Corcoran Gallery of Art and Corcoran College of Art + Design, Corcoran Gallery of Art building and grounds records
Scope and Contents
The Building & Grounds Records contain informative but often scattered and incomplete accounts of building & grounds activities at the Gallery. One can posit two basic reasons for the incomplete nature of these records. Until recent years, most if not all decisions regarding construction, repair, and renovation activities at the Corcoran were carried out by either the Trustee Building & Grounds Committee or by the Gallery's Director. It was not until the 1960s that a staff member was made solely and specifically responsible for building & grounds maintenance. As a result, many of the materials regarding such activities are located not in this record group but in the Trustee or Director's records. In addition, it is probable that building & grounds materials, especially those considered routine or mundane, were discarded before the establishment of the Corcoran Archives.
It is fortunate that, among the records which have survived, are materials regarding two crucial events in the Corcoran's history: the construction of the present building and the addition of the Clark Wing. The records regarding these two Construction projects varied and numerous.
Records regarding the construction of the present building include two bound volumes of Trustee meeting minutes, contractors' construction estimates and architect's specifications for the building, one scrapbook on the building, and architectural drawings. The Trustee meeting minutes, which date from 1890 to 1899, chronicle the activities and concerns of both the Building & Grounds Committee and a special committee on the new building. The scrapbook provides photos and clippings of progress made during construction as well as detailed accounts of the building's formal opening and early exhibitions held there. Architect Ernest Flagg's specifications for electricity, heating, iron work, masonry, and plumbing and various contractor bids for this work from 1894-1895 provide an important record of the building's architectural details. Together with the original Flagg architectural drawings, plans, and blueprints (also located in this record group), they offer a written and visual record of the building, before, during, and immediately after its completion.
However, researchers are advised to consult other record groups for complete information regarding the new building's construction. The Director's correspondence, especially that portion which is arranged numerically, contains a large amount of correspondence with architect Flagg as well as the construction company in charge of the building project. The Trustee records include reports from the Building and Grounds Committee concerning activities and progress made on the building. The Special Events Records include one volume of lists of those invited to the building's formal opening. Finally, Finance Records feature one volume on the cost of construction of the new gallery from 1893-1897. The Finance Records also contain materials concerning the purchase of the land on which the present gallery stands.
The records also provide information on the construction of the Clark Wing, contained in the correspondence and architectural drawings. The correspondence includes letters to and from the wing's architect Charles Platt as well as with the James Baird Co., contractors for the project. Also extant are contracts with the Baird Co. for the two stages of the construction work and several of Platt's drawings for the annex.
Much of the material regarding the Clark Wing is located in other record groups. The material on the Clark Bequest, located in the Registrar's Records, contains Trustee activities, agreements with Clark family members, and other items which contribute details for the building plans. The Trustee Records likewise include important information in its meeting minutes and reports. Finance Records also include pertinent information in its Clark Building Maintenance Fund materials.
Materials regarding building & grounds concerns other than these two construction projects are sparse for this period. The records contain little information on the more routine aspects of building & grounds maintenance before 1960. They do contain some correspondence and contracts with the utilities and other services & companies from 1920 through the 1950s, but such materials are scattered and sparse. In addition, some information regarding roof repair work done in 1921 and lighting work done in 1933 is included.
From the late 1950s to the present, the amount, diversity and subject content of the building & grounds records increases greatly, offering a more complete account of the activities concerning the Gallery building and its grounds. Trustee committee reports appear regularly in these records beginning in 1951. (Building & Grounds Committee meeting minutes, however, are not a standard feature of these records lmtil 1975.) The correspondence materials include a substantial number of letters to & from Frederick Bradley, who was a long-standing member of the Building & Grounds Committee. The correspondence highlights the major and minor concerns and activities of the Trustees as regards the building from 1954 until 1970. Architectural drawings continue to complement the written records with various plans, sketches, and blueprints of actual and proposed renovations and repairs.
