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Weekend links: Montreal's attempt to slow growth

Montreal's city council is limiting the number of new restaurants in one neighborhood in hopes that the move will slow rising prices. The buildings we live and work in shape how we think, and designers are hoping that's just the tip of the iceberg. Some argue that our urban policies of the last two decades drove down city voter turnout earlier this month. Read about this, and more, from world of transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by La Belle Province on Flickr.

Of Montreal: In an effort to fight gentrification, the city of Montreal has determined that a street in a booming neighborhood will not open any new high-end restaurants. The law passed by city council states that a new restaurant cannot open within 25 meters of an existing one, while other stores are more than welcome. This has drawn complaints from merchants but has pleased residents that think the move will keep rents in the city lower than in contemporaries like Vancouver and Toronto. (Guardian)

Messing with your mind: Stop for a second and look around. The place where you are reading this could be controlling your mind. Interiors and exteriors of buildings have a strong influence on how humans feel. Designers are working to learn more so they can do things like build hospitals that heal people more quickly or prisons that do a better job of rehabilitating. (Curbed)

Blame urban policy: Is our country's urban policy of the last 25 years the reason fewer urban voters turned out this year than in 2008? Commentator James DeFilippis thinks so, saying that policies that are too market focused, help people that already have capital, and outsource community action have failed to make a noticeable positive difference in the lives of many city dwellers. (Metropolitics)

Car, car revolution?: Ford's CEO Mark Fields believes that cars aren't the future of his company. At the recent Automobility LA conference, Fields said he wants to focus on moving people rather than moving vehicles. A focus on urban transportation modes and partnerships with cities would be a welcome shift for anyone hoping we'll cut back on our car dependence. (Los Angeles Times).

Three paths for self-driving cars: Some people see three different scenarios coming to pass once electric autonomous vehicles are really a feasible option: dense, high-income places where people share self-driving cars the way we do with ride hailing services now, sprawling places where most people buy their own, and places where the technology just doesn't work because the infrastructure isn't good enough or there are too many unpredictable pedestrians. (Fast Company Co-Exist)

The psychology behind why we're OK with sitting in traffic

Most people hate traffic, yet we are willing to sit in it for long periods of time to get to where we are going. Have you ever wondered why you put up with it? In this episode of Transit Trends, Dr. Bob Duke and Dr. Art Markman, the hosts of the podcast Two Guys on Your Head and recent authors of a book called Brain Briefs, sit down with host Erica Brennes to discuss the psychology behind sitting in traffic.

Architecture


Building of the Week: The Wonder Bread Factory

If you walk down S Street in Shaw, you'll pass the Wonder Bread Factory between 7th and 6th Streets NW. Though its façade still boasts "Wonder Bread" and "Hostess Cake," today the building is full of retail space and offices. It's a great example of adaptive reuse, which is repurposing a historic building for a new function.


Photo by Ted Eytan on Flickr.

The oldest portion of the 641 S Street NW property dates to 1913. The building was an expansion of Dorsch's White Cross Bakery. Wonder Bread acquired the company and its property in 1936, and may have used the space principally to bake Hostess Cake products.

While many longtime Washingtonians remember the delicious smell the factory emitted, Wonder Bread moved its operations in the 1980s, closing the factory. The building's ensuing vacancy hastened its decline, and by the time Douglas Development Corporation bought the property in 1997, collapsed roofing and structural instability were part of the package. There was widespread rust, buckling floorboards, and a patina of general neglect.

The building was—and still is—full of fascinating architectural features.

One of the most distinctive is the white crosses that festoon the original three story brick building. According the Douglas Development's website, these "were meant to relieve fears that their bread might not be safe to eat after Upton Sinclair's The Jungle struck fear into people that factory food was unsanitary."

Other appealing features include the Wonder Bread sign and large multi-pane windows in the front of the building.

