The National Theatre, first built in 1835, is the oldest continuously operating organization on Pennsylvania Avenue NW and the second oldest theater in the nation.
It Was Lit
Theater fires were quite common in this era, perhaps unsurprisingly, given the combination of combustible materials used for lighting and highly flammable stage sets. It’s a fate that befell The National Theatre in 1845, when oil from a spotlight set the stage ablaze. It took five years to repair. The theater burned down again in 1885 but reopened later that year.
After renovations in the 1920s, the theater as it stands today was finalized in 1922.
Prior to its integration in 1954, Black patrons were not allowed to attend shows, but Black performers were allowed on stage. In fact, its 1933 run of “The Green Pastures” was the first Broadway production to feature an all-Black cast. The play was written by a white man and was “designed strictly for white patronage.” It was so popular with white audiences that the theater doubled its run. After heated debate, theater management decided to allow an integrated audience for the last show.
The National Theatre is one of many of its kind in DC: A gorgeous landmark encapsulating nearly two centuries of arts and politics, providing the District a rich look at its past while mightily pressing towards the future.