Lisner Auditorium

From GW Encyclopedia

Andy Williams, Robert Kennedy, Perry Como, Ted Kennedy, and Eddie Fisher singing at a telethon at Lisner, 1968
Lisner at night, 1946



Title: Lisner Auditorium

Address: 730 21st Street, N.W.

Square and lot, bordering streets: Square 79, lot 6 (G, H, 21st, 22nd Streets)

Architect: Faulkner and Kingsbury

Date of construction: 1941-43

Original owner: George Washington University

Architectural Description: Lisner Auditorium was designed by the architectural firm of Faulkner and Kingsbury and built by the Charles H. Tompkins Company. The auditorium contains a mural by Augustus Vincent Track, and was opened (for commercial use) in the fall of 1946. The facility could then seat 1,550, and it contained ultra-light modern light and sound systems as well as a huge 59-foot stage, said to be the largest south of New York City. Mrs. Susan Whitney Dimock also bequeathed money for the Dimock Gallery, located next to the lower Lisner Lounge.

Composed of limestone, the spare, even extreme, design removes Lisner Auditorium from the realm of the common stripped classicism of the period. While its inspiration is classical, the architects abstracted the design to its empirical geometric element, the cube. The architects repeated the rectilinear lines in the portico where the post and lintel system and monumental scale only suggest its classical roots. The polished metal vent to the left of the entrance and the paneled door on the H Street facade provide the only breaks in the taut surface. This building stands as a bold geometric expression and the University's outstanding contribution to modern architecture.

Historic designation: DC Landmark, 1/18/87; National Landmark, 10/25/90


The auditorium was named for the donor, Abram Lisner, a merchant, philanthropist, and University Trustee (1909-17, 1919-1938). He bequeathed money in his will for the construction of the Lisner Auditorium. The cornerstone was laid in 1941 and construction completed in 1943. For many years it hosted GW’s commencement exercises, and in the days before the Kennedy Center, it was the major focus of Washington's theater scene.

Lisner was the epicenter of a major fight for desegregation in Washington. Read more about it here: Lisner Auditorium segregation controversy, 1946

Since the 1940s, Lisner has hosted world famous musicians, singers, dancers, and entertainers. The diverse list of performers includes the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, David Byrne, Chick Corea, Jay Leno, Miriam Makeba, Bonnie Raitt, Pete Seeger, Andres Segovia, Jon Stewart, and Matthew Sweet.

Document Information

Images: 2
Photographic Credit: GW University Historical Photographs Collection
Author or Source: Application for Historic Buildings Registry/RG0031
Document Location: University Archives
Date Added to Encyclopedia: December 21, 2006, last updated October 25, 2011
Prepared by: Lyle Slovick

For more information about GW history


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