(Refiling to fix typo in third paragraph)
* Howard thrived as heart of "Black Broadway"
* Shut down 30 years ago, slid toward ruin
* Building restored to how it looked in 1910
By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON, April 9 Washington's historic Howard
Theater, a launching pad for black performers from Duke
Ellington to The Supremes, reopened on Monday after a $29
million restoration saved it from the wrecking ball.
Hundreds of people crowded outside the Howard to celebrate
the rebirth of the century-old building, famed as the oldest
legitimate theater aimed at a black audience.
Speakers, including Mayor Vincent Gray, said the return of
the theater with a Beaux Arts, neoclassical and Renaissance
facade was a symbol of Washington's own renewal after decades of
"The Howard Theater is back, ladies and gentlemen. It's a
Howard Theater of the 21st century," Gray told onlookers before
a ribbon-cutting ceremony done to Washington native Duke
Ellington's signature "Take The 'A' Train."
Opened in 1910, the Howard and thrived through the 1960s as
the heart of a vibrant "Black Broadway" in the then-racially
segregated capital's Shaw neighborhood.
Howard, which preceded New York's famed Apollo Theater by
more than 20 years, showcased top black performers, including
Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, James Brown, Miles Davis and
Washington native Marvin Gaye.
The Supremes made their first stage appearance there in 1962
and Ella Fitzgerald won an amateur night contest. Ahmet
Ertegun, founder of Atlantic Records, got his musical start by
listening to jazz at the Howard.
James Walker, a 71-year-old retired federal worker, said he
had seen many shows during the theater's heyday, including James
Brown, the Four Tops and the Supremes.
"This was it, this was the place to go," he said. The
reopening "is fabulous. It's part of an upward drive to redo the
"D.C.'S MEANEST CORNER"
The Howard was designated a national landmark in 1974, but
it was already deteriorating. The neighborhood was devastated by
riots in 1968 and many residents fled the rising crime. By 1981
the Washington Post was calling its nearby intersection "D.C.'s
The Howard shut down 30 years ago and slid toward ruin
despite several attempts to revive it.
Rainwater pouring through the roof heavily damaged the
interior, but the underlying structure was "built like a rock,"
said Chip Ellis, president and chief executive of Ellis
Development Group, which oversaw the rebuilding.
"This building was built to last forever," he told the
crowd. The overhaul of the theater began in 2010.
The makeover, financed through a public-private partnership,
restored the building to how it looked in 1910, in part by
uncovering windows that had been bricked over.
The 12,000-square-foot (1,115-square-metre) interior has
been stripped of its seats for a more flexible configuration. It
will have room for 1,000 standing customers and up to 750 for
supper-club events, and it features state-of-the-art acoustics,
giant TV screens and VIP areas.
The first concert, a benefit for the theater, is on
Thursday. Scheduled appearances and performances will be by
Smokey Robinson, Savion Glover, Al Jarreau and Martha Reeves,
(Reporting By Ian Simpson; Editing by Xavier Briand)