A large portion of the records from the later 1950s to the present are made up of subject files regarding various proposed and actual maintenance & repair activities and special projects. The records reveal and increased concern over space problems as well as an escalated reliance on the gallery staff for handling building & grounds matters. Important renovations and projects covered by the records include the installation of air-conditioning, extension of the art school and renovation of its space, renovation made to the auditorium, basement, main entrance, parking lot improvements, and roof of the main (Flagg) building. Information for this period is also available on proposed renovation to the atrium and Gallery 30, construction proposals which accompanied the Edith Halpert Bequest proposal, architectural surveys & reports from the firm of Faulkner, Kingsbury, & Stenhouse (later Faullmer, Fryer & Vanderpool), and recent proposals for future building additions.
Although the building & grounds records are more extensive for the years mentioned, researchers should continue to use the Trustee Records meeting minutes and reports for a complete account of building & grounds matters.
Conditions Governing Access
This collection is open to research.
When conducting research within The Corcoran Archives collections, pleased be advised of the following exceptions:
Records of the Board of Trustees (RG 1.0) and records of the Office of the Director (RG 2.0) are closed to research for 25 years from the date of creation.
Development records are closed to research (RG 3.2).
Access to student records is governed by the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which protects the privacy of student education records. Student records are closed for the lifetime of the student, and are presumed to be open 75 years after the date of record creation (RG 9.0 Series 4).
Personnel and financial records are closed for 50 years from date of record creation (RG 4.0).
Please see the Public Services and Instruction Librarian for assistance.
Conditions Governing Use
To the extent that the institution owns copyright, the donor has assigned the copyright in its works to The George Washington University; however, copyright in other items in this collection may be held by their respective creators. For activities that the researcher determines fall under fair use as defined under U.S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. Please contact Special Collections if the copyright status of the materials you wish to reuse is unclear. Staff will provide additional information. For re-use of materials in the collection not created by the donor, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights, determining if the intended re-use falls under fair use, and obtaining approval from the copyright holder if the intended use does not fall under fair use. For such materials, researchers do not need anything further from The George Washington University’s Special Collections Research Center.
The first section of this history, covering events through 1981, was prepared by Corcoran Archivist Katherine M. Kovocs for publication in 1985 with the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The Gallery building has undergone two major changes since the Gallery's founding in 1869. When the Gallery moved in 1897 from its original location [at 17th and Pennsylvania Ave.] to its present quarters at 17th and N.Y. Ave., the Corcoran and the cultural life in Washington, D.C. entered a new era. The construction of the Clark Wing, which opened in 1928, constituted a second important structural change for the Corcoran.
The construction of the present building came about because of the substantial growth of the Gallery and the School during the 1880s. By the end of that decade the Trustees recognized the gravity of the Gallery's space problem. At that time they attempted to purchase land adjacent to the Gallery, initially planning to expand the original building. When this effort to acquire adjacent land failed, their search for real estate broadened, and on 18 April 1891 the Trustees purchased a lot at the corner of 17th and New York Ave., two blocks south of the original building's location.
Soon after acquiring this lot, the Trustees began an extensive search for a building architect. Several architects volunteered to submit plans or were commissioned to do so by the Board. After an inspection of the architectural drawings offered and requests for modifications, the Board selected N.Y. architect Ernest Flagg's drawing as "the one which best fills all the requirements, and provides a beautiful, refined and artistic front elevation." Flagg, who had graduated from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1888, had been suggested to the Board as early as May 1891. And although the Board seems to have favored Flagg's renditions from the start, it was not until the Spring of 1893 that the Trustees made their final decision.
Excavation and foundation work on the building began on 22 June 1893. The cornerstone was laid on 10 May 1894 - the 25th anniversary of Mr. Corcoran's deeding the Gallery to the Board of Trustees. Contractors then submitted bids for the Gallery's superstructure, with the firm of Norcross Brothers winning the contract. Architect Flagg and his assistants coordinated and supervised all construction activities along with a supervisor hired by the Trustees. The building was scheduled for completion by 1 December 1895 but was not finished until January 1897. At that time the keys to the new building were given to the Curator and the old gallery building was closed to the public. The following month was spent in transferring the collection of art works from the old to the new building and in preparing for the new Gallery's opening. The formal opening of the Gallery building took place on 22 February 1897 with thousands of guests attending, including President Grover Cleveland. The Gallery opened officially to the public on 24 February 1897.
