Woolly Mammoth buys D Street theater facility

The building and homeowning surge in Washington theater will continue Friday as the edgy and acclaimed Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company announces the purchase of the 265-seat facility that it has occupied since 2005.

Woolly already enjoyed a $1 annual lease through 2031 for the theater, at 641 D St. NW, which is nestled inside a large apartment complex in the Penn Quarter neighborhood. The company supervised the design of the space and raised $9 million to build its stage, rehearsal spaces and offices.

Last summer, the building’s owners, JPI Apartment Development, approached Woolly with an offer to sell. At the seller’s request, the terms of the deal have not been made public, but Managing Director Jeffrey Herrmann said: “It’s an insanely generous price. People wouldn’t believe me if I told them what it was.”

Documents filed May 2 with the D.C. Recorder of Deeds put the price at “Ten and No/100 Dollars and other valuable consideration”; Herrmann said the “other consideration” is more money. Another document regarding the sale indicates that Woolly has access to up to $268,000 in credit.

The spectacular expansion of Washington theater facilities in the past decade has often been accompanied by sharply increased operating costs and construction debt.

Arena Stage, the Shakespeare Theatre Company and Signature Theatre are among the troupes that have labored to make ends meet after projects that ran into the tens of millions of dollars, but Woolly may be poised to avoid growing pains.

Herrmann said that the $9 million for the original construction was raised before the company opened the doors in 2005 and that Woolly is currently seeking municipal grants and foundation support for the theater purchase.

Woolly Mammoth, known for its aggressive acting and brazen new plays — its current offering is an update of Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” reworked as “Stupid F---ing Bird” — has been performing since 1980. The company forged its reputation in a 114-seat hole-in-the-wall off 14th Street NW, then was rootless for four years as its current theater was being built. Since settling into the D Street venue, Woolly’s full-time staff has grown from 13 to 24, and its budget has more than doubled, from nearly $2 million to $4 million.

The nonprofit group’s fundraising “has grown hugely,” Herrmann said. “That’s the story of what’s powered our rise.”

He added: “We are super excited to know we control our own destiny now.”

First Post byline, 1992; covering theater for the Post since 1999. His book "American Playwriting and the Anti-Political Prejudice" will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2014.
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