Attention also went into restoring finer details of the landmarked building. Open bar joists, which are triangulated lightweight steel trusses, were used to support floors, instead of simpler but anachronistic concrete decks.


The factory's open bar joists. Photo from Douglas Development.

Douglas considered a number of uses for over a decade after it bought the building in 1997, including a boutique hotel and apartment complex. In 2010, a mixed use development with retail on the first and second floors and offices on the upper floors prevailed.

Building rehabilitation went on between 2012 and 2013, and which meant a number of changes to the structure. Those included the addition of a fourth story to the factory's rear, excavation on the S Street side of the building, and a basement excavation, which created space for underground parking. A rooftop terrace also went in, and while much of the building had to be stripped to its hardy skeleton, the open spaces that characterize its original industrial use were retained.

All of these amenities attracted new tenants, like WeWorkDC, Event Space DC, and Youth for Understanding USA. When iStrategyLabss signed a lease in 2014, the building was 100 percent occupied.


Photo by Patrick on Flickr.

It may have taken a while to turn the Wonder Bread factory into a new building, but today's tenants are clearly proud of their spaces. WeWork devotes an entire paragraph to describing the history and renovation of the building on the location's webpage.

More broadly, while the tech industry tends to be a forward-thinking one, it clearly finds value in historic places. At its peak, web-based coupon service LivingSocial boasted six offices in Washington, many in adaptively reused or renovated buildings. Also, Twitter's San Francisco operations are headquartered in an old furniture mart, and AirBnb renovated a warehouse nearby.

Adaptive reuse is also useful in difficult or expensive construction markets. While Washington lacks San Francisco's zoning nightmare, rehabilitating a building still has financial incentives here. These come principally in the form of Historic Preservation Tax Credits. This federal program grants certain buildings that are listed on the National Register 10 or 20 percent tax credits for reusing a structure based on the Secretary of the Interior's standards.

The Wonder Bread Factory is an example of an architectural gem successfully repurposed for 21st century economic needs and philosophical desires.

History


Gas stations were much better looking in 1924

Most gas stations these days are pretty garish, but gas stations weren't always so. Check out this vintage 1924 station, from Connecticut Avenue in Woodley Park.


Lord Baltimore Filling Station. Photo by the National Photo Company, via the Library of Congress.

This is the Lord Baltimore Filling Station, at the corner of Connecticut Avenue and Ordway Street NW. It may not be truly typical of the era, but it's hard to imagine seeing as sharp-looking a gas station today.

It's not only the nice architecture that make this notable. It's also the urban design. This isn't as great for sidewalk life as a row of main street-style shops, but it's a building that fronts on the sidewalk. It could be a lot worse.

Do you know of any unusually good-looking gas stations? What makes them interesting?

We originally ran this post last year, but since the history hasn't changed we wanted to share it again!

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Architecture


Twenty-five gorgeous but non-famous US train stations

America has abundant famous train stations, from New York's iconic Grand Central, to Denver's fabulously remodeled Union Station. DC is blessed with a particularly lovely one. But if you only know the famous stations, you're missing out.

Here are 25 gorgeous train stations from around the US that you may not have seen before.

1. Worcester Union Station


Worcester Union Station. Photo by C Hanchey on Flickr.

Some of the buildings on this list are still active train stations, and some aren't. But all were originally built as gateways to their city.

(A note: the reason so many train stations are called Union Station is because when they were built, that's what they called rail depots where multiple railroad companies shared the same location.)

2. Albuquerque Alvarado Station


Albuquerque Alvarado Station. Photo by Karen Blaha on Flickr.

3. Omaha Union Station


Omaha Union Station. Photo by Chris Murphy on Flickr.

4. Buffalo Central Terminal


Buffalo Central Terminal. Photo by Bruce Fingerhood on Flickr.

5. Richmond Main Street Station


Richmond Main Street Station. Photo by rvaphotodude on Flickr.

6. Barstow, CA Harvey House Station


Barstow, CA Harvey House Station. Photo from Ron Reiring on Flickr.

