named, and two sources familiar with the meeting's agenda said the board was unlikely to come to a decision about it today. Two sources independently mentioned the waterfront in Alexandria as one possible site for the Corcoran's relocation, should its board vote to sell. All the sources spoke only on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the museum's plans.

One described the decision as the result of a reorientation of the institution's leadership. Tax records show that in 2009, the Corcoran—under the guidance of Hopper, the newly appointed board chair and a venture capitalist—spent more than $600,000 on a "strategic management plan" provided by the consultancy Real Change Strategies, Inc. That study cost nearly as much as the Corcoran's top executive salaries combined for that year. The board also moved to sell a 16,000-square-foot development site adjacent to the museum. Carr Properties broke ground on a 122,000-square-foot office there in April.

In 2009, Fred Bollerer, a partner at Real Change, was named chief operating officer at the Corcoran. When then-director and president Paul Greenhalgh resigned the following year, Bollerer, a venture capitalist with no prior experience in museum administration, was named interim director and chief executive officer of the Corcoran—a position he still holds.

Should the board vote today to relocate the institution, it wouldn't be the first move for the Corcoran. Before 1897, when the institution built its current home—which was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1992—the Corcoran was based in the Second Empire–style building that is now home to the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Renwick Gallery.

If the Corcoran decides to decamp to another location, another museum could once again take up the former Corcoran residence. "If I were doing something like this, I would very quietly look for a buyer," says David C. Levy, who served as the Corcoran's director for 14 years before resigning in 2005. Levy says he has no knowledge of the museum's current plans, but he adds that, "For them to just put the building up for sale would certainly make the city very angry."

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

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  • derek guthrie

    This not a comment. It is request for an email address to contact the editor derek guthrie
    Thank you

  • Mike Madden

    @ derek guthrie: You can reach me, the managing editor, at or our arts editor, Jon Fischer, at

  • Jayme McLellan

    DC cannot lose this flagship arts anchor.

    Founded by William Wilson Corcoran to encourage “American genius” it is a flagship building located across the street from the White House and the Old Executive Office Building. It is a beacon of hope and imagination, encouraging the creative spirit, nurturing young artists and the community since 1890. The building was erected after the Civil War for the museum and the school and is DC’s first art museum. The school is one of the first art colleges in the U.S. and one of America's oldest art institutions. It predates both the Met and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

    This is an OUTRAGEOUS decision and it should be protested!

  • DC Home

    That seems like a dumb idea. How much walk-in visitor traffic will you get in Alexandria?
    How about do a better job of managing and promoting the museum? There is so much you could do with that place!


  • hold up

    can you please provide hopper's email address?

  • Ian Maready

    Since 1897 the sweeping white marble geometry of the Corcoran has hosted the flower of American art in its spacious galleries and the aspirations of thousands of striving students in its light-drenched studios. History, tradition and a century of shared human experience have inextricably linked architecture, collection, staff, students, faculty, alumni and community in a way that cannot be severed without destroying the soul of the Corcoran Gallery and the community which it serves. In what sane world could the building that has served as a cornerstone of American art for over a century no longer be "Dedicated to Art"?

    Shame on the board for even considering such a travesty.

    -Ian Maready
    Class of 2000

  • archikid

    Maybe if David Levy hadn't wasted the little money the Corcoran had with the plans for the Ghery addition and instead spent it on renovating the building and investing in the school, the museum wouldn't be in such a dire position?
    Its easy to criticize those who are called to clean a mess- like they say "no good dead goes unpunished".

  • Nathaniel Martin

    Selling the existing building would be a phenomenally stupid move for the Corcoran. Any new location the institution could possibly afford would be inferior in terms of visibility and, consequently, attendance. While it's true that the Corcoran moved before, that was more than a century ago -- when Washington was a much smaller and less sophisticated city -- and it was only a couple of blocks. I sincerely hope the museum's board rejects this absurd proposal.

  • Mr. Sutton

    It may not be a popular position to take: but why not just let the institution put itself out of its misery once and for all.

    I don't think a relocation is worthwhile--if they can't operate any more on 17th, right there with all the White House / mall foot traffic, then anywhere else will certainly be worse. An already obscure little museum moving to an obscure (but nonetheless expensive) location just to raise some quick cash? Like they wouldn't burn through it in short time and continue struggle (perhaps even more) elsewhere? Who would be buying tickets and renting event space at some soulless new location out in NOVA?

    Maybe it's simply time to close for good. The Corcoran has been increasingly irrelevant since Walter Hopps left and especially after the Maplethorpe debacle. Maybe it's time to just let it end its inexorable decline.

  • Dave

    The Corcoran isn't an "obscure, little museum," though. It's not only DC's oldest art museum, it's a well-known and respected institution far outside the confines of DC. We're not talking about the Kreeger Museum here.

