A Sliver of Tivoli

Friday I was whisked away for a night of last-minute theater in Columbia Heights. I wasn’t too crazy about the production, but it was worth it to see the semi-restored theater space in the Tivoli, long the subject of contention in that neighborhood.

The original theater was a grand vaudeville palace. To create a smaller theater space for the renovation they basically took the top balcony and built a floor under it, so that part of the original ceiling, an impressive dome, is over the audience and the stage. It’s so close in places that you can really admire the intricate detail. I’m not sure why the paint is peeling given the fact that the renovation was recent, perhaps it’s the bright stage lights so close to the ceiling, but in any case it adds to the sense of faded grandeur.

Be sure to go up to the elevated side seats and sneak past the gate of the catwalk, so you can lean over and check out the murals on the dome – signs of the Zodiac, rather faint but still visible. Extremely cool.

Afterwards I did feel a bit sad, thinking of the lost architectural treasures in the city. There’s a Giant now sticking out of the Tivoli’s side, and across the street they’re clearing the way for the usual suspects of corporate shopping conglomerates.

More often than not we lose our historic buildings due to that infuriating inferiority complex which makes us craven with developers – give them whatever they want, just please build that Target! We almost lost the Tivoli in this mad dash for surburban-style big box development – the whole building might have met its fate by bulldozer, and several bids only wanted the facade. Though I’m haunted by the possibility of the entire theater being reclaimed instead of just a sliver, it’s heartening that some part of its past glory was saved.

And it certainly made for a wistful DC night, peering at the half-lit friezes of laughing satyrs.

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