Press Release
Press Release · Thursday, August 26, 2004

Press Release
August 26, 2004


National Archives Raises The Curtain On The William G. McGowan Theater On September 10, 2004

New Theater is Centerpiece of National Archives Experience

Will Serve as one of the Nation's Leading Centers for Documentary Film and a Forum for Programs Exploring American History, Democracy, and Government

Washington, DC. . .On September 10, 2004, the National Archives will open to the public the William G. McGowan Theater, a centerpiece of the new National Archives Experience – the multi-year initiative that is more than tripling the exhibition spaces and public educational and programming facilities of the National Archives on the Mall in Washington, DC. The Williams G. McGowan Theater will be one of the nation’s leading centers for documentary film, as well as a prominent forum for the discussion and exploration of great issues of American history, democracy and government. The Theater is named in recognition of a generous leadership gift from the William G. McGowan Charitable Fund, Inc., in support of the National Archives Experience.

The path breaking initiatives, programs, and partnerships being launched during 2004 and 2005 at the William G. McGowan Theater include:

  • A programming partnership with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Foundation for the National Archives that will make the McGowan Theater the exclusive Washington venue for a variety of documentary film festivals, tribute events, and premieres of restored archival films.

  • The launch of the new Records of Achievement Award, given by the Foundation for the National Archives, whose first annual recipient will be renowned author and historian David McCullough.

  • The William G. McGowan Communications Forum, an annual event examining issues related to the juncture of communications, technology, and government.

  • "Preserving the Charters of Freedom," a short film produced by Middlemarch Films for NOVA/WGBH (Boston) and PBS that takes visitors behind the scenes to see the complex conservation of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights and the development of a state-of-the-art encasement system to display and protect these keystone documents.

  • Special inaugural programs, including the screening of feature documentary films, as well as panel discussions and lectures with eminent authors, historians, journalists, and national figures.

  • A new film illustrating the vital role that records play in the lives and experiences of real people that will be on view continuously during public hours and will serve as the introduction to the National Archives Experience.

"The McGowan Theater allows us to bring the work of the nation's best documentarians, authors, and historians – and the unique holdings of the National Archives – to life through major public symposia, thought-provoking panel discussions and lectures, film screenings, family programs, and community activities," said John W. Carlin, Archivist of the United States. "These programs will enable the public to explore how the records of our past impact our present, our future, and our democracy as a whole. William G. McGowan’s vision of the potential of communications technology to transform the way we learn lies at the heart of the National Archives Experience, and we are grateful for the support that has made this exceptional new public forum a reality."


The opening gala for the William G. McGowan Theater, (invitation only), on September 9, is organized by the Foundation for the National Archives and sponsored by MCI Communications Corporation, of which William G. McGowan was the founder. The event will feature the official ribbon-cutting for the Theater and will include:

  • An award presentation and tribute to the first annual recipient of the Foundation for the National Archives’ Records of Achievement Award, renowned author and historian David McCullough

  • A special screening of film clips from the Archives’ exceptional film holdings

Celebrating the gala will be luminaries from the fields of communications, broadcasting, and film, as well as Washington dignitaries.


September 9 marks the launch of the Foundation for the National Archives' Records of Achievement Award, an annual tribute recognizing individuals who have helped share the story of our nation with the American people through their work and their use of historical records. Recipients will embody the Foundation for the National Archives’ mission of creating public awareness of the importance of the National Archives as a vital resource in the American democracy.

The first recipient of the award will be David McCullough, who is being recognized for his award-winning career as a historian, author, and cultural figure. Mr. McCullough's nationally acclaimed works include John Adams, The Johnstown Flood, The Great Bridge, The Path between the Seas, Mornings on Horseback, Brave Companions, and Truman.

