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I am the theater architect for the non-profit theater company taking the upper balcony space at the Tivoli. We are one piece of this important project for a vibrant, but less economically fortunate community in Washington DC.
We provide cultural design, historic preservation and adaptive use services and have worked on many nationally land marked facilities that have resulted in design awards and recognition.
Although this theater was compromised on the inside from the beginning by developer requirements, we can’t think of a better development model for a building that had failed to attain any interest for restoration in the past 25 years. This theater was crumbling every day and would have been totally destroyed by neglect. The developer created new rentable areas by adding floor levels in the theatre house and stage.
Gala Hispanic Theatre was initially offered a 6,000 sf rectangular space behind the retail spaces on the first floor by the developer. The proportions of the space were insufficient to meet the very basics of theater design, let alone exhibit civic pride. SmithGroup proposed going up under the dome on the second floor, not only preserve a piece of history for all to see, but to help bring together a community in need of healing. SmithGroup, Gala, Horning Brothers and their building architects worked together to achieve a solution retaining the balcony and much of the original theater ceiling. The resulting 11,000 sf scheme put the theater stage and house on the second floor, the lobby and dressing rooms on a lower mezzanine and storage space in the basement.
Gala Hispanic Theater is not Broadway, it is not community theater; it stands for Hispanic dramatic tradition blended with contemporary urban interpretation. Gala is mindful of its audience and its place in the community. We intentionally created an architecture expressive of the Galaâ€™s mission. We developed a proscenium theater dropped into an historic envelope. Are we compromised because we do not have fly space or abundant wing space? Perhaps for certain productions, but to Gala it was more important to promote the intimacy and atmosphere that will make the theatre truly unique. To re-quote Michael Kahn from the Shakespeare Theater your article, â€œPart of your style is determined by the architecture of the room you are in.â€
This is a small theater, about 250 seats, but it is a vibrant part of Washington culture and strives to be the first national Hispanic theater in the United States. Although they have modest means, Gala proves to be the cultural anchor of the new Tivoli development and stands a good chance of helping unite the community of Columbia Heights with a new performance space available for use by other performers and venues.
Not all projects can be measured by the same benchmarks. Each project has limitations that dictate certain compromises from what is conceived as an ideal. Given our constraints, we achieved quite a bit. The result is not perfect, but is far better than what we started with.
Cordially, David Greenbaum FAIA.
Please see the link below for renderings of the design solution and the following note on more project background.
CLIENT Grupo de Artistas Latinoamericanos (GALA)
2437 15th St., NW
Washington, DC 20009
1825 Eye St., NW, Suite 250
Washington, DC 20006
DEVELOPER Tivoli Partners:
Ft. Lincoln Realty
Development Corporation of Columbia Heights
The new Grupo de Artistas Latinoamericanos (GALA) Hispanic Theatre takes advantage of the redevelopment of the historic Tivoli Theater in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, DC. While the overall project, Tivoli Square, is being developed by Tivoli Partners, GALA began working with SmithGroup as its tenant architect in Spring 2001 to lead the development of the design of the theater space itself.
The Tivoli Theater and GALA bring together the Districtâ€™s history and its diverse culture. Built in 1924, the Tivoli Theater is a magnificent historic building with a long and rich history. Originally a 2000-seat movie theater, it survived the riots in the 1960s and now serves as a physical reminder of the vibrant nature of the Columbia Heights community.
GALA has been serving the local community through Spanish-language and bilingual artistic productions since 1976. Known for supporting local and Latin American artists, GALA also exposes young people to the arts in both Spanish and English. In addition, GALA collaborates with other community arts organizations in order to support a variety of workshop programs and public performance opportunities for 13- to 17-year-olds.
GALAâ€™s new permanent home, will provide a dynamic arts space for an often overlooked multicultural neighborhood. As the cultural anchor of the Tivoli Square development, the GALA Hispanic Theatre is positioned to be a catalyst for additional community development and activities.
Key to the success of the theater was making sure it would be situated in a prominent, accessible location within the historic theater building. Working collaboratively with the developer, base building architect and preservation architect, SmithGroup was able gain consensus to locate the new 250-seat theatre under the historic dome of the old theater at the balcony level, ensuring public access to this cultural gem.
The new theatre space will allow GALA to serve the community better, continue developing programs to meet the needs of the areaâ€™s rapidly growing Latino population, and broaden the organizationâ€™s audiences. The facility will feature stage and seating underneath the historic dome; rehearsal and workshop space; library, script and archive collection space; exhibition space for visual artists; a simultaneous interpretation system; film projection facilities; and concession area.
To create this new space, SmithGroup inserted the new theater into the existing historic envelope of the old theater. The architectural language is at once traditional and modern to reinforce GALAâ€™s character as a performing arts company, which ranges from classical to contemporary; the new architectureâ€™s slightly gritty, urban feel contrasts with the restored beaux-arts decorative plaster ceiling and walls.
Set on top of the former Tivoli Theaterâ€™s balcony, the new theater house design uses the existing balconyâ€™s stepped concrete for its seating. Adding â€œshouldersâ€ gives the house a more intimate scale. The stage floor has been placed under the main historic dome, and an aluminum lighting /rigging truss system defines the performance area. The dome, ceiling and original proscenium remain visible, becoming an integral part of the theater aesthetics. The exposed historic decorative pilasters and infill panels will be relined with acoustical fabric. In contrast, the new walls are covered in bronze aluminum coiled drapery.
The lobby is an entirely new space formed by a new floor and tucked underneath the stage area. The vibrant design echoes the vitality of the theater company and the Latino creative spirit. A curved wall for art dominates the lobby, while the concessions bar creates a focal counterpoint within the space.
Project Size: 11,000 square feet
Project Cost: $3,300,000