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The Kennedy Center: A Look at the Proposed Design and the History Behind It

Take a look at the proposed design for the Kennedy Center and the history behind it. Learn how the idea for a national cultural center dates back to 1933 and how it eventually became the Kennedy Center we know today.
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Check out this great find. It’s a rendering of a proposed design for the Kennedy Center, then called the National Cultural Center. It’s actually not terribly different, just with far more curved lines than the boxy shape it takes today.

Proposed design for the Kennedy Center
Proposed design for the Kennedy Center

Not long after it was built, a very curvy Watergate would take up position right next to it.

This drawing was done by Edward Durell Stone, the architect who would design the final building as well as a contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright.

The idea for a national cultural center dates to 1933 when Eleanor Roosevelt discussed ideas for the Emergency Relief and Civil Works Administration to create employment for unemployed actors during the Great Depression.

Congress held hearings in 1935 on plans to establish a Cabinet level Department of Science, Art and Literature, and to build a monumental theater and arts building on Capitol Hill near the Supreme Court building. A congressional resolution called for building a national cultural center near Judiciary Square, but it never happened.

In 1950, Congressman Arthur George Klein of New York introduced a bill to authorize funds to plan and build a cultural center. It included provisions that the center would prohibit any discrimination of cast or audience.

In 1955, the Stanford Research Institute was commissioned to select a site and provide design suggestions for the center. Until 1958, Congress debated the idea until it was finally passed that summer.

On September 4th, President Eisenhower signed into law the National Cultural Center Act which kicked off the process to eventually build what would become The Kennedy Center.

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