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Preservation League revives Wonder Bread Factory

Last week, the DC Preservation League celebrated its 40th anniversary by throwing a lively party at the long-dormant Wonder Bread Factory at 641 S Street NW in Shaw.

Photo by DreamCity4Life on Flickr.

The building is located half a block east of 7th Street and the Shaw-Howard University Metro station. It has long been a well-known structure in the neighborhood.

According to Streets of Washington, "the oldest section of the building was built in 1913 as an expansion to an existing bakery run by Peter M. Dorsch (1878-1959)."

Dorsch and his brothers worked at bakeries all across the city before opening the bakery that would eventually become the Wonder Bread Factory.

Douglas Development Corporation currently owns the property. A search of the city's property records show the property was purchased in October 1997. It is currently assessed by the city at $6,810,580.

According to the evening's program, the property "is currently being marketed for adaptive reuse." Numerous people I spoke with and a report last fall in City Paper indicated condos are coming, but there seems to be no immediate timeline.

The long-awaited development of the northeast corner of 7th and S Street is now finally underway with Progression Place, which plans offices, flats, and shops. Construction teams have been working steadily since December and have now nearly dug out and secured the foundation. When this project begins to take tenants it should increase the desire and ability to secure financing for the Wonder Bread Factory site for similar uses or for residential units with commercial on the first floor.

Memories of the Wonder Bread Factory

"When I would take the streetcar to Griffith Stadium as a child from my Northeast neighborhood, you knew you were getting close when you began to smell the bread and the bakeries. You could close your eyes and know when you were within three blocks," said Dr. Sandy Berk, distinguished by his white shirt and jacket adorned with the same small tri-color circles that mark a loaf of Wonder Bread.

"DC wasn't known as being an industrial city. This building is an example of one of the few early 20th century examples in the middle of a residential neighborhood," said Howard Berger, a former DCPL trustee and current architectural historian.

"This is a really great and strong structure. You don't see this type or cast iron work anymore," said Wilford Williams, a member of the large security team that protected the entrances of the factory and were asked by nearly everyone who passed by on the street what was going on inside. "When it closed it was a sad event. A lot of people depended on them. Wonder Bread has always been a number one seller. It beats Sunbeam and Giant brand. You know that Wonder Bread makes the best sandwich and their prices are reasonable," he said.

At a table Eric Wingerter, 6th and S Street NW, and Martin Moulton (the 39th citizen recently arrested by the Capitol Police), 5th and P Street NW, spoke about their memories years ago of being excited when a restaurant would open on 14th Street NW. They agreed the neighborhood continues to lack a variety of food options and would like to see a restaurant included in future development plans.

"It's great to be here and have it alive. For too many years this has been a landmark in the neighborhood for the wrong reasons," said Wingerter.

DCPL pulled it off

Founded in 1971 as "Don't Tear It Down," DCPL hosts its annual gala in a dormant city building, warehouse, theater or other site ever year. There was open discussion and anticipation by gala goers that next year's party will be thrown in Dupont Circle's underground trolley station which in recent years has drawn the attention of local artists.

Despite concerns that the building would not be ready in time for the party and a city inspector declaring the property "structurally unsafe" last month, more than three hundred DCPL supporters joined leaders of the city's development and preservationist communities to celebrate the former bakery. The building has been out of commission for the past 25 years, according to the league.

"It was pulled off with a lot of work by Douglas Development getting the space ready for the event. Four solid weeks of fixing a failed beam, holes in the flooring and water damage," said Rebecca Miller, DCPL's Executive Director.

One new DCPL member, who joined the organization after seeing a recent ad on Groupon, said, "I thought they might be handing out hard hats."

John Muller is an associate librarian, journalist and historian. He has written two books, Frederick Douglass in Washington, DC, Mark Twain in Washington, DC, and also writes at Death and Life of Old Anacostia


Add a comment »

In related abandoned building news, there's a group putting on a play at the Uline Arena.

by andrew on Apr 29, 2011 2:12 pm • linkreport

Yes, that was an awesome party. Congrats to the DCPL for a successful event in a wonderful space. Here are some of my own photos of the event:

by M.V. Jantzen on Apr 29, 2011 3:14 pm • linkreport

Wonder if Jemal will use this to get out of the $281,818.16 he owes the city for that one property.

by jemal on Apr 30, 2011 8:18 am • linkreport

Just how much does Jemal owe on his properties and how does he get away with it?

by Dan Maceda on Apr 30, 2011 10:33 am • linkreport

Across the street from Manna's headquarters.

by Tom Coumaris on Apr 30, 2011 11:08 am • linkreport

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