|Terrace Theater, 2016|
In Part I, we explored Edward Durell Stone's original plan for the space he called the Studio Theater, now known as the Terrace Theater. In this part, we will look at what went down in 1971, the Bicentennial, and onwards to bring us to the Terrace Theater we have today.
On September 8, 1971, the Kennedy Center finally opened its doors, but the Studio Theater was closed tight. What happened?
In 1965, the Kennedy Center was estimating to go slightly over budget. To cut costs, it was decided the Studio Theater would be cut from the opening day lineup, to be finished at a later time. This would save the Center around $1.03 million dollars ($8.26 million in today's money). Due to unforeseen circumstances, the Center would later find itself going much farther over budget. The Studio would remain out of the plans.
In the iconic takedown review of the Kennedy Center by New York Times architectural critic Ada Louise Huxtable, she noted the theater's omission with a brief compliment: "It is particularly hard to know that the one creative design for a new kind of experimental theater remains an unfinished shell within the building, lacking funds."
Parts of the theater had been constructed before work was halted on the project. The stationary seating section and the back portion of the stage were in place. In the center of the space was a circular, empty hole where the turntable mechanism would one day go. Bare catwalks had been hung. Steel, concrete, and cinder blocks lay exposed. The space sat waiting.
|Unfinished Studio Theater/Terrace Theater, late 1970's|
Photo by Richard Braaten, Courtesy of the Kennedy Center.
This sealed-off theater became the home of a feral cat named Mosby. Mosby had somehow gotten into the Kennedy Center while it was under construction. He lived in the theater, with various staff members chipping in to feed him. He watched performances in the Eisenhower Theater, stole food from the restaurants, and went on wild adventures. His presence was last felt around January 1977. No one knows what became of him. If you want to learn more about Mosby, you can read his biography, Mosby, the Kennedy Center Cat.
Talks about finishing the Studio Theater began in earnest in 1974. The idea was to get the theater open by the American Bicentennial. The Center was looking for a $2.5 million donation ($13 million in today's money). Harold Burson, the Founding Chairman for the Kennedy Center Corporate Fund Board, was tasked with finding a donor. Burson later recalled:
"At that time, we were just really seeing all of the Japanese brands coming in great perfusion to the United States. And it occurred to me that Japan really would benefit greatly if they made a highly visible gift to the American people for the Bicentennial. My proposal was that the Japanese government contribute this."On August 6, 1975, the Japanese Government and Kennedy Center jointly announced Japan would be donating the money to finish the Studio Theater. Construction was predicted to take 60 weeks. "We expect to complete the theater in line with the original plans," said Roger L. Stevens, Chairman of the Kennedy Center. On June 30, 1976, at a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden, the Prime Minister of Japan Takeo Miki presented the funds to Stevens and President Gerald Ford. The total amount of the donation had grown to $3 million: $2 million was contributed by the Japanese government, and $1 million came from private Japanese sources.
The Bicentennial came -- and went. The theater did not open. Nor did any work begin.
There was a debate over what the Studio Theater's design should be, what the space would be used for. In the end, "[Kennedy Center officials] have opted for a more conventional space," summarized Gordon Davidson of the Center Theatre Group. It was decided the space would be used as a combination recital hall and theater. The turntable was written out of the plan. To emphasize its movement away from experimental works, the Studio Theater was renamed to the Terrace Theater. Terrace also signified where the theater was located in the building, on the Terrace level. Construction would not start until February 1978, over 2 1/2 years after Japan's donation announcement.
Edward Durell Stone was not chosen as the architect for the project. He had retired in 1974, and would later pass away in August 1978. Regardless, Stone and the Kennedy Center had not ended on the most amicable of terms. Stone and the General Services Administration severely underestimated the cost and amount of steel needed to build the Center, which led to the project going greatly over budget. The Center withheld Stone's fee until it was decided if he could be held liable for this error. So Stone filed a claim on the Center, and then the Center counterclaimed him. The Justice Department (representing the Center) would later work out a settlement with Stone. Even if he hadn't retired, it would have been unlikely the Kennedy Center would have worked with Stone again.
Philip Johnson & John Burgee of Johnson/Burgee Architects were chosen as the new architects for the theater. Johnson & Burgee designed mainly postmodern buildings together, including the Lipstick Building and 550 Madison Avenue (formerly the AT&T Building) in New York, PPG Place in Pittsburgh, and the Tycon Center in Vienna, Virginia. Cyril M. Harris, whose acoustical design of the Kennedy Center's three original houses were lauded, was rehired for the Terrace Theater project.
|Tycon Center at 8000 Towers Crescent Drive, Vienna, VA|
Also known as "The Shopping Bag"
Much of what had already been built for Stone's Studio Theater was incorporated into Johnson/Burgee's Terrace Theater. Construction was difficult, as the space was surrounded by an active building and was elevated off the ground. "The whole inside of the area had to be taken down in one elevator, and materials brought up in the same elevator," said Stevens. The pit left for the turntable was covered over with stationary seating and a stage. The theater did have an orchestra lift, which could be raised to house-level for extra seating, or stage-level to create a "modified thrust" stage (It was advertised as such, but in all honesty it was a proscenium stage with a slightly large apron).
|"Modified Thrust," 2016|
The theater also had a portable wooden acoustical shell that could be used for chamber works.
