The street in front of the District's Howard Theatre is hopping once again. On Monday before a crowd of several hundred jazzed-up onlookers, the 102-year-old theater reopened its doors after a massive restoration and renovation.
"I am proud to be here, it reminds me of being so proud to grow up in the District of Columbia," Mayor Vincent Gray said to a crowd that spilled out from the sidewalk in front of the theater, onto T Street NW and beyond into the adjacent plaza. "Some days I spent here when I should have been somewhere else, but I was having a good time, y'all!" Gray shouted.
The crowd Monday hummed with excitement as speakers and performers took their turn addressing them from a small podium set up at the theater's entrance. Many talked amongst themselves about celebrities they'd seen back in the day at the theater: Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Red Foxx — the list is a long and storied one.
"D.C. is back now because the Howard is back," said D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton. "The Howard is D.C. to its core. Before they invented amateur night at the Apollo [Theater in New York], the first live shows in America were already at the Howard."
The 600-seat theater has been restored by the Ellis Development Group to its original 1910 facade, while the inside has been modernized and refurbished. Once at the center of the District's "Black Broadway" theater district, the surrounding neighborhood was destroyed in the 1968 riots. The theater closed in 1970. Although it enjoyed a brief revival during former Mayor Marion Barry's administration, it has been closed for more than 30 years.