Greater Greater Washington

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Architecture


Forget the Washington Monument; DC's tallest tower is actually in Ward 4

Most people consider the 555-foot-tall Washington Monument to be DC's tallest tower. It's certainly the city's most iconic. But it's not the tallest. That distinction belongs to the 761-foot Hughes Tower.


Hughes Tower. Photo by thebrightwoodian on Flickr.

Hughes Tower is in Brightwood, near the corner of Georgia Avenue and Peabody Street NW. It's primarily a radio transmission tower, broadcasting signals for the Metropolitan Police Department.

The tower is owned by the District of Columbia, and was built in 1989.

Although the tower vastly overshoots DC's usual height limit, transmission towers are one of several exempted categories of structures. Thus, a 761-foot tower doesn't necessarily violate federal law, though DC's zoning code imposes other limits that prevent anyone from just building such a tower. The National Capital Planning Commission also wasn't happy about this one.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

History


The Metro plan has changed a lot since 1968

Saturday, the Metro system will grow in length by 10% with the Silver Line, first envisioned in the mid-1960s. A lot has changed from the original plans for Metro. Today, DDOT circulated a 1968 map of the planned system.

In the wake of the 1968 riots, DC pushed WMATA to reroute what's now the Green Line through some of the harder-hit neighborhoods. In 1970, the WMATA Board voted to change the "E route" from Massachusetts Avenue and 13th Street and instead run it along 7th Street to Shaw and then 14th Street to Columbia Heights.

The 1970 decision also deleted the "Petworth" station, which would have been at Kansas Avenue and Sherman Circle. The "Georgia Avenue" station would have been under Kansas Avenue at Georgia and Upshur, in the heart of Petworth, but the alignment later shifted south to New Hampshire Avenue.


The blue circle (not on the original map) shows where the Georgia Avenue-Petworth station is today.

In addition to the many station name changes (you won't see Ardmore, Voice of America, or Marine Barracks stations on the map today), there have been a few pretty significant changes to alignments and station locations.

At the time of this map, the line we know today as the Blue Line had a split terminus, with some trains running to Franconia and some trains running to Backlick Road (and a potential future extension to Burke).

In the northwestern part of the region, the Red Line was to stop at Rockville, instead of running all the way to Shady Grove. The northern Green Line was also shorter, including a station between Berwyn Road and Greenbelt Road, instead of further north at I-495, where the current Greenbelt station is.

Along the Orange and Blue lines, there were to be two more common stations, one at Oklahoma Avenue and one at Kenilworth Avenue (River Terrace) before the lines split. The Minnesota Avenue station was not in the plan at the time.

The southern Green Line was the subject of lots of controversy between 1968 and its completion in 2001. There were two competing routes planned, one to Branch Avenue and an alternate route to Rosecroft Raceway. The 1968 map here shows the line going to Branch Avenue via Alabama Avenue.

But later, WMATA settled on using the Rosecroft alignment in DC, via Congress Heights, and the Branch Avenue alignment in Prince George's County. This created in the "jog" along the District line where the Southern Avenue station is located.


Left: 1968 planned alignment. Right: Actual alignment; image by Matt Johnson using Google Maps.

The map also shows potential future extensions in blue. Today's Silver Line is included, though it stays in the median of the Dulles Access Road instead of detouring through Tysons Corner (which was much smaller then; the mall first opened in 1968). Also shown are lines along Columbia Pike in Virginia and extensions to Bowie, Brandywine, Gaithersburg, and Laurel. The extension to Largo was actually built and opened in 2004.

You can view a pannable, zoomable version of the map here.

History


McPherson Square's namesake died 150 years ago today

Washington has many squares and circles named after generals in the Civil War. McPherson Square is no exception, named after General James B. McPherson, who died 150 years ago today at the Battle of Atlanta.


Photo by Wally Gobetz on Flickr.

McPherson was the second-highest ranking Union officer killed during the Civil War. At the time of his death, he commanded the Army of the Tennessee, and his death elevated General John A. Logan to command.