The Terrace Theater officially opened on January 28, 1979 with an invite-only gala. It was dedicated with members of the Grand Kabuki Troupe of Japan performing a congratulatory dance of "Kokera-Otoshi" and Renjishi (Double Lion Dance). Dedicatory remarks were provided by Roger Stevens, Ambassador of Japan Fumihiko Togo, Nobuhiko Ushiba, and First Lady Rosalynn Carter.
The theater was a feast for the eyes and ears. "The seats are mauve and comfortable. The rose walls are lined with plaster half columns, painted matte silver--somewhat Art Deco, but pleasantly unobstrusive, almost neutral," Washington Post architectural critic Wolf Von Eckardt wrote upon the theater's opening. The acoustics were praised by Peter Hume in the Post:
"There is general agreement that the sound is perfectly clear throughout the hall, that it is natural in its projection of whatever music is in process. There seems to be no difference in sound at any point in the hall."The only acoustical critique was the sound was a little dry due to the carpeting under the seating. The carpeting had been an intentional compromise of the design so the space could present well acoustically for theatrical works.
|View of the Terrace Theater from the stage, 2016|
|Terrace Theater Lobby, 2016|
Purple carpeted floors and walls.
In 2016, the Terrace Theater was scheduled to undergo a renovation. The Kennedy Center had been methodically going theater to theater to make each one compliant with the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). The Terrace Theater was last on the list. It closed June 25, 2016. Due to the amount and size of structural changes required to make the space ADA compliant, the house and lobby were completely gutted and redone. The architectural firm chosen for the new design was Quinn Evans Architects, who had previously renovated the Concert Hall, Opera House, and Eisenhower Theater. The renovation cost $21.8 million (Which would have been $4.8 million in 1975).
|In honor of the Terrace Theater's grand|
re-opening and its Japanese ties, the Center
exhibited Fantasy in Japan Blue by
Reiko Sudo in the Hall of States
The new Terrace's grand re-opening happened on October 6, 2017, with a collaboration between Kennedy Center Artistic Directors Jason Moran & Q-Tip. Along with the Terrace's opening, the performance also marked the start of the inaugural season of Hip Hop Culture programming at the Kennedy Center.
|Terrace Theater, 2017|
The major idea behind the renovation was to keep what made the 1979 Terrace great, and improve upon it for greater accessibility and adaptability. Balconies and two cross-aisles were added to the house. An elevator was added in the lobby to reach the lower level of seats. The proscenium arch was engineered so its legs could move side to side, expanding or shrinking the playable space onstage. Great care was taken to maintain the space's acoustics. Instead of carpeting throughout, curtains were hung behind the theater's paneling, and could be drawn to absorb more sound if a performance required it. "The space seems more warm and vivid, with a clarity -- and good sightlines -- from every corner of the room," wrote Washington Post classical music critic Anne Midgette.
|Terrace Theater Lobby, 2017|
These chandeliers were designed & built by
the Center's in-house Production team!
And that brings us to the present day. From its days on the drawing board, its role as a penthouse apartment for a cat, and to an intimate theater rejuvenated, the Terrace Theater has seen many iterations. While it never had a turntable as originally envisioned, it is still a versatile performance venue at the Kennedy Center.
I wanted to highlight some of the design features that had/have remained in the Terrace Theater iterations.
The Studio Theater's catwalks continue to hang above the Terrace Theater ceiling, out of sight. They are almost entirely unwalkable, as HVAC is installed over much of them. During the 2016-17 renovation, two of these catwalks were removed, but the rest still hang up there to this day. (Note: the catwalk you can see hanging in the theater today is not a Studio Theater catwalk. It was added for the 2017 Terrace.)
The 1979 Terrace Theater had these odd side hallways. They were always strange to me because they did not structurally match and were such a strong pink color. These hallways descended, then leveled out, before descending again. Pairing this with the Studio Theater's plans, these hallways were also present there. The sections where the hallways leveled out were originally supposed to have doorways into the theater. The doors were written out the 1979 Terrace. The hallways themselves were entirely demolished during the 2016-17 renovation.
|Looking up the House Left stairs & ramp, 2016|
|Looking down the House Right stairwell, 2016|
My camera made the walls look peach-colored,
but they were much more pink in person.
I called them the Pepto-Bismo Hallways.
Beyond the proscenium, much of the back-of-house remains either intact or received a light refresh during the 2016-17 renovation. The most public-facing of these is the stage itself. Most of the wood onstage was left in place from the 1979 Terrace, only stained a new color to blend in better with the 2017 Terrace. The orchestra pit and lift mechanism are still the same as before the renovation.