7. San Bernardino Santa Fe Station


San Bernardino Santa Fe Station. Photo from Oakshade on Wikipedia.

8. Kansas City Union Station


Kansas City Union Station. Photo by Ron Reiring on Flickr.

9. Boise Union Pacific Station


Boise Union Pacific Station. Photo from Doug Kerr on Flickr.

10. Scranton Lackawanna Station


Scranton Lackawanna Station. Photo from Andrew Baskett on Flickr.

11. Utica Union Station


Utica Union Station. Photo from Carol on Flickr.

12. Nashville Union Station


Nashville Union Station. Photo from Megan Morris on Flickr.

13. Indianapolis Union Station


Indianapolis Union Station. Photo from the.urbanophile on Flickr.

14. San Diego Santa Fe Station


San Diego Santa Fe Station. Photo by Penn Station University Library on Flickr.

15. Salt Lake City Union Pacific Station


Salt Lake City Union Pacific Station. Photo from SounderBruce on Flickr.

16. Ogden Union Station


Ogden Union Station. Photo from railsr4me on Flickr.

17. Springfield, IL Union Station


Springfield Union Station. Photo from Ron Reiring on Flickr.

18. Tacoma Union Station


Tacoma Union Station. Photo from SounderBruce on Flickr.

19. Louisville Union Station


Louisville Union Station. Photo from Pam Culver on Flickr.

20. Saint Louis Union Station


Saint Louis Union Station. Photo by Dustin Batt on Flickr.

21. Oklahoma City Union Station


Oklahoma City Union Station. Photo from Raymond Woods on Flickr.

22. Topeka Overland Station


Topeka Overland Station. Photo from Ron Reiring on Flickr.

23. Cheyenne Union Station


Cheyenne Union Station. Photo from railsr4me on Flickr.

24. Chattanooga Terminal Station


Chattanooga Terminal Station. Photo from Andrew Jameson on Wikipedia.

25. San Antonio Sunset Station


San Antonio Sunset Station. Photo from Tony in WA on Flickr.

We initially ran this post last year, but we wanted to share it again!

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Architecture


Building of the Week: Francis A. Gregory Library

Some of DC's most interesting architecture is hiding in its least-visited neighborhoods. The dynamic glass and timber Francis A. Gregory Library, which was designed by the same architect that brought DC the new African American history museum, sits on Alabama Avenue SE, near the Maryland border.


The Francis Gregory Library. Photo by Neil Flanagan.

This architectural gem's Fort Davis neighborhood is underserved. There's less developed public transit than in other parts of DC, the federal government isn't using any of the available land except for the military's Joint Base Anacostia-- Bolling, and nearby historic sites get little promotion.

Placing Adjaye Associates and Wiencek Associates' world-class library here, though, was no accident. In 2012, David Adjaye's company completed both the Francis A. Gregory Library and the nearby Bellevue Library, in the Washington Highlands neighborhood. The Tanzanian born, London-based architect has worked on projects in similarly marginalized areas of London and Johannesburg. This month, Adjaye's latest joint venture, the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture opens on the National Mall.

Adjaye's is often praised for focusing on the people who live in a given place rather than simply impressing the architectural elite, yet few in the District mention the unusually exciting contemporary architecture he is infusing into an aesthetically conservative city.

The main feature of the library's exterior is the glass curtain wall. That Adjaye could bring joy to a curtain wall speaks to his creativity. A curtain wall is simply a non-structural outer wall that separates occupants from weather. Huge glass curtain walls were once revolutionary, but they now typically signal urban homogeneity.

Adjaye made the curtain wall an exciting building technique again with diamond cutouts whose interiors are lined in wood. This gives both the facade and interior three dimensionality, as well as foreshadowing the woven look that he has implemented in the new Smithsonian's exterior.


Photo by Payton Chung on Flickr.

