Potomac River Band Shell (former) – Washington DC


The Works Progress Administration (WPA) built the Potomac River Band Shell in 1938-39. Audiences would sit on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and watch concerts taking place on the band shell, which floated on a barge. Only the band shell, not the barge, was constructed by the WPA.

The Baltimore Sun (1938) mentioned that $25,000 in federal funds were allocated for a new acoustical shell and an article, “The World of Music” in The Star Press (1938) reported that: “The orchestra’s acoustic shell, anchored 30 feet out, has been built by the WPA on a steel barge lent by the U.S. Navy.”

In 1939, FDR attended the inagural concert at the band shell. A photograph of the occasion is captioned:  “The president and Mrs. Edwin M. Watson, wife of [FDR’s] aide, sitting in the presidential car listening to the Washington Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Dr. Hans Kindler as the orchestra played from its barge on the Potomac River near the Lincoln Memorial. The open-air concerts, which began tonight, will be conducted twice a week during the Summer season, and Washingtonians turn out to sit on the steps or in nearby boats to listen.” 

Concerts were heard there regularly through the 1960s, when highway and airport noise made them untenable.

The current status of the band shell is unknown, though it has likely been demolished.

Source notes

National Archives, Record Group 69, “Microfilmed Index to WPA Projects.”

"Sunset Symphonies Planned in Washington," Baltimore Sun, June 5, 1938;

"The World of Music," The Star Press (Muncie, Indiana), July 17, 1938.

Brent McKee, New Deal Daily, The New Deal Around DC: Floating "Sunset Symphonies" on the Potomac: (https://nddaily.blogspot.com/2018/09/the-new-deal-around-dc-floating-sunset.html)

Project originally submitted by Brent McKee - https://nddaily.blogspot.com on June 25, 2013.
Additional contributions by Richard A Walker.

We welcome contributions of additional information on any New Deal project site.


Location Info

Lincoln Memorial
Washington, D.C. 20037

Coordinates: 38.8891, -77.0502

2 comments on “Potomac River Band Shell (former) – Washington DC

  1. Duane E. Mann

    What ever happened to the barge? I am working on a project to return the showboat experience to the communiites along the mid-Atlantic region. We would love to consider this vessel as an option for starting our performances to waterside communities: cbft.pairsite.com.


    Duane E. Mann

  2. John C. Carter

    I have been working on a story about the river concerts on the Potomac at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I grew up in Rosslyn and we attended many of the concerts given at the floating concert shell. I had heard that the shell was wintered in Pittsburg PA and brought down for the concert season in the spring. Not so far fetched, since Pittsburg had its own floating shell on the Ohio River. Theirs was built at Mars, PA, just north of the city. Their shell recently ended up in Philadelphia. I am still looking to confirm the Potomac shell’s winter home.

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