The 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