    This absolutely reeks of mismanagement on the part of the Corcoran's board of directors. If they are arguing that they have "outgrown" the current building and are willing to relocate, even constructing a new building elsewhere, then why did they sell of the adjoining parcel for the construction of an office building? After all, as recently as 2005 the Corcoran was considering building the Gehry addition there (which, IMO, would have been a phenomenal addition--but that's just me). How did the Corcoran go from that to selling off the parcel and subsequently announcing potential plans to relocate? That makes no sense to me.

    And as others have noted, any relocation will represent a move to a location inferior to where it is now. With all due respect to the Old Town waterfront, it gets a fraction of the foot traffic the Corcoran gets now, positioned just a couple of blocks away from the White House.

    None of this makes any sense at all.

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  • spookiness

    Funny that some consider Alexandria, a historic city that predates the District, is an "obscure," "souless new location out in Nova." Get out a bit more people. The river is not that big of a barrier.

    The idea has merit, and its not as if Alexandria is not a tourist draw. It has established arts venues, and it is more of a deliberate tourist clientele that would probably be desirable since they tend to stay, dine, and shop in Alexandria. Does the Corcoran really get that much "walk in" traffic?? Does a fanny-pack-clad Ohio family, after sampling the monuments and (free) museums on the mall just randomly stumble in and pay $10 per person?

    That said, its not a very good idea, and the chances of it happening are about as likely as Arlington and Alexandria seceeding from Virginia to become a state with DC- another fantasy that people frequently get excited about. The city has been embroiled in an uncessarily controversial waterfront plan, and any grand plans or big ideas just aren't gonna happen.

  • Dave

    "The idea has merit, and its not as if Alexandria is not a tourist draw. "

    No one's saying Alexandria isn't worth visiting or doesn't have some tourists. But compared to the Mall and the White House, it draws a mere pittance. This idea becomes a further head-scratcher when you realize that the Corcoran was literally sitting on a parcel of vacant land right next door, on which it planned to construct an addition, but which it eventually sold off for an office development. Unless they're planning on moving out to Herndon or Greenbelt, what sense could it possibly make to construct an entirely new building in a significantly less visible location and relocate the entire collection, when an ample-sized addition could have literally been constructed right next door to their current home?

    The Corcoran's problems are many, but it's hard to imagine its building and location as among them. They have a fantastic collection, but their programming sucks. Museums like the Phillips and the Hirshorn are doing fantastic things to raise awareness in the community and bring people in the doors, whereas the Corcoran has been mired in the same funk for decades. The building isn't the problem, the Board of Directors is. They haven't got a clue.

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  • mrsandydog

    I was strongly in the "Corcoran should never move" camp until I saw in the Post article that the museum doesn't have room to exhibit the bulk of its collection. What's the point of a museum staying in a space that requires it to keep most of its collection in storage? And, if the only way the Corcoran can afford a building to exhibit more of its collection is to sell of its current home, isn't that a reasonable step to take?

    I also don't think 17th street gets as much foot traffic as other posters imagine. The sidewalks are narrow, traversing New York Ave there is tricky. I certainly don't see a lot of tourists on that stretch -- I think the south White House gawkers walk acros the ellipse, the north gawkers go down 15th. Certainly, the Corcoran could be a draw. But, I don't believe tourists are wandering that stretch as much as they are the mall.

    Would an Alexandria location do better? Maybe, though I can't picture where it would go. I know the city is moving to redevlop the waterfront, but that's a fairly narrow strip of land. Any big building is going to have to be pushed back a bit from the water for stability sake. For the Corcoran to get the big footprint it needs to display more of its collection, it would seemingly need to be either very tall (which I doubt the Old Town activists would put up with; the city's whole rationale is to make the waterfront more accessible, blocking it with a gargantuan building wouldn't achieve that), or very long.

    Finally, this assertion that the Corcoran is "D.C.'s flagship arts anchor" seems questionable. Wouldn't that be the National Gallery of Art? In terms of the quantity and breadth of holdings, the COrcoran would be a distant fourth or fifth, behind the NGA, the Smithsonian Art museums and the Phillips. Maybe posters are referring to the school, rather than the museum; but, somehow moving an art school from one location to another doesn't seem like a big deal.

  • Caroline Bermudez

    "What's the point of a museum staying in a space that requires it to keep most of its collection in storage?"

    From the NYT:

    "Most museums own far more art than they can display. And while they try to accommodate requests from scholars, art-world professionals and families of artists in their collection — and in rare instances, the public — such viewing is made difficult by space, staff and security constraints."

    Your argument doesn't hold muster, mrsandydog.

    The Corcoran is in an unenviable position: it doesn't have the money or stature that a great encyclopedic museum like the National Gallery has and it's not a small niche museum with a devoted core audience. It occupies a murky middle territory and with arts funding being slashed left and right, such a place is wildly unstable.

