History of Strathmore

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MONTGOMERY COUNTY’S HOME FOR THE ARTS

The story of Strathmore as a destination for the arts begins in 1979, when Montgomery County acquired the Mansion and 11 acres of land. Originally built in 1899, the Mansion at Strathmore has a rich history that includes serving as home to prominent Washingtonians, government headquarters during wartime, and even a convent.

Shortly after Montgomery County acquired the Mansion, it was renamed Strathmore Hall and an agreement was made with the newly created Strathmore Hall Foundation, Incorporated to develop the Mansion and grounds as Montgomery County’s first center for the arts. Eliot Pfanstiehl, who worked as the arts coordinator at the Montgomery County Department of Recreation, was chosen to lead the new nonprofit. After extensive restoration, the Mansion at Strathmore opened its doors to the public in 1983.

When Strathmore opened on Friday, June 24, 1983 Montgomery County Executive Charles Gilchrist called it “the largest cooperative arts project in the history of the county. It signals the beginning of a shared responsibility between the private and public sectors to enhance the cultural environment of the county for all citizens. The arts are not for the privileged, but for the many.”

Throughout the 1980s the Mansion at Strathmore hosted numerous art exhibitions in its galleries, concerts in the Music Room, and Afternoon Tea.

The arts are not for the privileged, but for the many.

Former Montgomery County Executive Charles Gilchrist

EXPANDING OPPORTUNITIES


In 1988, Strathmore dedicated the Gudelsky Gazebo to celebrate its 5th anniversary. The University of Maryland School of Architecture held a design competition for the space and the winning design—a classically styled, 6-column, copper-roofed structure—now graces the north lawn at Strathmore. The Gazebo has allowed Strathmore to produce free concerts for the community for over 30 years.

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A free outdoor concert at Strathmore’s Gudelsky Gazebo by Andrew Propp

In 1996, the Mansion closed for a $3.2 million, year-long renovation to add 30% more space to the building and create the new, 4-room Gudelsky Gallery Suite. This 4-story wing houses the Lockheed Martin Conference Room, the expanded Gift Shop and Invitational Gallery, and administrative offices. Outside, the Mansion façade was improved, and the Sculpture Garden was created, siting 23 works by 19 artists along a path winding through 11 acres of landscaped grounds.

BIG STAGE, BRIGHT LIGHTS

Strathmore is a tangible realization of the creative dreams of a community. From the opening of Strathmore Hall in 1983 through 2004, Strathmore welcomed more than 2 million patrons and 5,000 artists to events including indoor and outdoor concerts, arts exhibitions, festivals, and lectures.

In April 2001, a long-time dream was realized when Strathmore broke ground on a new 1,976-seat concert hall and education center—the Music Center at Strathmore. This public/private venture was led by Strathmore and founding partner the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra; constructed with funding from the State of Maryland and Montgomery County; and established with generous support from corporate, foundation, and individual philanthropists.

The Music Center at Strathmore is enlivened by a collection of vibrant artistic and education partners including the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, National Philharmonic, Levine Music, CityDance, and Washington Performing Arts.

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The Music Center at Strathmore during construction in 2003.

William Rawn Associates Architects, Inc., acousticians Kirkegaard Associates, theater designers Theatre Project Consultants—the same team that designed Seiji Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood for the Boston Symphony Orchestra—and associate architects Grimm & Parker of Calverton, Maryland, joined together to create a world-class concert hall that is warm, embracing, and acoustically superb.

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Cellist Yo-Yo Ma performing at the opening of the Music Center at Strathmore in 2005.

On February 5, 2005, Strathmore celebrated the opening of its new Music Center with a concert by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, with special guest cellist Yo-Yo Ma and featuring sopranos Harolyn Blackwell and Janice Chandler-Eteme.

The Washington Post declared the hall “a gleaming jewel among the region’s cultural treasures,” and Washington Post critic Tim Page wrote: “Musical life in the nation’s capital region just got a lot more interesting…this may turn out to be the best place to hear symphonic music that the Washington area has ever known.”

. . . a gleaming jewel among the region’s cultural treasures

The Washington Post

ARCHITECTURE OF THE MUSIC CENTER

Just as the Music Center at Strathmore serves a dual purpose—performance and education—so does the building itself by joining multiple visions within a unified design.

Architect William L. Rawn III designed the curved roofline and subtle arc of the sky bridge so that they would connect directly to the rolling hills of the Strathmore landscape. The limestone façade conveys the permanence of a space that will entertain and enlighten for generations. The soaring glass throughout the building invites the outside in, engaging the structure with its pastoral setting.