My favorite legacy area is the void where the Studio Theater's turntable was supposed to go. Underneath the stationary seats, the space still exists! Space is always of the essence, so the void has been annexed for other uses. One area is used for the orchestra pit. Another part is a musician locker area underneath the stage, which includes permanent trapdoor points. A third area under the seating is file storage! So while you are jamming away to an amazing show in the Terrace, the files are jamming along with you.
|Seating above, filing below!|
One space, inhabited by three unique theaters. I like each one for very different reasons.
Edward Durell Stone's Studio Theater was a technological marvel. It's a shame it never existed. I wrote exclusively about this theater in Part I, so I feel I covered what I wanted to say about it there.
Johnson/Burgee's 1979 Terrace Theater was such a time warp to the 70's-80's. Nothing felt like it had ever changed in there. You were transported into a hip arcade or music video. It was so funky. The color scheme was abhorrent and the wall decor was bizarre -- but I also loved it because of all of that. I am glad I was able to experience this theater in all its glory. There will never be another quite like it.
|Entry Lobby for Terrace Theater, 2016|
I dare you to put purple wall carpet in your McMansion.
It's been interesting to see how the 1979 Terrace's architecture fared throughout the decades. Here's a review from around its opening:
"One of the most beautiful theater-concert halls in the country" - Paul Hume, 1979And now compare that to a contemporary review:
"A boxy, unexceptional space, made distinctive only by an oddball paint job of nursery pink and glam-rock silver." - Joe Banno, 2017The space did not age well, even with the acclaimed Johnson/Burgee team working on it. I am interested in seeing how the newest Terrace will fare in the coming decades. Speaking of it...
Quinn Evans Architects' 2017 Terrace Theater is definitely the prettiest of the three by modern tastes. In my opinion, it is the Kennedy Center's most successful remodel to date. Many of the previous space transformations have sacrificed dated yet unique visual identity for something that is contemporary yet banal. The 2017 Terrace is able to balance being soothing to the modern eye, yet having an exciting, unique visual personality.
When I first walked into the new Terrace, I was surprised how open it felt. The 1979 Terrace was a box. The new balconies are much to thank for breaking open the space. The undulating waves on the walls and ceiling seem to express the sound waves emanating from the stage. The waves continue out into the lobby, where nearly every wall has a curve.
|Terrace Theater in rehearsal, 2017|
The color scheme pays homage to the 1979 Terrace's colors, but introduces deep reds & tans into the mix, providing a broader palate.
The Chihuly chandelier is lovely. I am a very big fan of the Kennedy Center's grand tradition of gorgeous, monumental lighting fixtures. Dale Chihuly is one of the greats along with Lobmeyr & Orrefors. It's great to have him here. Unlike the other chandeliers at the Kennedy Center, you can easily look at this one from below or at eye level.
|Chihuly Chandelier in the Terrace Theater, 2017|
View from eye level
|Chihuly Chandelier, 2017|
View from below
What I really wish is there was more Chihuly, especially in the theater itself. I'll just focus on winning the lottery so I can make it happen.
"Proposal For Completion of Studio Theatre on Roof Terrace of Kennedy Center" 2/18/1975
Kennedy Center Statement by Roger L. Stevens, 8/6/1975 Re: Japan Gift
"Edward Durell Stone" by Hicks Stone
Architecture: A Look At the Kennedy Center
Mosby, the Kennedy Center Cat
"Miracle on the Potomac" by Ralph E. Becker
The Daily Diary of President Gerald R. Ford - June 30, 1976
Remarks Upon Accepting Japan's Bicentennial Gift to the United States.
"Theater on the Terrace, With a Japanese Touch" by Don Shirley, 1/12/1979, Washington Post
"History of the Terrace Theater" Video, Oct 2007 - Ben Rosenfeld
Terrace Theater Opening Program, January 28, 1979
"The View From The Terrace: An Elegant Penthouse for Performance Built to Sound as Good as It Looks" by Wolf Von Eckardt, 1/28/1979, Washington Post
"Muted Sounds at The Terrace Theater" by Paul Hume, 2/6/1979, Washington Post
"The Nation's Stage: The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts" by Michael Dolan
June 25, 2016 Terrace Theater House Report
Interview with Vaughan Bowen
Jason Moran and Q-Tip usher in the Kennedy Center’s hip-hop era.
Review: ‘Jason Moran & Q-Tip’ at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ Terrace Theater Reopens Following Modernization
QEA Project at Kennedy Center Featured by the Washington Post
Quinn Evans Architects: Terrace Theater
Surround sound made visible: the new Terrace Theater
Interview with Jeff Hill
Up On The Roof, An Old Venue Gets New Look, Sound
Projects like this require a lot of bits and pieces from multiple sources to create one complete story. I'd like to thank the following individuals for helping me out over this two-part series:
Vaughan Bowen & Richard Podulka
Kristin Fosdick & Ben Rosenfeld
Guy Heard & Jeff Hill
Lauren Holland, Iain Higgins, Brittany Laeger, & Maria Rodriguez