Corcoran Gallery of Art to Close for Seven Weeks for Repairs

By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 19, 2008

The Corcoran Gallery of Art announced yesterday that it will close for seven weeks, starting Jan. 26, for repairs to its old and leaky roof. The project includes the replacement of nearly 50,000 square feet of glass, a hallmark of the original 1897 Beaux-Arts building.

The museum chose this time frame because it has no major shows scheduled then and because special events tied to the presidential inauguration will be over, officials said. It's also the slowest season for visitors to all of Washington's museums.

The repairs are long overdue, the officials said, and the Corcoran's board voted this week to close the museum for the work. All the art on the building's second floor will be moved or stored during construction.

"There have been leaks almost since the building was constructed. We do have active leaks, and we performed triage. We fixed the places we know," said Christopher M. Leahy, the Corcoran's chief financial officer. "In the rain last week, we didn't have leaks in the places we knew, but we did have new leaks."

Over the years, repairs have been made to the classical roof, but the last overhaul of the roof and skylights was in the early 1980s. This is the first wholesale replacement of the glass. The museum, the oldest private collection in the city, was founded in 1869.

The repair project, to be done in two steps, will cost an estimated $17 million. The District has committed $8 million to the project.

The first phase, replacing the glass and copper roof along with the air-handling system in one part of the building, is budgeted at $12.5 million. "We have all of that in hand," said Leahy, who noted that "the first phase gives us a natural stopping point." If the money for the additional repairs isn't raised, "we will have one more efficient part and one less efficient part."

Closing museums for repairs is not unusual in Washington. The Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, now called the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture, reopened in 2006 after being closed for six years. The National Museum of American History reopened last month after two years of renovation.

The Corcoran has survived some turbulent times, financially and administratively, of late. It planned an adventurous and sprawling addition designed by architect Frank Gehry, but fell short on raising the estimated $200 million needed and had to shelve the project. The museum also changed the leadership of its board, brought in a new director and reduced its hours.

The debate about the Gehry project, which would have included work on the museum's roof, further delayed repairs. "This has been a longstanding issue, and Gehry put everything on hold," Leahy said.

The Jan. 20 inauguration provided another reason to delay the roof work, given the Corcoran's proximity to the White House and some inaugural events.

"The work includes scaffolding and a tower crane," Leahy said. "We were concerned, from the security around the inaugural and our location, that the Secret Service might make us take it down."

Besides fixing the leaks, the installation of new glass will lessen the amount of sunlight and heat in the galleries. "We believe we have a glass pattern that will look very similar to what it looked like when it was clean," Leahy said.

Now Leahy and his crew are praying for the weather to cooperate. "We would be taking the glass off in late February, when most of the storms are over," he said. "We think we can do this, weather or not."

Classes at the Corcoran College of Art and Design will continue during the repairs, as will public programs. They are held in a different part of the Corcoran.

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