The addition of a new wing to the Gallery was a result of Montana copper magnate William A. Clark's bequest of his collection to the Gallery in 1925. An addition to the main building was necessary to properly maintain and exhibit the collection. The Gallery's Director consulted with New York architect Charles Platt regarding plans for a new wing even before the Corcoran Trustees had officially accepted the Clark bequest. Platt was already reputed as a museum architect for his designing of the Freer Gallery in Washington, D.C. as well as other galleries. He had periodically exhibited his paintings and etchings at the Corcoran and, in addition, had renovated the interior of the main building some years earlier.
After inspecting the Clark collection and receiving preliminary estimates regarding construction costs, the Board of Trustees formally accepted the Clark collection on 31 July 1925. Platt's appointment as architect, which had depended on a positive Trustee vote, was officially secured. The James Baird Co. was awarded the contract for construction of the new wing on 25 October 1925. On 10 December 1925 the Clark family donated $700,000 to the Corcoran for the erection of the Clark addition.
The Trustees had planned since the 1890s to make the fullest use possible of the property surrounding the new gallery's building. As early as 1926 they realized that it was necessary to construct a larger annex to the Gallery than the 1925 Platt plans specified. Accordingly, Platt changed his initial plans so that they called for a double rather than single annex to be added onto the original building. The Trustees approved the double wing plans on 10 February 1926. The first addition extended along the "L" Street portion of the Corcoran lot while the second, smaller addition continued along the western border of the Gallery's property. (Platt also drew up plans for construction along the New York Avenue property line of the gallery, but these plans were never realized.) The James Baird Co. was contracted a second time to construct this new annex.
Both new portions of the building were completed in January 1928. During the next few months a special Trustee Committee went about making plans for the formal opening. The opening took place on 10 March 1928 with President Coolidge and the Clark family in attendance.
Besides these construction projects, the Gallery building has also undergone various periods of renovation and repair, especially in more recent years. General maintenance projects concerning the building's lighting, plumbing, and heating facilities have been carried out over the years. Major renovation projects have also been realized, including extension of the art school; auditorium & basement innovation; the parking lot project; renovation to the Gallery's main entrance, lobby, and gift shop; roof repairs; and, most recently, the installation of a central air-conditioning system.
The Gallery Trustees have maintained an active role in all construction, repair, and renovation decisions, relying to a large extent on the activities and reports of the Trustee Building & Grounds Committee. Although the Corcoran Gallery staff has contributed significantly over the years to these decisions, staff members have been more directly responsible for the daily, routine activities relating to the Corcoran building & grounds.
The following section of this history was prepared in 2019 by George Washington University SCRC staff with the support of the Luce Foundation.
Between 1985 and 2014, a number of renovation and expansion projects proposed and planned by the Corcoran were ultimately cancelled due to financial constraints and disagreements. In the mid-to-late 1980s, the Corcoran planned to build a revenue-generating building adjacent to its building at 17th and New York Avenue NW, on land then a parking lot. The building, intended for lease by commercial office tenants, was designed by Washington architecture firm Hartman-Cox in a style similar to that of Ernest Flagg’s Beaux-Arts design. In 1989, complications with the Corcoran Gallery’s roof, as well as a lack of a major tenant, slowed progress on the building project. These plans for the new building were put on hold and ultimately abandoned.
In 1991, David Levy was appointed director of the Corcoran and refocused efforts to expand the Corcoran building on an adjacent lot. This expansion project, in contrast to the earlier lot development plans, aimed to create space for Corcoran school classrooms, new administrative offices, expanded galleries, and a conservation laboratory. A committee of the Corcoran considered a field of 200 applicants, and in 1999 the Gallery announced that Architect Frank Gehry had been selected to design the new wing.