Logan would later lend his name to Logan Circle.

McPherson was killed in what is now the Inman Park neighborhood east of downtown Atlanta. The Battle of Atlanta, fought July 22, 1864, was largely a stalemate and led to a 6-week siege of Atlanta, which finally fell on September 2. The city was later burned by order of General William Sherman on November 14, 1864.

Interestingly, the statue of James McPherson in McPherson Square was cast in 1876 using the metal of Confederate cannons captured in Atlanta. They were melted down and recast into his statue.

A 360-degree painting and diorama of the Battle of Atlanta is on display at the Atlanta Cyclorama in Grant Park (not named after Ulysses S. Grant), and prominently includes General Logan riding to the front. He commissioned the painting to bolster his vice presidential campaign in 1884, though he died in 1886 without ever seeing the completed work.

The Battle of Atlanta was part of the Atlanta Campaign, and led to Sherman's March to the Sea, which split the Confederacy in two along a line from Chattanooga to Atlanta and on to Savannah.

History


Check out this 1942 DC bus and streetcar map

DDOT posted this 1942 map by Capital Transit to help people navigate around the city by bus or streetcar:

Fares were 10¢ or 50¢ for six. You could buy a monthly pass for $1.25. And unlike today, you could transfer for free between bus and rail.

One block of text urges "housewives" to "help Washington's War Effort" by only "travel in business shopping areas only between" 10 am and 3 pm. That's because 300,000 people were getting to and from work outside those times.

The streetcar numbering also shows where we get today's bus line numbers (for routes that don't have a letter). Many of the lines followed routes very similar to major bus corridors today.

The 30 followed Wisconsin Avenue NW and Pennsylvania Avenue SE, and today, that's the 30 series buses. The 40 and 42 lines followed Connecticut and Columbia to Mount Pleasant, as the 42 (and 43) buses do today. The 50s lines used 14th Street, the 70s Georgia Avenue, 80s Rhode Island Avenue, and the 90s a rough circle around the central city, like their modern equivalents.

The 60 took 11th Street and ended at the north end of Columbia Heights. This matches the commercial district there today, but the modern 62 and 63 mostly use Sherman Avenue through this area and continue farther north.

The 20 route no longer exists; it followed the Potomac River to Glen Echo.

And finally, the 10 streetcar line went to Rosslyn and (with the 12) H Street and Benning Road. The eastern part of this became the X lines (X is the Roman numeral for 10).

If you're wondering whether historical streetcar precedent suggests whether the streetcar should go up Georgia Avenue to Silver Spring or to Takoma, the map is no help; the 72 cut east to Takoma while the 70 stayed on Georgia (though it ended just before the District line).

Finally, the Mall (or, at least, West and East Potomac Park) had a sort of Circulator: the Hains Point line, but only on Sundays in the summer.

Architecture


To turn this Silver Spring street around, one building owner put in fake stores

For years, the ground-floor shops at the Guardian Building in downtown Silver Spring have sat empty. To lure new tenants, the building's owner brought the space to life with fake storefronts.


All photos from Devin Arkin.

The Arkin family has owned this six-story office building, located at Georgia Avenue and Cameron Street, for decades. But as owner Michael Arkin's health declined and he wasn't able to keep the building up, many of the retail tenants moved away, retired, or passed away. After a stroke a few years ago, his sons took over management of the building. "We had our work cut out for us," said son Devin Arkin, who grew up in Silver Spring but now lives in Chicago.


The Guardian Building before.

The sons renovated the building and commissioned an sculpture for the lobby of 1950s-era hardware they found in the basement. But they weren't sure what to do with its nearly 7,400 square feet of empty retail space until they read about towns in Northern Ireland who disguised their empty shops with murals depicting open, lively businesses.

Arkin's advertising firm Huckleberry Pie crafted scenes of busy stores, like a men's wear store and a bakery, and fitted them over the empty windows. Workers toil away behind the counter as ducks and chickens peer out from door frames. Discrete "For Lease" and "Build to Suit" signs appear between images of food and goods.


