Historic Merriweather Post Pavilion Roof Collapses

Merriweather Post Pavilion
– Merriweather Post Pavilion
The aftermath of Merriweather Post Pavilion’s roof collapse is seen in this photo provided by I.M.P.

The iconic, Frank Gehry-designed roof of Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Md., collapsed early Saturday morning (Jan. 13) as it was in the process of being raised 20 feet as part of a $55 million rehabilitation project.

Images of the 19,316-capacity venue show a completely collapsed roof structure, with the stage surrounded by the wreckage. No one was injured, according to a Howard County fire spokeswoman cited by the paper.

The cause of the collapse is under investigation, according to the Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission that owns the property. The roof was on hydraulic lifts at the time of the collapse, in the process of completing its elevation as part of the rehab project. A source with knowledge of the collapse and  plans for reconstruction told Pollstar much of the wood from the roof’s facade will be salvaged and used to reconstruct the structure.

I.M.P.’s Seth Hurwitz, who operates the venue, suggested winds were a factor and said the historic structure would be rebuilt. He spoke to Pollstar the next day and provided more details about the collapse and plans to rebuild the structure.

“I woke up yesterday and found a message from Jean Parker, our GM at Merriweather,” Hurwitz told Pollstar. “I flagged it, then after I had coffee, etc., I asked her what she meant by ‘collapsed’ and she said it was flat as a pancake. It was the section of roof over the pavilion seats, not the stage, so the stage wasn’t harmed at all.

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“We’ve built far more in less time than five months, so it won’t be an issue for our season,” Hurwitz continued. “It’s actually easier to build something new than it is to rehab something. It looks like there’s enough wood left from the original Gehry roof to make the iconic façade salvageable. Various things had already been done to the structure before, but the original Gehry shape will be rebuilt and recovered with the original wood. But right now, it’s shot and needs to be rebuilt.”

Hurwitz, who also runs Washington, D.C.’s 9:30 Club, The Lincoln Theatre and the newly-opened Anthem, was ultimately philosophical about the roof’s collapse. “It’s one of life’s fascinating twists and turns, but it’s nothing we can’t deal with,” he said. “Nothing else was harmed. It’s an inconvenience – not a small inconvenience, but it sets us back in that I’d rather spend that time working on other things at the venue. There’s no question it sucks. But the important thing is that nobody was hurt, and that’s not the usual mandatory statement. It’s really all that matters. Everything else is just construction.”

I.M.P. had not yet announced a summer schedule and the only concert on its calendar is a July 14 show with Sugarland, Brandy Clark and Clare Bowen

“Until a complete investigation has been completed, the precise cause of this accident cannot be known,” the Columbia arts commission said in a statement published by the Baltimore Sun . “That investigation is commencing as soon as possible, and in the meantime, the team at Merriweather will begin assessing next steps for the project.”

Merriweather Post Pavilion
Merriweather Post Pavilion
– Merriweather Post Pavilion

Merriweather Post Pavilion celebrated its 50th anniversary last summer, opening an all-new backstage village including a pool and artists lounge area, as well as a massive new stagehouse, as a second phase of the renovations. The Chrysalis, a 7,000-capacity facility, also opened last summer on the adjacent Symphony Woods property.

The venue and I.M.P. staff celebrated the anniversary with a birthday party and concert featuring Jackson Browne, Willie Nelson, Father John Misty, and Grace Potter.

Merriweather Post Pavilion is also one of the nation’s premier, historic amphitheatres, a regular among nominees for Pollstar’s Major Outdoor Venue Award, including for 2017, to be announced next month in Los Angeles.

Over the last three years, Merriweather Post Pavilion has moved 569,733 tickets and grossed $33,478,109 in sales. It’s hosted events including the Virgin Mobile FreeFest,  Sweetlife festival, and a Green Day concert for which Hurwitz tore out a section of orchestra seats to accommodate Billie Joe Armstrong’s insistence on a mosh pit before he would agree to book a show there.