Wolf Trap's fans help lift it from the ashes
Vienna, Va. — The blue lapel button with its stylized gold wolf mask will soon be a collector's item among music lovers. ''Wolf Trap Lives!'' reads the motto. Wolf Trap still lives, after two ravaging fires that burned this pastoral concert hall to the ground, first in 1971 just before it opened, and then again two years ago.
The third Wolf Trap rises now from the ashes of that second blaze, which destroyed its concert hall, the Filene Center. The new building, of honey-colored Douglas fir, occupies the same site on the rolling green lawns of the Vienna, Va., countryside. Except for a soaring backboard enlargement, it is almost a replica of the rustic concert hall Wolf Trap fans have applauded within and picnicked outside of over the years. Catherine Filene Shouse wouldn't have it any other way.
The indomitable Mrs. Shouse, the heiress to the Filene fortune, donated Wolf Trap to the government - and was not about to see her national treasure wiped out forever by a fire. She remembers that there was a 40-mile-an-hour wind that night, and that the building was a tinderbox. ''My first reaction was that the fire was so far gone there was nothing that anybody could do about it. And I saw that even the firemen were crying. It was useless for me to stay. There was nothing that I could do,'' she says quietly as she sits on the patio of her historic home just down the road from Wolf Trap.
But, of course, there was something she could do. And she did it immediately, rallying fans of Wolf Trap from around the world to rebuild this performing-arts center. As a result, there have been 17,000 contributions and pledges from all 50 states, seven foreign countries, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. They range from the 11 cents from a little boy named Matthew Bernstein taped inside a greeting card to $200,000 from United Technologies Corporation chairman Harry J. Gray.
The day after Wolf Trap burned the second time, Mrs. Shouse says, President Reagan telephoned her. So did former Presidents Carter, Ford, and Nixon. She also received calls offering help from her friends - including Beverly Sills, Zubin Mehta, Yehudi Menuhin, Mstislav Rostropovich, Van Cliburn, Roberta Peters, Pierre Boulez, Elizabeth Taylor, and Burt Reynolds.
A short while later, Mrs. Shouse was told that President Reagan had just called again to say that the administration would back legislation for a $9 million matching grant (''not a gift,'' she says crisply) to help rebuild.
After the fire, Mrs. Shouse says, ''We knew that those who loved Wolf Trap would want it rebuilt, so we took steps immediately to effect legislation that would make it possible.'' Did she, to use a crass word, do any lobbying? ''We had tremendous congressional support,'' she says. ''But no, I don't think it was lobbying. We were invited. We appeared when we were invited to appear. If that's called lobbying, then we lobbied.''
At this point, she says, about $16 million has been raised toward the Wolf Trap goal of $29 million - which includes $18 million for the rebuilding of Filene Center and the rest for an endowment that also covers Wolf Trap's performing-arts and educational programs.
Wolf Trap's queen mother is a regal-looking woman who might have stepped from the pages of Henry James's novel, ''The Bostonians.'' Now an octogenarian, she has been a doer all her life. Her book, ''Careers for Women,'' was the first on this subject when it was published in 1920, the year women got the vote. She was the first woman to represent her home state of Massachusetts on the Democratic National Committee, the first appointed to her state Democratic committee. And she was the first woman to receive a master's degree from Harvard University.
Visitors to Wolf Trap's grounds often see her rolling around them in a golf cart. The day of this interview, she pops into an elevator in her chintz-filled office at home and leads the way downstairs through a kitchen where fresh gingersnaps are baking and out onto a flagstone patio banked with pink impatiens. Then Mrs. Shouse seats herself comfortably in a pink, wrought-iron garden chair.
She is an exact woman, this benefactor in a white silk twill dress. She talks about her blue house, known as Plantation House, one section of which was left from the original manor house that burned down during the Civil War. Mrs. Shouse bought the first 58 acres of Wolf Trap farm in 1930, right after the crash of 1929 had wiped out all her money, she once wrote, ''except $9,000.'' She paid $5 ,000 for the farm, now worth millions. She worked it as a producing farm, bred dogs, and used it as a weekend home for her family until her gift of land and supporting funds for Wolf Trap Park was accepted by an act of Congress in 1966.
Then, just five weeks before completion in 1971, the first Filene Center went up in flames, which destroyed 60 percent of it. Mrs. Shouse, undaunted, set about raising funds and rebuilding so that Wolf Trap could open as scheduled in early July, with a 6,500-seat theater.
In 1982, the second fire burned to the ground a building that was not insured - since government property is self-insured. ''The government is obliged to rebuild the Filene Center,'' Mrs. Shouse points out, ''but there is no obligation date. It could be 30 or 40 years from now, and the whole momentum would have been lost.'' This time the Wolf Trap Foundation is paying for the fireproofing and fire-detection costs - over $1.7 million worth. The place is so fireproof, one staff member says, that you could put a blowtorch to it and it wouldn't flame up.
Over iced tea with some of those gingersnaps, Mrs. Shouse talks about Wolf Trap's programming. ''I have quite a bit of a hand in it,'' she admits. Are the performers some of her favorites? ''If they aren't favorites, they are not worth engaging, because they have to be not only my favorites but they have to be the favorites of those who attend the performances. Of course, one has special pets, like the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.''
This summer Mrs. Shouse will have a hand in bringing to thousands of people the music of Placido Domingo; Ella Fitzgerald; Preservation Hall; Peter, Paul, and Mary; Sheena Easton; Pete Seeger; and the National Symphony Orchestra, among others.
Mrs. Shouse traces her interest in the performing arts back to her mother, Mrs. Lincoln Filene of Boston, who founded a music school for underprivileged children.
''I was brought up with music,'' she reminisces. ''My mother had a music room with an organ in it, two pianos, and a harp.'' Is she a musician herself? ''Oh, I'm useless as far as music is concerned'' she says.