Situated at the end of Barracks Row in Southeast D.C., Capital Turnaround, the District’s newest performing arts venue, is a turnaround in more than one sense. The venue, which opened its doors in August, is a revival of the historic Navy Yard Car Barn: a symbol of hope for the creative industry and the community it supports.
Reimagining the Blue Castle
For 70 years, the Navy Yard Car Barn, long known to locals as the Blue Castle for its distinctive, medieval castle-like façade, was the last stop on D.C.’s cable car line. In the bays of the expansive brick structure, red line streetcars were repaired, rerouted, and housed, until 1962 when the city’s fleet was retired. In the decades following, the car barn housed charter schools and even a small restaurant but has been largely underutilized for at least the past 10 years — until now.
Today, the old streetcar sleeping palace offers a new kind of nighttime revival. Reborn as Capital Turnaround, D.C.’s first performing arts venue to open since Covid-19 struck, the Navy Yard Car Barn now features a roster of performers ready to get on with the show.
Owned and operated by National Community Church, the venue has an important role to play in terms of setting live performance safety precedents for the foreseeable future.
“This is really the first event space that’s opened in D.C. on a large level since the pandemic started,” says Jake Diamond, marketing manager of Capital Turnaround. “We’re excited to have that distinction, especially with how difficult the last year has been.”
Diamond is part of a talented crew of longtime performing arts industry professionals and musicians led by 20-year music scene veterans, brothers Daniel, Luke and Jonathan Brindley, who are Capital Turnaround’s exclusive talent providers. Their affiliate venues include Union Stage, Jammin Java, Miracle Theatre and Pie Shop.
An Intimate Basement Feel
The Capital Turnaround building will also eventually host various kinds of events and community gatherings, including church services and educational outreach programming, but for now, live entertainment is the focus. The main auditorium can accommodate 982 people, more than double Union Stage’s 450-person capacity — an important benefit while physical distancing is still a consideration.
Diamond says the auditorium is deceptively movable and allows for multiple seated and standing-room configurations, with enough space for patrons to move and dance. Food offerings are provided by Pie Shop, and food and beverage service is plastic free, an effort to reduce negative environmental impact.
Another main attraction of the new space is upgraded audiovisual technology that offers even more options for creativity and flexibility. Behind-stage LED screen optics and a cascading LED screen ceiling enhance the viewing experience from every point in the room.
“Even though it’s a larger room, it still has that intimate basement feel,” says Morgan Seltzer, the group’s marketing and design manager.
Getting Back to Good
Both Diamond and Seltzer are new additions to the team’s skeleton staff who’ve kept operations afloat throughout the pandemic. The booking team began scheduling shows for Capital Turnaround in November 2019 in anticipation of the original March 2020 opening.
“We definitely have the best team we’ve ever had and we’re just really excited about the future,” Luke Brindley says. “These guys came in and hit the ground running. [Things were] slowly ramping up and then all of a sudden, D.C. was open.”
Comedian Hannibal Buress finally christened the house in August, and the team is looking forward to the diverse lineup of acts to come. September’s shows include the “True Crime Obsessed” podcast, which covers the HBO series “The Case Against Adnan Syed”; singer-songwriter Faye Webster; “True Tales Told Live and In Person” by Story District; and the Milk Carton Kids. Several upcoming acts are already sold-out.
“Offering some entertainment, some levity, I think has really lifted people’s spirits and reminded people there is still the capability for shared experiences,” Diamond says.
In addition to being a sign of things “getting back to good,” the successful opening of Capital Turnaround is part of another pandemic story — one of camaraderie and support throughout the D.C. arts community and beyond.
Diamond, Seltzer and Brindley agreed that they’ve survived, in no small part, thanks to new lines of communication among D.C.’s different independent venues. Prior to the pandemic, these connections were not as warm or open.
“This has been one of the few positive experiences to come out of Covid,” Diamond says. “There’s a much stronger community. We’re all in this together.”
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