It has been a fixture on the George Washington University campus since 1975, anchoring a tract of land bordered by 22nd, G and F streets NW. The Charles E. Smith Center has witnessed breathtaking moments in the four decades since its opening—hosting presidents, musicians and comedians, tournaments and career fairs, current and prospective students.
Bob Dylan performed there, so did Ray Charles, the Beach Boys and the Black-Eyed Peas. Bob Hope, Jon Stewart, Whoopi Goldberg, Robin Williams—they all delivered punch lines there to sold-out crowds. Joe Biden packed kits for military service personnel. There was even an early 40th birthday present, delivered last month when the men’s basketball team beat No. 6 Virginia—the program’s biggest upset win at the Smith Center in 20 years.
It was dedicated Dec. 6, 1975, prior to a men’s basketball game vs. Wake Forest. Gerald Ford was president of the United States, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was the nation’s top-grossing film. Washington’s first Metrorail stations were four months away from opening.
The Smith Center, which underwent a massive renovation from 2008-2011, always has been about more than sports and famous names. It has served as a home base for the GW community—a place of history, entertainment and celebration.
“Athletics, I think, engendered that,” said David Bruce Smith, the grandson of real estate developer and Washington philanthropist Charles Smith, who served as a member of the Board of Trustees from 1967-76 and whose family gifts were key to the original construction and renovations. “Papa Charlie used to say there were three circles of life, and in order of importance they were family, friends and community. You have families coming here, you have friends coming here, and you have the community coming here. I think this place really, if my grandfather could see this, it is the perfect metaphor for what he envisioned.”
George Washington Today spoke with Mr. Smith and several others this fall about their memories in the Smith Center. Here are their stories: