I have my fingers crossed that the next three years won’t be too hard on the Washington history community. I suppose, like all things historical, time will tell.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library is closing on March 4 so the Mies van der Rohe-designed building, near Gallery Place, can undergo a $208 million modernization. The result, as presented at a news conference last week, looks spiffy: airy, more modern (duh), with a 3-D printer-filled space, a big auditorium, a cafe and a rooftop garden. There’s even a big sliding board for children.
Library director Richard Reyes-Gavilan promised that no linear shelf space will be lost in the renovation, suggesting that this won’t be one of those library transformations that does away with, you know, the books.
I was encouraged when the director said that special collections is a “growth area” for the library. Special collections are such niche areas as the library’s Black Studies and Washingtoniana departments, both of which are indispensable for local scholars, genealogists and history buffs.
The three years that MLK will be closed will allow a “deep think about the mission of special collections,” Reyes-Gavilan said. It will also allow librarians to get a better handle on exactly what they have. A fair amount of time is going to be spent cataloging items to make them easier to use.
Easier to use in the future, for the fact remains that for 36 months, the materials will not be as accessible as they have been. The nearby Historical Society of Washington already has a fine collection, including city guides. It will receive some of Washingtoniana’s maps, microfilm and historical photos, including from the Evening Star collection. Archival materials, such as the papers of District activist Julius Hobson and from the Petworth Women’s Club, will be delivered upon request to the Library of Congress.
The Library of Congress will also be the place to go for old newspapers. The Peabody Room in the Georgetown Library will take up some of the slack, too.
I’m worried that the Historical Society might find itself overburdened. It isn’t increasing its hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, plus one Saturday a month, all by appointment. And while they’ve cleared mold that caused the Carnegie Library to be shut down last year, the HSW will presumably become a construction site itself some time in the next three years when the rest of the building is turned into an Apple megastore.
But them’s the breaks. I’m hopeful that the history rooms in the suburban libraries in our area will also do what they can for lovers of D.C.’s past during the future disruption.
Led Zeppelin played at the Wheaton Youth Center on Jan. 20, 1969.
Led Zeppelin did not play at the Wheaton Youth Center on Jan. 20, 1969.
Those are the two possibilities. Barring the discovery of a photo of John Bonham standing in front of the Wheaton Youth Center holding up that day’s Washington Post — (“Nixon Will Take Oath Today as U.S. President” was the headline on the lead story) — we may never know for sure.
Well, Jeff Krulik is pretty sure. He’s the local filmmaker who in 2013 released the documentary “Led Zeppelin Played Here.” The conclusion that Jeff reached is kind of telegraphed in the title.
Jeff will screen his captivating film Monday at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland. Afterward, I’m moderating a panel that includes a collection of historians, librarians, archivists and musicologists.
I suppose one of the things we might be talking about is the nature of reality itself. No ticket stubs, news stories or photographs have surfaced from the Zeppelin gig in question. The youth center was demolished last year. Can mere memories serve as “proof”?
Among the panelists is Joanna Love, a musicologist at the University of Richmond who studies contemporary popular music and music in advertising. She said she’s less interested in whether Led Zeppelin actually played at the youth center than with the questions raised by the possibility. Whose narrative do we trust? A rock historian’s? The show promoter’s? An adamant teenager’s?
Love said these questions aren’t new. There are gaps in the histories of many classical composers that scholars attempt to fill in through such things as letters, diaries and tax records. How trustworthy is that documentation?
Like a lot of panels at colleges, this one threatens to raise more questions than it answers, but one thing is for sure: Joanna Love has a PhD, which makes her Dr. Love, like in that song by Kiss.
“I was born with it,” Dr. Love said of her last name. “It came naturally.”
Dr. Love was mum on whether, as Kiss promised, she has the cure I’m thinkin’ of.
The event starts at 5:30 p.m. It’s free, but registration is suggested. Go to theclarice.umd.edu.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.