  • mrsandydog

    "Your argument doesn't hold muster, mrsandydog."

    I know I should just shrink away since you've declared my arguments null and void. But, before I head off to exile, since we're quoting newspapers, this from the Washington Post:

    "The 126,000-square-foot facility, built in 1897, is so small that less than 3 percent of the collection can be displayed at any one time."

    I'm not an idiot, I'm well aware museums don't have all of their holdings on display at once. But, assuming the number cited to the Post is correct, having 97 out of every 100 artworks tucked away or on exhibit elsewhere suggests the Corcoran really does have a problem.

  • Caroline Bermudez

    Did you read the article? It stated that most museums show between 2 and 4 percent of their collections, so the Corcoran falls within the industry norm. Rare is the museum that can display a significant percentage of its collection and when it does, that's because it spent a ton of money to build an addition.

    This is the best piece I've found on the Corcoran's problems:

  • Dave

    "But, assuming the number cited to the Post is correct, having 97 out of every 100 artworks tucked away or on exhibit elsewhere suggests the Corcoran really does have a problem."

    Not really. Pretty much every art museum with any sizeable collection is able to display a small fraction of its collection at any time. The National Gallery suffers from this problem, as but one example. It's one reason why a proposal has been floated to expand it into the FTC building across the street.

  • Victor Sparrow

    > How about do a better job of managing and promoting the museum? There is so much you could do with that place!

    One of DC's MAJOR problems is that after the DC Project for the Arts ceded all custodianship of the regional art scene to the National Gallery and the Smithsonian. Bad idea!

    I'm not sure if it's the responsibility of the DCCAH, local gallerists or the Corcoran, but patronage of the local arts scene has really gone under the bus. With so many large, Federally-funded arts-venues, the City and private collectors have given up trying to get their local tastes represented.

    It's a shame, but I don't see any changes occurring unless the Corcoran chooses to champion the DC region once again.

    The school outgrew the urban location long ago, but DC's regional museum should stay exactly where it is -- on the Mall, near the White House.

  • Mike in Baltimore

    When I was first in DC (summer 1973), my first impression was that the Corcoran was part of the Smithsonian, and I was going to tour it until I hit the entry point, and request for payment of an admittance fee. I'm sure I haven't been the only one who had that problem.

    That is about the ONLY good thing I can see as an advantage to the Corcoran moving.

    Also notice, the CEO of the Corcoran is a venture capitalist. Isn't that the same 'career' that a certain Presidential candidate is basing his campaign on?

  • Anonymous, Too

    "Tax records show that... the Corcoran—under the guidance of Hopper, the newly appointed board chair and a venture capitalist—spent more than $600,000 on a "strategic management plan" provided by the consultancy Real Change Strategies, Inc......"
    "Fred Bollerer, a partner at Real Change, was named chief operating officer at the Corcoran... Bollerer, a venture capitalist with no prior experience in museum administration, was named interim director and chief executive officer of the Corcoran—a position he still holds."

    Calling U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen!!!

  • LoyalColonial

    Keep the Corcoran in DC and merge it with neighboring George Washington University!

  • Jean Hosier

    Having just learned of these potential changes for The Corcoran Gallery of Washington, DC., I am saddened. While I don't make frequent visits there, I love the museum with a passion. My sisters and I have taken great pride and pleasure in knowing that our Grandmother, as a young woman, was a student there in its early days. We have many still-life studies of hers dated 1904 and 1905. Two of the works are water color washes of the base of the Washington Monument, because at the time that was all that was complete. Our family has had a personal and sentamental attachment to the District of Columbia for this reason, in addition to its great and foremost role as the nation's Capitol. The contemplation of a major change always brings a sense of mourning, but the fate of The Corcoron must be within a practicle framework. May the "powers that be" study the issue with great care and compassion.

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  • Jennifer

    Take it from a Mississippian who watched the destruction of countless artworks in Katrina, building a museum "on the waterfront" is a really bad idea.

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  • Nigel

    The Corcoran is a treasure and should either stay
    at its current location, and the city, Mayor Gray and the City Council
    should advocate it's support to keep the Corcoran in DC.
    Harry Hopper should resign from the Board, as Chairman
    he has behind the scenes orchestrated possibly moving the
    Corcoran to Alexandria, not dissimilar to the action
    his business partner Mark Kington did at The University of
    Virginia. Mr Kington took the high road and resigned due to his
    Behind the scenes ouster of the President of the University
    Of Va. Mr Hopper should follow his friend and business
    Partners action and resign! the similar nature of the both men
    are so similar it's frightening!!
    The decision made by these gentlemen
    to ouster a president of a University and move
    a historic institution to Alexandria "behind the Scenes" is dispicable
    and a resignation from Harry Hopper is imperative for a board who
    Is being led by a wolf in sheep's clothing.

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