The fake storefronts seen from across the street.

Cameron Street is a few blocks away from the shops and restaurants along Ellsworth Drive, and as a result there isn't a lot of foot traffic. The Guardian Building isn't alone in having an empty first floor. The Cameron, an apartment building across the street, lost one of its two ground floor tenants, an outpatient surgery center. And two blocks away at Cameron and Spring streets, there are ground floor spaces at United Therapeutics' new headquarters that have been vacant for nearly four years.

If all of the storefronts on Cameron Street were filled, it might actually become a compelling destination that could draw shoppers and diners from other parts of downtown Silver Spring. But since most of them are empty, nobody wants to be the first to take the risk. (Other than Jimmy John's sandwich shop in the first floor of the Cameron, which as a chain can draw customers on name recognition alone.)

Hopefully, the Guardian Building can buck the trend. Its fake storefronts may not convince anyone, but it does look better than it did before. Hopefully, they'll catch the eye of potential tenants soon. According to this marketing brochure, the space is still vacant.

Development


Is a big building "incompatible" with a historic area?

Dupont Circle has a mix of large buildings, medium ones, and smaller rowhouses. If a property owner wants to build something as high as zoning allows, which is lower than some buildings but taller than most, is that "incompatible" with the historic character of the neighborhood? That's one debate around a proposed project at 18th and Church streets, NW.


Perspective view of proposed building on Church Street. All images from the project team unless otherwise noted.

This corner was once a grand gothic church which burned down from arson in 1970. The St. Thomas Episcopal parish has been using a secondary building, which had been their parish hall, ever since, but wants to build a new church.

St. Thomas solicited bids from developers who could build the residential building and a new church. The winner, CAS Riegler, then reached out to neighbors to understand people's desires around the project.

Neighbors who share the alley with the church wanted some open space along the alley. The current parish hall comes right out to the alley, and the neighbors wanted it set back from the alley. It also would mean that if the residential building extends upward, it would not block light from the southwest which they get in afternoons and evenings.

The architects, from MTFA (for the church) and Hickok Cole (for CAS Riegler) accommodated this. They also reversed a parking ramp so that drivers going in and out of the parking garage would not travel all the way down the alley, and they set back upper floors from the adjacent townhouses.


Perspective view of proposed building on 18th Street.

The church and developer did not, however, accede to requests from some neighbors to significantly shrink down the project to more like four stories. Neighbors have been organizing to oppose the project.

The Dupont Circle Citizens' Association passed a resolution asking the city to consider buying the property for park, but even if it were for sale (and it is not), the recent Play DC Master Plan delineates an area of high need for parkland, and this area isn't inside it.

What will the preservationists say?

DC's Historic Preservation Review Board will examine this project, since the site is part of the Dupont Circle historic district, and will determine whether the size of the proposed building is "compatible" with the historic district. Is it?

A group of neighbors hired preservation consultant Stephen Hansen to assemble arguments against the proposed project. Among many points, Hansen's report argues that any building of 70 feet, the height that zoning allows, is incompatible with the historic district.

There are a number of even taller and larger buildings in the immediate area, including the Dupont East at 18th and Q, the Copley Plaza apartments at 17th and Church, and the Parisian-style building that used to house the National Trust for Historic Preservation at 18th and Massachusetts.

According to Hansen's report, the "Statement of Significance" for the historic district, formed in 1977, says:

the immediate area around the Circle itself contains some high-rise mid-twentieth century intrusions, the remainder of the Historic District is characterized by a juxtaposition of grand, palatial mansions lining two of the avenuesMassachusetts and New Hampshirewhich traverse the historic districtand rowhouse development of excellent architectural quality of the grid streets.
Therefore, Hansen argues, the similarly-sized and larger buildings in the area are "intrusions" and allowing another building beyond row house height will "compromise the historic integrity of the entire historic district."

The arguments around this project are very similar to the ones around the Takoma Metro: This is right near a Metro station, but the proposed height, which is larger than many nearby houses but not as large as every building, is nonetheless incompatible, some say.