Frank Gehry’s avant-garde design would have arched over the existing Corcoran building, using the adjoining lot owned by the Corcoran as its base and altering the Clark Wing. Construction of the Gehry wing was also to include necessary repair work for the 1897 Flagg building. A federally-appointed Commission of Fine Arts approved Gehry’s design in 2003. In 2004, the Council of the District of Columbia authorized $40 million in tax increment financing to support the future growth of the Corcoran, including plans for the renovation of the old building and construction of the Gehry wing. In 2005, the Corcoran Board of Trustees announced that, due to financial impossibility, plans were suspended for the Gehry addition and focus would turn to renovations of the 1897 building. In 2010, the Corcoran announced the lease of its adjacent property, formerly intended as expansion space, for an office building project of Carr Properties.
Throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s, the Corcoran struggled to find and maintain adequate space for the growing Corcoran School and rented various properties for use as additional office, classroom, and library space. In 1997, The Corcoran acquired the Fillmore School building, a public school located at 1801 35th St. NW, from the D.C. government. This red brick Victorian building in Georgetown served as a space for classrooms and studios for the Corcoran College, which was experiencing increases in enrollment in the 1990s. A long-term plan for the Fillmore included transitioning from a Corcoran College space to a center for continuing education and community outreach programming, given planned expansion of the addition to the Corcoran Gallery.
In 2006, the Corcoran purchased the Randall School building, at 65 I St. SW, from the D.C. government and hired a developer to design and create additional space for Corcoran College facilities, including student studios and classrooms, and for converted apartments. Plans also included space for the Corcoran’s community and art education programs, as well as for private studios and exhibition space for local artists. The Corcoran’s deal with the developer eventually fell through due to a change in financial backing, and in 2010 the Corcoran sold the vacant building.
In the early 2010s, the Corcoran Gallery, financially struggling, looked for strategies and guidance from consultants to improve its long-term planning and well-being. Due to prolonged financial constraints and a lack of adequate funding to make required repairs and renovations, in 2012 the Board of Trustees considered selling the Corcoran building and relocating the collection. In 2013, the Corcoran announced a plan to pursue a partnership with the University of Maryland, but the institutions ultimately did not move forward with this plan.
In 2014, the Corcoran Gallery of Art ceased operations and was dissolved. The art collection was acquired by the National Gallery of Art. The Corcoran College of Art + Design, the Flagg building, and the Fillmore School building were acquired by George Washington University. The D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board designated most of the Flagg building interior as historic in 2015. George Washington University sold the Fillmore School building in Georgetown to the S&R Foundation in 2015.
From 2015-2018, George Washington University carried out renovations and repairs to the 1897 Flagg building, including the installation of fire suppression systems, life safety systems, code-required fresh air ventilation, new mechanical units, and well as accessibility features throughout the building. Select classroom spaces were also renovated.
Corcoran Buildings and Grounds Timeline
- William W. Corcoran commissions architect James Renwick, Jr. to design a public museum to display his collection of American art. This building is to be the first in the United States designed expressly as an art museum.
- The Corcoran Gallery of Art (today the Renwick Gallery) is erected at 17th and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
- 1861 August 22
- The unfinished Corcoran Gallery of Art building is seized by the United States Army for use as a storage warehouse for the records and uniforms for the Quartermaster General’s Corps.
- Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs clears and converts The Corcoran Gallery of Art building into his headquarters office.
- General Montgomery C. Meigs vacates the building following the end of the war. The United States government maintains control of the building.
- The United States returns control of The Renwick Gallery to William W. Corcoran.
- 1869 May 10
- Corcoran deeds the building, grounds, and a private collection valued at $100,000 to the nine members of a self-perpetuating Board of Trustees.
- A Committee on the Building is established with the proposal and approval of bylaws and Administrative structure by the Board of Trustees.
- The Corcoran Gallery is chartered and exempted from taxes by an Act of Congress.
- 1874 January 19
- The Corcoran Gallery of Art formally opens its doors.
- Plans are approved for a School building annex behind the Gallery.
- Corcoran School of Art building formally opened with two instructors and forty students.
- 1891 April 18
- The Trustees, finding that the gallery has outgrown the Renwick building, purchase a lot a few blocks south at 17th Street and New York Avenue.
