It's fitting that tomorrow's memorial service for longtime Washington producer and promoter Sam L'Hommedieu will take place at the Warner Theatre. L'Hommedieu, who died last week at age 74 following a heart attack, revived that art deco theater in the '80s as a showcase for theatrical productions, providing Washington with an alternative to the National and the Kennedy Center for touring Broadway shows.
But L'Hommedieu's impact on Washington nightlife went much deeper, though the dapper promoter--seldom seen without his coat and tie--kept a low profile. There was the early partnership with Cellar Door Productions and Jack Boyle, who now heads SFX Music Group, the world's largest concert production company. L'Hommedieu also mentored dozens of young concert producers and booking agents, including Seth Hurwitz of I.M.P. Productions and David Anderson, president of Houston-based Theater Management Group.
"Sam was one of the major presenters of touring Broadway shows east of the Mississippi," says Mike Jaworek, who worked for L'Hommedieu at Chesapeake Concerts before becoming talent booker at the Birchmere. L'Hommedieu, says Jaworek, was not only a major presenter in cities like Philadelphia, Atlanta and Cleveland, but also took shows into secondary and tertiary markets from Green Bay, Wis., to Asheville, N.C.
Still, it's Washington that was clearly closest to L'Hommedieu's heart. "Sam always wanted to revive downtown nightlife," says Jack Boyle, who partnered with L'Hommedieu from 1965 to 1979. "Remember, he was raised in this town, he knew it, and it made him very happy."
L'Hommedieu was a proud hometowner: Woodrow Wilson High, the University of Maryland, law degree from George Washington University, a stint with the U.S. attorney's office, and eventually the private Georgetown law practice that first connected him to restaurant and club owners like Boyle in the early '60s. After partnering in clubs like Cellar Door and the Crazy Horse, L'Hommedieu and Boyle split up amicably in 1978, at which point L'Hommedieu began to focus more on theatrical presentations as an alternative to concerts, including such early Warner successes as "For Colored Girls . . . ," "Chapter 2," "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" and "Ain't Misbehavin'."
Seth Hurwitz first worked for L'Hommedieu in the late '70s managing the Ontario, a Columbia Road theater famous for action movies and active audiences. It's where Hurwitz would present his first concert, a tie-in with the "Rock 'n' Roll High School" movie premiere.
"Sam would force people to do everything, anything--whatever was needed at the time," Hurwitz recalls. "In the process, I learned everything about the business because I had to do it myself. He took me to New York to learn how to talk to agents, what to say when you're passing on an act, how to express interest. Sam commanded respect--he had a certain dignity and integrity that you just don't see anymore."
"He was totally consumed by the business 24 hours a day and so were all the people who worked for him," says Mike Schreibman, who worked for L'Hommedieu and Boyle in the mid-'60s and now heads the Washington Area Music Association.
"Sam will be greatly missed," says Boyle. "He was one of the true gentlemen of our business. A gentleman's gentleman."
Tomorrow's memorial service for Sam L'Hommedieu will be held at 3 p.m.
End of Sculpture Garden?
The current exhibit at D.C. Unite, an artist-run sculpture garden at Seventh between D and E streets NW, may be the final show at the site. Earlier this summer, Robert Cole, the garden's founder, received a letter from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities asking him to permanently clear the space by Sept. 26. The General Services Administration owns the lot, which is in the process of being sold.
Cole and a few other sculptors helped transform the once vacant and trash-strewn lot into a public garden two years ago as part of Artswalk II, a series of public art installations sponsored by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. After Artswalk II ended, Cole struck a deal with the commission to keep the sculpture garden in place. Since then, 15 local sculptors have shown work there. He became the primary caretaker of the space, traveling from his Dupont Circle studio twice a week to clean up the trash and curating the shows, which usually stay up for about six months. The GSA has been supportive of the garden, keeping the lights on at night and letting Cole use electricity when he needs to move the sculptures.
"We'd like to be permanent but we're temporary," Cole says. He hopes the developers "give some nod to all that beauty and effort we've put into the city" by including something like a sculpture atrium on the ground floor of the new building.
The sculpture garden is located at 431 Seventh St. NW.
An exhibit of art and artifacts from the former Soviet republic of Georgia planned for Baltimore's Walters Art Gallery this October has been canceled. Although no official word has come from Georgia, gallery organizers called off the show after informal discussions with Georgian officials made clear that the items would not be shipped as planned. The "Land of Myth and Fire: Art of Ancient and Medieval Georgia" was scheduled to tour the United States for a year and a half beginning at the Walters. The gallery's replacement show is a survey of French art from the early Middle Ages through the beginning of the 20th century.
CAPTION: The sculpture garden D.C. Unite on Seventh Street NW, home of these pieces by Robert Cole and others, will close next month.
CAPTION: Promoter Sam L'Hommedieu, who died last week, helped shape the area's performing-arts scene.