In 2000, the Howard Theatre became the 500th Official Project of Save America’s Treasures. At the time the Howard Theatre had been dark for twenty years and its rebirth and re-opening were still a dream. Yet by raising the profile of this theater with its White House designation by former First Lady Hillary Clinton, community activists, preservationists and local leaders breathed life into their struggle to make the Howard once-again the heart and soul of Washington’s Shaw neighborhood.
Eight years later in 2008, the Howard Theater received a Save America’s Treasures (SAT) grant that cemented the future of its legacy as one of the nation’s most significant incubators and showcases of African-American music from the sounds of Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, the Big Bands of the 30's to the Motown Sound of the 1950s and 60s. By repairing gaping holes in the roof, which had allowed the rain to undermine the walls and turned the interior into a pile of rubble, this grant helped save the structure from total collapse. Once the structure was stabilized, restoring the Howard could begin in earnest
Soon after the announcement of this SAT award, the city’s Historic Preservation Review Board gave its unanimous approval in 2009 for final rehabilitation of the theatre. The final culmination of more than a decade of fundraising and planning ended in April 2012 with a grand re-opening of the theatre—a community celebration with thousands of residents filing through the Howard’s new lobby and 1,200 seat theater space. Although the stage and five Corinthian columns were all that remained of the original interior, the designers recaptured the spirit of its musical past by creating an intimate audience experience. Looking down on the visitors filling the house for its re-opening, were oversize, lighted black-and-white glamour shots of Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Lena Horne, reminders of the theater’s illustrious past.
This community celebration was a fitting tribute to the Howard, which early on had been dubbed the “theatre for the people”. As former First Lady Hillary Clinton remarked in 2000, “The Howard stage welcomed all performers—it was an oasis of diversity and integration where performers of diverse backgrounds could celebrate and share their talents.” Save America’s Treasures played a small, but vital role in ensuring this piece of American history did not disappear by helping the community galvanize support for the rebirth of this iconic performing arts space, which will continue to showcase great musicians and artists.