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The Corcoran’s Beaux-Arts home was made a National Historic Landmark in 1992. But that designation only extends to its exterior architecture, not the inside of the building. So yesterday, when the D.C. Preservation League nominated the Corcoran Gallery of Art to the National Register of Historic Places (as reported by the Post), it was an attempt to extend that designation to the museum’s interior space, including its atrium, staircase, hemicycle, rotunda, and Salon Doré—potentially throwing a wrench in any prospective plans to sell the building to another owner.
Some 70 pages of documentation prepared by DCPL since June describes the Corcoran, inside and out, as an “exceptional Beaux‐Arts expression of a space ideally suited for the appreciation of art, combining elegant exterior and interior features into a purposeful, exquisitely articulated structure.” The documentation, which discusses the building’s architecture and history, quotes the Corcoran’s original architect, Ernest Flagg: “I have tried to make it simple and monumental and above all to give it the appearance of an art building.”
Despite language that would make it seem as though the Corcoran’s status as a museum is central to the argument for its preservation, D.C. Preservation League Executive Director Rebecca Miller says that the Corcoran’s mission—-or “program,” in architecture-speak—-is not the Preservation League’s concern. The league hasn’t discussed with the Corcoran what may happen to the building, though the organization did send a copy of the nomination to the museum. “I’m not very privy to what their interior dialogue is at all,” says Miller.
The ball is now in the Corcoran’s court. According to Miller, the Corcoran has 90 days to request an expedited hearing from the Historic Preservation Review Board. Otherwise, the process could take years; and so long as its historic-landmark status is pending, neither the Corcoran’s present owners nor any prospective owners can make changes inside the building.
The Corcoran did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons