For Royce Blackmon, 55, it was a trip down memory lane when she recently toured the interior of the Howard Theatre, one of the oldest performing art halls for African American culture.

“I remember when I was six years old standing right here with my brother, Robbie and my father when he took us to see a movie,” said Blackmon in admiration. “It still has that feeling of intimacy. The interior is very regal looking and fitting for this great monument to Black performers of the past.”

With more than 80 percent of the work completed, interior and exterior finishes are now underway, including the special effort to reconstruct the 1910 façade with its original 17 windows.?There will be a grand opening gala and tribute concert on April 12 with unprecedented performances.

Each day the team of construction workers led by Ellis Development Group pushes forward on the $29 million renovation of the historic arts landmark that launched the careers of Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, and many others.

The theater also hosted renowned speakers like Booker T. Washington as well as musicals, road shows, vaudeville acts, dance routines, theater productions, community programs, music performances, and comedy shows.

Before the Apollo and the Regal, there was The Howard Theatre. It was the largest “colored” theater in the world. Sadly shuttered and neglected since the early 1980s, the once majestic building with its “trunk of soul” has been reborn in 2012.

“The design of Howard Theatre required a keen sensitivity to the remnants of the historic core of the theater.  The damages from abandonment and weather presented several obstacles, including a limitation of the amount of preservation that could be done,” said Michael Marshall, designer and partner, Michael Marshall of Marshall Moya Design, LLC.

The technical requirements brought the theater up-to-date, including state-of-the-art systems to enhance the venue for the contemporary comfort of patrons.  

“When we first came inside there was huge damage due to years of neglect and a collapsed roof. It was an infested mess with piles of seats and pigeon droppings decayed over 30 years,” said Paola Moya, project manager for the Howard Theatre project and a partner of the Marshall Moya Design, LLC. “The new interior enhances the original design. It is breathtaking from any angle of the theater. This will be the largest restaurant-styled theater in the region.”

From the stage a performer can visualize everyone in the audience. The audience will be captivated by the view of the stage and others in attendance.

“Our goal was to protect and restore as much of the theater’s original special configuration as we could,” said Marshall. “We aligned our design with the original architecture and positioning inside the historical shell of the theater. We wanted to revive the theater while preserving the history and elegance with a 21st century means of expression.”

The new interior features include:
-12,172 square foot, contemporary design two-story theater and restaurant
-New dome ceilings and balconies in the same place as the original theater with multi-colored, LED hanging lights
-Stage house roof
-Two DJ Booths
-Light box images, illuminating pictures of historical artists
-A variety of seating styles: banquet-style seating on the main floor, booth seating, theater style seats on the second floor balcony, lounges on the side balconies, and bar seating on the first and second floor
-Hydraulic lift that allows easy movement of furniture including tables and chairs to be moved to the basement for easy storage, occasional dance floor
-Large projection screens on either side of the stage and large screen monitors throughout the venue
-Two 20 ft. bars and a fully equipped restaurant kitchen
-Green rooms for the performers and artists
-New state-of-the-art basement

The exterior renovations include replacement of five columns that look like the originals and upgrading and rehabilitation of surrounding streets and alleys and the development of Ellington Plaza.

“Reopening this theater is very healing for native Washingtonians. The old school patrons will come for nothing else but nostalgia,” said Blackmon.