The Restoration Process
Over 2009–11, the Corcoran underwent a major restoration of its historic beaux arts façade. This project not only returned the stone and metalwork to its original beauty; it protects and preserves the art treasures inside.
Designed by Ernest Flagg, the building opened to the public in 1897, with President Grover Cleveland and his cabinet in attendance at the festivities. The basement level of the building is constructed of Pink Milford granite, while the upper levels are brick faced with White Georgia Cherokee marble. Over the years, pollution and the elements have taken their toll on the building materials. During restoration, the façade was cleaned, deteriorated copper and marble beaux arts ornament were conserved, and masonry joints and cracks were sealed to prevent moisture penetration into the building.
The cleaning process consisted of a water nebulization (misting) system that slowly and gently removed general soiling as well as the black gypsum crust and the greenish areas of biological growth (such as lichen) that had formed on the marble. The ornamental bronze grates on the first-floor windows were removed and restored offsite. Cross-section analysis of the wood coatings revealed the original dark gray color that was used to repaint the window trim.
The Corcoran also replaced the roof of its historic building, much of which was original to the 1897 construction of the building. Covering approximately 48,000 square feet—85 percent of which is glass—the roof’s multifaceted structure includes varying types of construction, drainage, and elevations. Further complexities were added to the design by later replacements and alterations, including the addition of a wing along E Street in 1927. No comprehensive repair program had been undertaken to address the roof and skylights since the early 1980s. This important project succeeded in sealing off the building from moisture, controlling the light and heat transmitted into the interior, and updating the climate control equipment located in the attic. The flat roof was replaced, and the elaborate skylight system was retrofitted with state-of-the-art glass panes that control the heat and light transmitted into the galleries. Underneath the skylights, ventilation in the expansive attic was upgraded to allow for better and more cost-effective control of the interior environment. Air handlers on the roof were replaced, and duct work was re-routed. The aged copper paneling on the roof was replaced with copper, which initially has a reddish brown appearance. Within a few years, the panels will begin to take on the greenish appearance that is such a familiar part of the building. As with any project of this nature, the Corcoran took great care to ensure that all historically significant architectural elements were conserved.
Support for this project was provided by the government of the District of Columbia, Save America’s Treasures program of the National Park Service, The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, The Philip L. Graham Fund, The D.C. Commission on the Arts & Humanities, The Prince Charitable Trusts, an anonymous donor, Tourism Cares, and the Gradison Foundation. In addition, individual support was provided by Ronald Abramson, Cherrie and Bud Doggett, and John T. Hazel Jr.