Throughout the research and writing of his award-winning books, Mr. McCullough has made extensive use of records held at the National Archives, its Presidential Libraries, and regional facilities. Mr. McCullough’s expertise in revealing the story of history through original documents has exposed millions of readers to the power of primary sources as evidence of the actual people, places, and events that have shaped our country. Through all of his work, Mr. McCullough has helped make history a more appealing subject to the American public and has increased awareness for the vast treasures that the National Archives holds in trust for the nation.


Designed by noted architect Warren Cox, the 290 seat William G. McGowan Theater will feature the latest technology and equipment in a design that echoes the 1930s architecture of the National Archives’ landmark building. The design combines the grandeur of a classic film theater of the period with the intimacy of a state-of-the-art screening room.

The Theater will be outfitted with pan, tilt, and zoom cameras, full studio recording capability for stage programs, dressing and rehearsal rooms, and set storage spaces. The unusual design and facilities allow live programming — including director interviews, panel discussions, theatrical
performances, and other events — to be integrated with dramatic and documentary footage or to be presented as stand-alone programs.

The 10 x 24-foot screen will have a motorized system that adjusts for different seating arrangements and media sizes. Advanced Audio/Visual equipment will make it possible to screen 16mm and 35mm film in all aspect ratios, as well as digital video and computer images. LAN Internet connections will enable presenters and performers to participate in events via the web. Multi-channel stereo/surround sound systems can support a variety of audio formats, including Dolby Surround and DTS.

The McGowan Theater will also be fully accessible, with an Assistive Listening system for the hearing-impaired and special wheelchair accessible spaces.


The William G. McGowan Theater is named in recognition of a generous leadership gift from the William G. McGowan Charitable Fund, Inc., in support of the National Archives Experience. William G. McGowan organized MCI Communications Corporation in 1968. From then until his death 24 years later, Mr. McGowan led that company and the entire telecommunications industry in the application of new technologies, the creation of innovative services, and the introduction of competition into what had previously been a closed monopolistic universe. His interests ranged well beyond the confines of commerce and industry, and reflected his belief that education was a unique means for instilling and fulfilling vision. The William G. McGowan Charitable Fund was established to give financial assistance to organizations and causes that reflect the visions, concerns, and lifetime experiences of its founder.


The National Archives is the world’s largest depository of non-commercial film, with more than 300,000 reels of motion picture film and 200,000 sound and video recordings. In the McGowan Theater’s state-of-the-art screening room, visitors will have the opportunity to view some of the unique items in this collection, from the earliest films of the Wright brothers demonstrating their aircraft, to the first footage of Model Ts rolling off the Ford assembly line. Newsreels, footage from the United States Information Agency and the Defense Department, movies, kinescopes, and videos in the collection of the National Archives represent the dynamic eras from the days of the Depression through the present. These film, sound, and video recordings have not only captured moments in our history, but shaped how we view ourselves and our nation.


The National Archives and Records Administration is an independent Federal agency that preserves and shares with the public records that trace the story of our nation, government, and the American people. From the Declaration of Independence to accounts of ordinary Americans, the holdings of the National Archives directly touch the lives of millions of people. The National Archives is a public trust upon which our democracy depends, ensuring access to essential evidence that protects the rights of American citizens, documents the actions of the government, and reveals the evolving national experience.


The Foundation for the National Archives is a non-profit organization, directed by the private sector, with the mission of furthering the activities of the National Archives, especially the advancement of public education and outreach through the National Archives Experience. The Foundation is responsible for generating financial and creative support for the National Archives' many public initiatives — including permanent exhibitions, an extensive web site, educational programs, traveling exhibitions, special events and screenings, educational literature, as well as historical and record-related products and media — and fostering public awareness of the National Archives as an essential resource of the American democracy.


The National Archives
Public Affairs Staff
202-501-5526 or 301-837-1700
Resnicow Schroeder Associates
Elizabeth Chapman or Johanna Goldfeld
212-671-5159 or 212-671-5177 or


This page was last reviewed on January 7, 2013.
Contact us with questions or comments.