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Questions surrounding George Washington University’s takeover of the Corcoran College of Art + Design are starting to get some answers. On Tuesday, university officials took a big step in shaping the future of GW’s new Corcoran School of the Arts & Design: selling the Corcoran’s Fillmore School building, a Victorian schoolhouse in Georgetown that was built in 1893 and has served as the Corcoran’s second campus since its acquisition in 1998.
The plan to sell the Fillmore building has been clear since last May. Officials at GW, which assumed control of the Corcoran College of Art + Design after the school and the Corcoran Gallery of Art were partitioned and dissolved last year, said at the time that they would pursue a building sale. The finalized agreements that gave GW control of the school and its properties, and gave the museum’s art collection to the National Gallery of Art, stipulate that proceeds from the Fillmore School building sale can only be put toward the operation of the Corcoran School of the Arts & Design.
On Tuesday, GW officials announced that the building will be listed for $14 million. The agent is TTR Sotheby’s International Realty.
If the Fillmore School building is sold, it will be the third Corcoran-related property sale in five years. Back in 2006, the Corcoran purchased the former Randall School building in Southwest from the city, but never developed it; four years later, the Corcoran sold the Randall School building to Miami art collectors and real-estate mavens Don and Mera Rubell. That same year, the Corcoran listed the Fillmore School building for sale, but never sold it.
In 2010, Carr Properties entered into a long-term lease for a 16,000-square-foot lot adjacent to the museum and college’s central Flagg building. The site where the Corcoran once aspired to build a wing designed by Frank Gehry was being used for parking. Late in 2011, the Corcoran annuitized its lease with Carr Properties, effectively selling the company the lot for $20.5 million total—-a bargain for a lot just blocks from the White House.
Washington City Paper first reported in June 2012 that trustees at the Corcoran were considering selling the institution’s last remaining asset: the historic Flagg building, its Beaux-Arts home since 1897. Although trustees abandoned that effort, it signaled the end for the Corcoran as an independent institution.
In addition to the college and the Flagg building, GW also received $43 million in the Corcoran takeover. Much of that figure came from the controversial sale of the Clark Sickle-Leaf Carpet and several other significant rugs. Museum policy prevented the former Corcoran trustees from using the proceeds of that sale to right the ship; now, however, GW is required to spend the money on internal improvements. According to GW, $35 million of the purse will be spent on renovating classroom and studio spaces in the Flagg building, while the remaining $8 million will be marshaled as an endowment for the Corcoran School of the Arts.
GW anticipates that it will start reviewing purchase offers for the Fillmore School building in April. A spokesperson at the university confirmed that there is a $2.4 million mortgage on the building. Presumably, the value of the lien is either reflected in the $14 million asking price or will be paid off after the sale.
The building in Georgetown accounts for a large portion of the art school’s activity. About 40 percent of the Corcoran’s students take classes or do other college work there. The sale of the Fillmore School building could make life uncomfortable for students, although enrollment is down: All told, there are about 400 graduate and undergraduate students currently at the Corcoran, down from nearly 600 in 2010 (when the school was hoping to increase enrollment to 800).
If and when the Georgetown building is sold, students will be diverted from the Fillmore to the Flagg and other buildings scattered around GW’s campus. The university says that the Flagg building will remain open to students throughout the upcoming $80 million renovation. (GW is planning the work in stages.)
Even the shape of the Flagg building as it will serve the Corcoran School of the Arts is somewhat open to question. On Feb. 26, the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board will hold a hearing to decide whether the Corcoran’s interiors are too historically and architecturally significant to change.
The D.C. Preservation League applied for historic preservation status for the Corcoran’s interiors—the Atrium, Rotunda, Salon Doré, Hemicycle, and other spaces—back in 2012. Only now is the board addressing the case.
The application was put forward by the D.C. Preservation League with the support of Save the Corcoran. At more than 30 pages, it makes for great reading for Corcoranologists; in brief, the application would designate much of the first floor, all of the second floor, and even some parts of the basement as historically significant.
“We are in the process of reviewing the application, taking a closer look at all of the elements of the building, and considering future uses of the building for arts education and art exhibition activities,” says spokesperson Candace Smith. “The university will submit its proposal for protecting the historical character of the interior at the Feb. 26 hearing.”
One imagines that GW officials would prefer greater flexibility than the D.C. Preservation League is pursuing, since the university has no interest in maintaining spacious galleries. Details of the GW plan aren’t yet forthcoming. One way or another, for students and faculty at the Corcoran School of the Arts, change is coming.
Top photo courtesy of Georgetown Metropolitan. Bottom rendering courtesy of the D.C. Preservation League.