The Dupont Circle Conservancy, the local historic preservation group, didn't agree. In its resolution, that organization supported the overall project, though a majority of members felt the church design could be further improved and wanted the building to rise more gradually from the existing rowhouses toward 18th Street, basically setting the top floors back farther on that side.

I don't believe this is incompatible

I live nearly across the street from this project and don't think it would destroy the street or make the historic district lose its character.

The original church was also large and tall, though very different in design. Erecting a prominent building on this corner actually restores, rather than damages, this characteristic of the historic district during its period of significance. The still-standing parish hall building was always subordinate to the church itself, so incorporating it into a larger building is an appropriate and compatible way to adaptively reuse this site.


Sidewalk perspective rendering from Church Street. Image from the project team.


Photograph from the sidewalk in front of my house. Photo by the author.

Like many residents of the area, I appreciate and cherish the park-like space at the corner of 18th and Church. However, I also recognize that this is not a public park, but an empty space where a church building once stood, and that zoning gives the church every right to build a structure on this site.

If the park is to disappear, adding housing is a valuable use of this land for the public good. The District faces a housing shortage which has made living in many neighborhoods, including Dupont Circle, out of reach for many people. This building will have to provide a few affordable units under the Inclusionary Zoning law. Further, adding more housing will take one small step toward adding the housing the city needs.

No one building is going to single-handedly address the housing crisis, but since most people do not want to see neighborhoods like Dupont Circle redeveloped wholesale, adding housing at sites like this one is an excellent way to make a start.

I do want to ensure that the buildings' operations do not lead to lines of cars queueing and idling on Church Street, such as for pick-up and drop-off if the church hosts a small school, for funeral processions, and regular deliveries. The applicants have promised to work out further details as the project proceeds through the development process; if they get historic approval, it looks like they will also need some zoning exceptions.

The area's Advisory Neighborhood Commission, ANC 2B, will discuss the project tonight at its meeting at the Brookings Institution, 1775 Massachusetts Avenue, NW. The meeting runs from 7-10 pm and this project will probably come up between 8 and 9. Any residents or other people can (and should) speak up with their views.

Preservation


Another historic resource is threatened: parking lots

A group of preservationists in Cincinnati are very worried about a precious historic resource disappearing: surface parking lots in the center city.

As you might have guessed from the titles warning about how the 273 parking lots have tragically dwindled to 270, this is satirical, and was actually an April Fool's joke which Streetsblog recently pointed out.

Some people talk about preserving parking lots and aren't joking. Sometimes, it's because they really feel a parking lot is part of history (though it's still debatable if that's worth freezing these forever in time). At other times, this is a strategy to stop a new building, not because of history, but because people don't want the building.

In a place like Cincinnati which is not growing rapidly, preservation is not often blocking housing affordability. There, there are many old and unique buildings which simply need to be preserved. Doing so wouldn't drive people out of the city; if anything, it'll make the center city a more desirable place to live.

In DC, there are also such buildings which contribute to making the city better, but for the most part they already are preserved. The day-to-day preservation fights are not about the architectural jewels but about whether historic preservation is also a tool to simply stop neighborhoods from having more new residents.

Architecture


Ask GGW: What are good pro-urbanist kids' books?

On Twitter, Topher Mathews recently joked, "Daughter being indoctrinated with pro-Height Act propaganda in daycare."

This book appears to be about how two animals get into a competition and build their houses higher and higher, until they fall over from the wind. It might subtly encourage a view that tall buildings are bad, but probably it's just a fun parable about cooperation.

Geoff Hatchard then mused about whether there are more urbanist-oriented kid books.

Sophie loves Subway, by Anastasia Suen and Karen Katz, which shows a mother and daughter riding on the New York subway. (Though rail geeks might notice that the specific combinations of lines in the images of stations don't actually exist.)


Image from Subway.

What good urbanist children's books, about buildings and/or transportation in cities, do you know?

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