The Warner Theatre is one of the most important historical locations in the DMV area due to its timeless essence and the role it has played in the entertainment industry. Moreover, the theatre has gone through three renovations, experienced different political climates, and seen the population of D.C. change. The theatre opened in the 1920’s, while the Harlem Renaissance was occurring, prohibition was starting, and women were given the right to vote. The Warner Theatre has had hundreds of big name performers grace it’s stage ranging from Duke Ellington to the Rolling Stones. The Warner Theatre was defined by racial relations in the area and it played a major role in the way the theatre evolved.
Race/social economic has played a role in the built environment surrounding the theatre due to The Warner Theatre is located in downtown D.C., walking distance from the Federal Triangle and Metro Center metro stops. Today, there are various office spaces, restaurants and storefronts surrounding the area. This neighborhood is filled with business people, skateboarders, and working class citizens. This area use to be more heavily populated with clubs and fancy restaurants, according to the Warner Theatre’s current production manager Matt Defillipos. In the past 100 years, the theatre’s surroundings have changed drastically and shifted from a glamorous area to a business hub. The area use to be the main entertainment hub in D.C. and has shifted due to the new need for more skyscrapers filled with office spaces. Also, the Warner theatre is a 5 minute walk from the Ford Theatre and a 10 minute drive from the Lincoln theatre and Ford’s theatre, so there’s still some music related spaces nearby.
Renovations have played another part in the advancement of the Warner Theatre. I visited the site about five times and was only able to go into the theatre once for about 10 minutes. The theatre is not open to the public unless there’s a show going on. The interior and exterior of the theatre has not changed that much since the 1920’s, but the theatre has been renovated to fit the entertainment trends of the time period. For example, in the 1940’s the theatre closed so the Warner Brothers could install the convented Cinerama. This film invention took the Warner to a new level and brought in many more people. The exterior of the theatre has remained the same since a renovation in the 1990’s. The interior of the theatre has an ageless vibe with dark red curtains, gold accents, and velveted covered seats. This semester, I had a great time digging into the history of the theatre and figuring out what defined it’s growth.
The Warner Theatre originally stuck out to me due to it’s history and importance in the entertainment industry. As my research and project developed, I saw how race and renovations of the space played a large role in the evolution of the theatre. Race stuck out to me in particular and has guided my final aspect of my project. Moreover, the Warner Theatre didn’t succumb to segregation in all regards during the 1940’s-1960’s, but it was not an advocate for equal rights, even in the arts. The theatre allowed African American performers, but kept an all white audience until the late 1950’s. The Warner allowed these performers to showcase their talent through jazz music and dancing, but did not see it fitting to have a mixed race audience. At the same time, African American theaters like the Howard were trying to use their regulars and performers to demonstrate the issues with segregation and the important roles African American culture played in the industry and society as a whole. It was extremely interesting to me to see how this white owned theatre reacted during the Harlem Renaissance and segregation. The Warner Theatre wasn’t bluntly against integration based on the amount of popular African Americans who performed during this time period, but they were not promoting it either. I wanted to look at the racial relations within the theatre and see any trends, as well as the evolution.
For part one of my final project, I decided to create a visual timeline of the Warner Theatre in relation with facts about people of color performing, their influence on the theatre, and how segregation effected the theatre. I created a simple layout based on the knowledge I researched that seemed most important. I used photoshop and made a simple, but appealing timeline. This timeline summarizes the bulk of my research and gives a person who has no prior knowledge on the Warner Theatre a basic idea of it.
For part two of my final project, I decided to create a compilation video of the Warner Theatre of current videos and photos. My goal with this video was to give my audience an idea of what the theatre looked like and it’s vibe, if they had never been there before. I was able to visit the theatre’s interior due to the Production Manager Matt Defillipos. The background song “Rollcall” by Goldlink discusses the DMV area and how it’ll always be home to him. He is an emerging African American artist and I wouldn’t be surprised if he performed at the Warner Theatre one day. Overall, the goal of my video was to showcase the interior and exterior of the Warner Theatre today, while comparing it to some photos of the site before the 3 renovations.
This project taught me importance of racial relations and spatial relations. The Warner Theatre’s environment has drastically changed over the course of the 100 years it has existed in D.C. The theatre has seen different political climates and has had to adapt to new trends in the industry quickly. Today not many people know it exists, let alone it’s significance to the entertainment industry in D.C. Without pioneering theatres like the Warner, venues like the 930 Club and Echostage would have been brought up differently in D.C.