Shakespeare and Ray Charles Were Here

In normal times, a shuttered and decaying theater on one of DC's main corridors would be unusual, even alarming.  Though normal times these are not, the site of a decaying outdoor theater in one of the nation's great parks is an arresting vision, and while the world searches for outdoor venues as safe havens of fresh, virus-free air, the city's preeminent outdoor theater, tucked benignly into the 16 Street Heights area of Rock Creek Park, is gradually decaying in silent abandonment.

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Closed in the spring of 2017, the victim not of age or accident, but of an engineering study finding that the stage did not meet updated building codes and was therefore not safe for supporting the plays performed since 1950, the theater was locked down pending an upgrade to the stage floor.  Built in celebration of the sesquicentennial (150th) anniversary of the nation and christened by President Harry S Truman, and by the Executive Vice Chairman of the commission dedicated to commemorate the anniversary, Carter T. Barron.  Shortly after its opening, the latter died of cancer and the theater was renamed in his honor, and before long hosted Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, Diana Ross, Harry Belafonte and Ray Charles.

The riots of '68 saw a change of fortune for the Carter Barron Amphitheater, but the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Kool and the Gang still made appearances, though it was not until 1991, when updates to the facility, a group of benefactors and a popular DC Shakespeare production brought crowds back to venue in the park, with the seating completely rebuilt in 2004.  Little has changed since 1950, with a stage curtain added, then removed, though weeds and graffiti are now slowly winning the battle of attrition, with no anticipated date for necessary upgrades.

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