John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts National Memorial

The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is the largest cultural facility of its kind; it is also designed to serve as a memorial to President John F. Kennedy. More than 8,000 visitors pass through the complex daily. Even if one never sees a single performance here, a tour through the building, designed by Edward Durell Stone, is sure to be one of the highlights of any sightseeing itinerary. The courtly rectangular structure, massive in size and surrounded on all sides by a broad colonnade of slender pillars, is covered with Carrara marble from Italy. Many of the materials, decorations, and furnishings throughout the building are donations from more than 40 countries.

Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts National Memorial
©National Park Service
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is
a memorial and the largest cultural facility of its kind.

Inside, two vast red-carpeted halls -- the Hall of States and the Hall of Nations -- connect with an even vaster grand foyer. An opening onto the River Terrace provides a resplendent view of the Potomac River. The Grand Foyer is one of the largest rooms in the world, 75 feet longer than the Washington Monument is high. Occupying center stage is the memorial bust of President John F. Kennedy. The rough-hewn bronze sculpture, created by American sculptor Robert Berks, is seven feet high, weighs 3,000 pounds, and sits atop a travertine marble pedestal.

The Kennedy Center has five theaters, varying in size, orientation, and audience appeal, as well as the American Film Institute theater. All have been designed to offer exceptionally fine acoustics, sight lines, and technical capacities.

Eisenhower Theater. President Dwight David Eisenhower was the first to initiate plans to develop a national center for the performing arts. The 1,200-seat theater named for him hosts major touring productions, often before they open on Broadway. The likeness of Eisenhower in the lobby, a bronze bust by Felix de Weldon, was presented by the Texas State Society to commemorate the first native Texan to become President of the United States.

The Terrace Theater. The smallest and most intimate of the major Kennedy Center performing-arts outlets is located on the Roof Terrace level. The 500-seat Terrace Theater is the place to come to hear the finest in chamber music and choral recitals, or opera, dance, and theatrical productions on a smaller scale. It's also the stage for Imagination Celebration, the center's national youth art festival, and the annual American College Theater Festival, featuring productions of the six finalists in the competition.

Opera House. Designed on a grand scale for grand opera, this three-tiered, 2,300-seat theater showplace plays host to such diverse groups as the Dance Theater of Harlem, the Stuttgart Ballet, and the Grand Kabuki of Japan, as well as the Washington Opera. Many top-notch musical productions are staged here as well. The Opera House is also the setting each year for the nationally televised Kennedy Center Honors Gala, which recognizes the contributions of outstanding performance artists to America's cultural life.

The Concert Hall. This 2,750-seat theater, the largest of the Kennedy Center halls, is home to the National Symphony Orchestra. It is also the setting for appearances by visiting orchestras, the annual Holiday Festival, the Messiah sing-along, and the summer pops series. Acoustics throughout are unsurpassed.

The Theater Lab. Located near the Terrace Theater on the rooftop level, the 250-seat experimental performance center is the smallest of the Kennedy Center entertainment areas. During the day, the Theater Lab presents a full complement of children's shows, improvisational theater, teachers' workshops and other intimate productions and exhibits. At night, the lab turns into a cabaret.

John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts National Memorial Information

2700 F Street, NW
Washington, DC 20566
Telephone: 202/467-4600 or 800/444-1324
Hours of Operation: Open daily 10 a.m. - 11 p.m. (tours: 10 a.m. - 1 p.m., daily)
Admission: Free

Learn about these other national memorials:

Cabrillo National MemorialJefferson National Expansion Memorial
Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts National Memorial
Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove on the Potomac
Theodore Roosevelt Island National Memorial

To learn more about national monuments, memorials, and historic sites, and other travel destinations in North America, visit:


Eric Peterson is a Denver-based author who has contributed to numerous guidebooks about the Western United States.