- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Corcoran Gallery of Art has a noticeably fresher look.

Its marble and granite facades along 17th Street and New York Avenue Northwest have been cleaned, turning the exterior from dingy gray to pristine white. This upgrade is part of an ambitious restoration of the beaux-arts building that is expected to cost about $25 million.

“We are treating the restoration as a series of projects — facades, roof, galleries, [interior] columns — not one single project,” says museum director Paul Greenhalgh. “Some of these have most of their funding in place; others have a significant distance to go before they are fully funded. We have received a number of very major gifts from public and private sources, including $8 million from the D.C. government and a $3 million gift from a private donor.”

The Alexandria office of John Milner Associates Inc., a firm specializing in architectural conservation, is directing the cleaning and repairs. The entire overhaul of the museum is expected to be completed in 2011, depending on the museum’s ability to raise the necessary funds, Mr. Greenhalgh says.

To jump-start the restoration, the Corcoran closed its doors for seven weeks beginning Jan. 26. Visitors to the museum, which reopened March 14, will notice the improved facade as well as newly cleaned limestone columns on the second floor.

The most expensive part of the renovation, expected to cost about $17 million, is the replacement of leaky skylights on the roof with state-of-the-art glass. “The entire roof is a glass system original to the building that is at the end of its life cycle,” says project manager Stan Pitchko of the Christman Co., the Alexandria construction-management firm overseeing the roof and skylight improvements. The last repairs to the roof were made in the early 1980s.

In May, the Christman Co. will start replacing the 31,000 square feet of glass on the roof of the 1897 wing of the museum, designed by architect Ernest Flagg. Rooftop air-handling equipment and copper paneling will be replaced. Historical copper ornaments, including the griffins along the cornice, also will be repaired. Mr. Pitchko says he expects this section of the roof to be completed next year.

Renovation of the remaining 11,000 square feet of rooftop on the southernmost wing still awaits funding.

Meanwhile, the interior is being remodeled to make room for more galleries.

Later this spring, the museum shop will be moved from a room off the ground-floor courtyard to a space at the left of the 17th Street entrance. The store’s former home will be turned into a new gallery for contemporary art in the fall “if sufficient financial support is secured,” Mr. Greenhalgh says.

“During the construction, a kiosk will be established in the atrium to sell exhibition catalogs and other merchandise to our guests,” the museum director says.

Offices and storage rooms now occupying once publicly accessible spaces also will be renovated into galleries and classrooms.

Changing, too, is the Corcoran’s permanent collection. In December, the museum sold six of 10 paintings put up for auction at Christie’s in New York. Among the deaccessioned works is Gilbert Stuart’s 1810 portrait “John Ellery.”

The sale netted about $300,000, according to Mr. Greenhalgh. “This money will be reinvested in the Corcoran collection through acquisitions,” he says.

So far, the museum has used the funds to purchase a 1982 abstraction by contemporary New York artist Terry Winters — which will go on view this summer — and John George Brown’s “Longshoreman,” a study for Brown’s 1879 painting “The Longshoremen’s Noon,” already in the collection.

Other recent acquisitions are the corner tables original to the Salon Dore , an ornate 18th-century interior from a Parisian home that was bequeathed to the Corcoran in 1925 by U.S. Sen. William Clark, Montana Democrat.

To facilitate its ambitious restoration, the museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays and may be shuttered for longer periods in the future. “We might have to selectively close at various moments during the roof replacement, but hopefully not,” Mr. Greenhalgh says. “As a private institution, this is not the best option for us if we can avoid it.”

The upgrade of the museum’s facades continues. The original bronze window grilles will be returned to the exterior openings during April, while the facade along E Street awaits the necessary funds for cleaning.

“We still need to raise a significant amount for various parts of the restoration,” Mr. Greenhalgh says.

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