- 1893 June
- Ground is broken at 17th Street New York Avenue for a new Beaux-Arts building designed by architect Ernest Flagg to house both the museum and the school.
- 1894 May 10
- The cornerstone of the new Corcoran Gallery is laid on the 25th anniversary of W.W. Corcoran’s deeding the Gallery to the Board of Trustees.
- 1897 February 22
- The formal opening of the new Corcoran Gallery, designed by Ernest Flagg and housing the Gallery and School, takes place with thousands of guests in attendance, including President Grover Cleveland.
- 1897 February 24
- The new Corcoran Gallery officially opens to the public.
- Hemicycle Hall is remodeled from an auditorium to gallery space for special temporary exhibitions.
- The old Corcoran Gallery, designed by James Renwick, Jr., is sold to the United States Government.
- Hemicycle Hall is converted from one to two stories. The upper room is used for special exhibitions and the lower used as an auditorium.
- The exhibition gallery for sculpture is remodeled to provide proper lighting and pedestals.
- 1925 July 31
- The Board accepts the bequest of former trustee Montana Senator William Andrews Clark’s collection of art.
- 1925 October 25
- The James Baird Co. is awarded the contract for construction of the new Clark Wing.
- 1925 December 10
- The Clark family donates $700,000 for construction of a wing to house the Clark Collection.
- The Board approves plans and construction for the Clark Wing, designed by architect Charles A. Platt.
- 1928 March 10
- The formal opening of the Clark Wing and new addition takes place, with President Coolidge and the Clark family in attendance.
- The Clark family donates a $400,000 endowment for upkeep and maintenance of the Clark Collection and Wing.
- Four rooms in the Gallery are lent to the D.C. chapter of the Red Cross for war work.
- Substantial physical improvements are made in the School. All rooms are painted, new men’s washroom added, dressing rooms for models built, and a common room for students created.
- The Flagg Building receives D.C. historic landmark status.
- The Flagg Building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
- The entire Corcoran Gallery building, including the Clark Wing, is designated as a National Historic Landmark.
- The Corcoran acquires the Fillmore School building, a public school located at 1801 35th St. NW, from the D.C. government for use as space for The Corcoran College of Art + Design.
- The Corcoran purchases the Randall School building from the D.C. government with plans to develop the building for additional school facilities and as a community art space.
- The Corcoran closes for several weeks to carry out roof repairs. The facade of the building is restored.
- The Corcoran sells the Randall School property to a partnership of the D.C. development firm Telesis and art collectors Mera and Don Rubell's CACG Holdings.
- The Corcoran leases its adjacent property to Carr Properties, which controls the property through a long-term ground lease.
- The Corcoran Board of Trustees considers selling its building and relocating.
- The Corcoran Gallery of Art ceases operations. George Washington University acquires the Corcoran College of Art + Design, the Flagg building, and the Fillmore School building.
- George Washington University sells the Fillmore School building to the S&R Foundation.
- The D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board designates most of the Flagg building’s interior as historic.
177 Linear Feet
Language of Materials
Organized into 13 series: Building and grounds committee [legacy series], Building and grounds committee, Correspondence [legacy series], Correspondence, Architect specifications & contractor estimates, Maintenance and repair, Special projects [legacy series], Special projects Architectural drawings, Ephemera, Personnel records, Operations, and Administrative records
Some materials are stored off-site, and will require additional retrieval time. Please contact the Special Collections Research Center for more information.
The Building & Grounds Records were transferred to the Archives from the Office of the Building Projects Director, art storage, and various other storage areas from 1980 to the present.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The Corcoran Institution Board of Trustees donated these records to The George Washington University in 2016.
During processing some materials were removed from the records and placed in more appropriate locations:
Material Type New Location Photographs Archives Audio-Visual Records Wall coverings Archives Artifacts Gallery molding Archives Artifacts
- Guide to the Corcoran Gallery of Art and Corcoran College of Art + Design, Corcoran Gallery of Art buildings and grounds records, 1870-2007
- Finding aid prepared by University Archives, Special Collections Research Center, The George Washington University
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Finding aid written in English