The Concert Hall is a grand and elegant space. Curving balconies with tiered seating wrap the hall and surround the stage, creating a strong sense of intimacy between the audience and performers. The high ceiling draws spirit and sound upwards, while red birch wood detailing and bronze grillage ground the viewer, creating a warm embrace of color.

The hall creates an intimacy, celebrating the audience coming together as a community.

William L. Rawn III, architect of the Music Center at Strathmore

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The interior of the Music Center at Strathmore’s Concert Hall by Veronika Lukasova

The Music Center at Strathmore is an inspired and practical example of a public-private partnership. Montgomery County owns the building; the State of Maryland was a capital support partner; and the building is operated by the private Strathmore Hall Foundation, Inc.

AMP’D UP

In March 2015, Strathmore opened its first venue outside of its now 16-acre campus. This 230-seat space, AMP by Strathmore, is in the Pike & Rose neighborhood just 2 miles further north on Rockville Pike.

AMP offers the community a place to come together for great music at Pike & Rose, an urban-minded, Metro-accessible neighborhood on Rockville Pike. AMP puts a premium on authentic live music experiences, bringing new energy beyond the Beltway.

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Interior of AMP by Jeff Martin

AMP’s flexible layout and capacity allows Strathmore to present up-and-coming artists and intimate performances by jazz, rock, and international legacy artists.

Strathmore continues its mission of nurturing art, artists, and community through creative and diverse programming of the highest quality in each of its spaces.

Expanding Access to the Arts Even Further

Since the beginning, Strathmore has embraced its responsibility to the community by providing diverse, accessible performances and education programs. In 2016, we expanded our commitment to taking the arts beyond our walls, particularly in the eastern part of Montgomery County—we briefly called that expansion the “East County Initiative.”

As community programming and school initiatives grew, we needed to create an umbrella for our work specifically focused on expanding access to participating in the arts, and Bloom was born.

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East County Strings, a program of Bloom by Strathmore by Andrew Propp

Bloom captures the essence of Strathmore’s role in the community—helping the arts to thrive and making sure that everyone has the opportunity to experience them. We do this by providing free and low-cost events, extending our resources throughout the county, and collaborating with partners who make a positive impact.

The intention behind Bloom has been a part of Strathmore’s mission since its founding. Numerous Bloom programs, such as our Step Up program in Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), have been in place for many years.

Passing the Baton

Strathmore as we know it would not exist without Founder and CEO Emeritus Eliot Pfanstiehl. In 1975, Pfanstiehl worked as the arts coordinator for the Montgomery County Department of Recreation. As Pfanstiehl recalls, “One day my boss said to me, ‘We’re thinking of buying a mansion on the hill’ and I was assigned to help create the first Montgomery County Arts Center.”

Pfanstiehl accepted the challenge and was selected to lead the newly created nonprofit Strathmore Hall Foundation. Since then, he has done just about every job there is at Strathmore, from booking artists to fundraising to washing dishes—whatever was needed to make Strathmore a success.

Pfanstiehl retired in 2018 and Monica Jeffries Hazangeles was appointed by the Board of Directors to become only the second CEO to ever lead Strathmore. Jeffries Hazangeles’ passion for Strathmore began when she joined the staff in 1994 as special events coordinator. She was named executive vice president in 2005, the same year the Music Center opened, and became president in 2011.

EXPANDING YOUR COMFORT

In 2019 the Bernard Family Foundation Pavilion was completed. This long-awaited expansion adds an escalator and 5,000 square feet of glass-enclosed space to the Music Center at Strathmore.

By enclosing the Music Center’s Bou Terrace, The Bernard Family Foundation Pavilion doubles the number of patrons who can be seated and served in the Music Center café. The soaring, circular Pavilion includes a skylight and sliding glass walls that can open to the outside. It also expands meeting and reception capacity for pre and postshow events.

The Bernard Family Foundation Pavilion builds on the beauty of the Music Center while adding necessary improvements and upgraded amenities. The Pavilion incorporates an escalator connecting the Promenade entry level and the lower Orchestra level, better serving our patrons with mobility issues and easing congestion both before and after performances. 

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Bernard Family Foundation Pavilion by Judy Davis

During necessary venue closures during the COVID-19 pandemic, Strathmore stayed close with artists and audiences while being physically apart. The non-profit remained committed to supporting local artists and delivering free and accessible arts programming, engaging hundreds of thousands of patrons online for a variety of performances, visual arts programs, and education content.

Strathmore fulfills its promise to present artists of diverse backgrounds and to build a stronger, more connected, creative community through nearly 400 accessible and affordable events annually. View Strathmore’s upcoming events.

PROTECT THE ARTS

While our stages may be dark, our core commitment to you—and to our artists, students, and teachers—does not change. Together, we will nourish the creative soul of our community.

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