Greater Greater Washington

Then and now: Congolese chancery

Then (left): The mansion at 1800 New Hampshire Avenue, NW was designed in 1908 for banker Joseph Taylor Arms. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has owned the property since the 1960s, but due to internal strife in that country, they had allowed it to deteriorate significantly, forcing the diplomatic staff to rent space elsewhere in the city. Paint was peeling, there were several holes in the tile roof, and the window sashes were rotting. Image by Travlr on Flickr, taken August 24, 2008. Click on the picture to enlarge; the deterioration is much more visible at high resolution.

The DC Preservation League listed this building first on its 2008 Most Endangered Places list. Last winter, after some prodding from the State Department, local preservation groups and neighborhood leaders, the DRC government announced it had selected a firm to restore the building.

Now (right): The roof is now repaired with original tiles, and the stucco finish restored. According to Dupont Circle Conservancy President Rick Busch, the project team will soon begin restoring the driveway in front. Image by Rick Busch.

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David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 

Comments

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Funny, for all the repairs, the Before picture looks a lot better at first glance. Is it just the... would you call it a balustrade... over the door?

by Lucre on Jun 2, 2009 3:27 pm • linkreport

DCist folks are speculating that this is the Real World DC house.

by dcdc on Jun 2, 2009 3:34 pm • linkreport

That's exactly what I was thinking dcdc!

I was wondering why a house architect was the one rehabbing an office/commercial space.

by SG on Jun 2, 2009 4:16 pm • linkreport

It's not the real world house. But it's nearby.

by crin on Jun 2, 2009 4:18 pm • linkreport

Lucre,

Your absolutley right. I was wondering the same thing. Besides the blue ske, they left out the iron work and finials over the entrance. What the...

by Thayer-D on Jun 3, 2009 7:20 am • linkreport

Thayer-D/Lucre,

The house isn't finished yet. Gosh, you guys are quick to criticize ... without even knowing all the facts about this house.

And yes, SG, it IS a house which is why is possibly why it is being renovated by what you describe as a 'house architect'. This house sits in a residentially zoned area, on a residentially zoned block, surrounded by residences. It also sits in a federal historic district and is a contributing structure to that historic district.

For all these reasons it needs to look like a house from the outside even if a zoning exception has been made to allow this non-residential use. (Foreign governments can make a specific use request for their chancery to be exempted from the zoning rules that would otherwise preclude them from operating an office in this residential area. Poorer nations tend to do this more than richer nations because residential real estate is priced far lower than comparable commercial real estate when you compare location and size of buildings.)

They essentially are allowed to put up "office buildings" with flags where you otherwise wouldn't see an office building. BUT fortunately the law encourages ... and at least this the Congo government acknowledges, that this house should look and act more like a house than an office building given where it is situated.

by Lance on Jun 3, 2009 11:14 am • linkreport

I'll be honest, if I could afford a place like this, I wouldn't want to live there with those tiny windows

by DCDC on Jun 3, 2009 12:33 pm • linkreport

those windows are actually big ... it's just that the house is so large that you lose perspective on this picture. take a look at the windows of the house next door (to the left in the picture) and you'll see what I mean.

by Lance on Jun 3, 2009 12:43 pm • linkreport

Would I be right in assuming that the house would have to have commercial zoning permits as they are in fact a business operation?

by Simon on Jun 3, 2009 4:06 pm • linkreport

Simon, The zoning for the property doesn't change just because the FMBZA (Foreign Mission Board of Zoning Adjustment) has allowed them an exception to operate a 'business' in a residentially zoned area. (See my post at 11:14 .)

This exception actually can be taken away if the foreign government stops using the property for embassy purposes. For example, I'd heard there was talk of recinding the exception for the building where the Russian Cultural Institute on Phelps Place (which used the be the Russian Visa Section) is housed in that the purpose is no longer related to embassy business.

by Lance on Jun 3, 2009 4:27 pm • linkreport

Thanks for the insight Lance.

Would there be required paperwork on such an exception filed with the city level? Or would it simply be with FMBZA?

by Simon on Jun 3, 2009 4:43 pm • linkreport

Simon, the FMBZA is at the city level. From what I understand, the FMBZA is made up of the BZA (Board of Zoning Adjustment) plus a couple of federal representatives.

by Lance on Jun 3, 2009 8:00 pm • linkreport

Simon, I may have been incorrect in saying "plus a couple of federal respresentatives". Reading through the District's site ... it sounds like it may be made up of the same board members as the BZA ... just acting in a different capacity ... i.e., operating under the Foreign Missions Act of 1982:

"Under the Foreign Mission Act of 1982, the location, expansion, or replacement of a chancery in certain mixed use areas of the city is subject to the review and possible disapproval of the Board. Six criteria are applied when considering applications."

http://dcoz.dc.gov/services/bza/bza.shtm

by Lance on Jun 3, 2009 8:08 pm • linkreport

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