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Monday was family day at the Corcoran.

No, it was not a day for your family. It was a day for the “Corcoran family” and the “AOL family,” who became in-laws at a morning news conference in which it was announced that two America Online executives and their spouses together have put up $30 million to help pay for the Corcoran’s planned renovation and addition by architect Frank O. Gehry & Associates of Santa Monica, Calif.

The gift, by Barry M. and Tracy Schuler and Robert W. and Veronique Pittman, brings the Corcoran’s construction kitty to $60 million. “We have roughly half the money,” said a fidgety Corcoran President and Director David C. Levy, wearing a shiny olive suit and a short white beard at the news conference. With Levy on the dais were Corcoran Chairman Ronald D. Abramson, the Schulers, Veronique Pittman, and Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

But wait…”half the money”?

When the Corcoran announced, in the summer of 1999, that Gehry had won its architectural competition, it said it needed $40 million to complete the project. If that were still the estimate, the Corcoran could go to town—and with 10 bucks left over for dinner. Now, it seems, the project will cost closer to $120 million, counting inflation.

So that’s what has been taking so long! At the end of 1999, Levy was expecting the design-development stage of the project to consume about a year. Gehry would spend that time fleshing out the exploding paper ribbons and faceted plastic walls that form the competition model. By now, according to that schedule, we should have been seeing a more realistic representation of the new building, which will sit at the corner of 17th Street and New York Avenue NW, next to the Corcoran’s original 1897 building, designed by architect Ernest Flagg.

But it will be another six months or so before we see the real design, which, Gehry and Levy have promised, will look quite different from Gehry’s competition entry. The Corcoran plans to break ground for the new building in early 2003; in the meantime, it’s still counting its change.

“We started out figuring what we thought we could raise,” Levy said of the budget’s growth. “About four years ago, we’d done a study that said we could raise about $40 million. And what happened was, as soon as we got into this project and began to see the building, we understood that we are in a very different ballpark—you know, way beyond that. So we raised our sights substantially.”

It helps to have rich relatives in such times, even if they say ridiculous things in public. Barry Schuler, who vaguely resembles a cross between Rob Reiner and John Goodman, suggested that Gehry’s new building will cure the city of its classical sameness. “It’s one thing when you come to Washington as a tourist, when you’re really obsessed with the monuments….It’s another thing when you come here to live,” said Schuler, who lived in California before moving to the D.C. area five years ago. “The first thing you realize is you get lost a lot.”

Washington, Schuler suggested, needs a Gehry building to pave the way for bolder architecture in the new century. For now, he needs somebody to teach him how to read a map. —Bradford McKee