DAR Constitution Hall: The Next Act -- Sharing Updates

Written by: Denise Doring VanBuren, President General
November 21, 2019

I am exceptionally grateful for the interest that so many of you have expressed in the exciting construction facet of the VanBuren President General’s Project, and I wanted to take an opportunity to provide you with a high-level overview on the massive undertaking. It has been my dream that we will complete a renovation that marries the highest standards in historic preservation with the introduction of modern technology in order to enhance a world-class performing arts venue to make it a showcase of architectural stewardship.

As you may already know, DAR Constitution Hall: The Next Act is the third phase of restoration for our storied auditorium. (Phase I addressed the main and downstairs lobbies, as well as the President General’s Reception Room, and Phase II focused on the stage.) This final phase, which will restore and rehabilitate the actual Hall itself, is the most ambitious – and expensive – portion of the nearly decade-long effort to repair deteriorating conditions within our landmark structure.

We are again collaborating with Quinn Evans Architects and the Christman Company (as contractor) to design and complete the work, which will total approximately $9 million – the largest President General’s Project undertaken in the history of our Society. We believe it is important that we address these structural and degrading cosmetic issues now so that succeeding administrations may choose to focus on DAR mission-oriented projects of national importance as we approach the 250th anniversary of the United States.

The Next Act will include refurbishing the existing seats; repairing damaged finishes throughout the Hall; replacing flooring/carpeting; addressing acoustics; updating above-ceiling features (such as catwalks, rigging systems, lighting, etc.); removing/replacing the curved ceiling; rehabilitating the downstairs dressing rooms; improving accessibility; remediating hazardous materials; and many other cosmetic, structural and safety items – those seen and unseen.  Much of what we plan will correct well-intentioned-but-inappropriate repairs hobbled together over the course of nine decades of continuous use and changing visitor expectations.

It is especially exciting for me to share that we hope to replicate John Russell Pope’s original design for “concerts under the stars” by introducing technology that will allow LED lighting to mimic overhead starlight in what was once a laylight similar to that crowning our DAR Library. What better way to let in the ‘sunshine’ than to restore this historical element (which was covered over in the 1950s and later topped with a solar array)?  By introducing modern lighting options, we hope to provide visitors with the dramatic and dynamic experience that Pope first envisioned – but which hasn’t been enjoyed in nearly seven decades.

Our 2019 Giving Tuesday campaign in coming weeks will begin our formal effort by raising funds to refurbish the seats, and thanks to a generous anonymous donor, your support will be matched. Please help us if you are able, by visiting www.dar.org/givingtuesday. There are many additional ways that you may support this project – so please watch for forthcoming materials that will outline the opportunities that individuals, families, chapters and states may embrace in order sponsor various facets of the project, including laylight panels. For more information on this renovation visit: www.dar.org/nextact or call the Office of Development at (800) 449-1776.

Current projections call for construction work to begin at the close of Continental Congress 2020 – with completion by Continental Congress 2021. Keep in mind that our Hall will need to “go dark” during many portions of heaviest construction, and so our timetable must be aggressive in order to minimize lost revenues from rentals.

I respectfully request that you join me in supporting this important endeavor to restore DAR Constitution Hall to its former prominence, including its historic laylight. At the laying of its cornerstone on October 30, 1928, the Chairman of the District of Columbia’s Fine Arts Commission  praised our building’s Neoclassical design as a distinct part of the National Capital plan. Let us commit to one another that we will return our building to its original glory. We owe that to the women who came before us – and to those who will follow in our footsteps.

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