Unlike every new glass building the library truly relates to its environment. Surrounding trees provide natural weather moderation. They also have the rare effect of being mirrored in the library's low-emissivity coated glass. This design is beautiful but also logical, as the library provides passage to the park behind it.

Leaving the steel-canopied exterior for the 22,500 square foot interior does not mean abandoning sun. The atrium and reading rooms provide views of the vegetation, and visitors can sit in some of the wooden diamonds. Glass ceilings cut in a square pattern enhance the intended porousness of the space.


Photo by Payton Chung on Flickr.

In keeping with Adjaye's community interest, some of the library's rooms can transition from their public purpose to other uses, like event and conference areas. The space is intentionally intimate and uncluttered. Its 32 public computers and seven transformable rooms reflect an understanding of the rapid evolution of libraries' function in the 21st century.

These themes are all over the new African American history museum, too

Many of the elements from Adjaye's library are reflected in his new work on the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture: steel and wood construction, LEED certification, and evolution of a building typology.


The new National Museum of African American History and Culture. Photo by Michael Barnes, from the Smithsonian.

It is perhaps this last similarity that is most important. Adjaye's library is a place not only for its classic silent study, but also for presently celebrated ideals like community and learning from others. His new museum is perhaps America's highest profile attempt to understand a history that is still unfolding.


Image from ISEC.

African American history and culture permeate and shape every part of the American story; the ramifications of the subjugation of that race, during slavery and long after, is its ugly underbelly. The conflict between celebration and suppression is still being explored today. To approach such a living, contested subject will be done visibly in Adjaye Associates and Wiencek Associates' museum, but also in the architect's decisions.

The building's design draws inspiration from African American building. Its aluminum and bronze exterior cladding is a modern version of the ornamental metal casting that African Americans created in the south in the 19th century using their knowledge of West African techniques. While expensive to create, the bronze panels will darken over time, making a dramatic statement on the National Mall.

Adjaye's so-called "woodland folly" (a term referring to the fact that the building is supposed to become part of the landscape, suggesting an intertwined relationship with the surrounding nature, as woodland follies were small structures designed to allow users to relax in nature) on Alabama Avenue bears less of this weighty burden. Yet in designing libraries for overlooked areas, Adjaye brings innovation and beauty to neighborhoods others see unfit to visit. He is creating progressive places not for the sake of drawing wealthy people in, but to bring a wealth of ideas to nearby residents local libraries are meant to serve.

Architecture


Does DC want boring architecture? Sort of.

DC has a lot of boring architecture, and that's no mistake; a cheap federal government and a bevy of paper pushers keep the District that way. At least that's what a few experts on architecture and development in DC had to say at a panel last week.


Is DC architecture inherently boring? Photo by Bossi on Flickr.

Turncoats, an urbanist debate group, hosted its first DC debate last week on the question of whether or not the District wants boring architecture. The organization works to encourage provocative discussion, fueling everyone—including audience members—with a shot of liquor before things get started and only assigning the panelists sides after they've taken the stage.

Payton Chung of the Urban Land Institute (and a member of Greater Greater Washington's editorial board), Brian Miller of Edit Lab at Streetsense, Nooni Reatig of Suzane Reatig Architecture, and Mina Wright of the General Services Administration and National Capital Planning Commission (who was careful to stress that all of her statements were hers alone and not those of her employer) participated in the panel.

Initially, Payton and Nooni were assigned the position that DC does indeed want boring architecture, while Brian and Mina had to argue that isn't the case.

Despite their supposed sides, the panelists coalesced in agreement that DC architecture is boring... they just differed on the reasons why. For example, Payton argued that it is the embodiment of DC's culture of middle-management paper pushers while Mina said it was simply the result of a cheap federal government keen to maximize usable space in its office buildings.

We (Edward and Joanne) attended the panel and discussed our thoughts in a chat format.

Edward Russell (ER): It was clear to me that the panelists, whether they took the pro or con position, feel that DC's architecture is boring. I do wish those who argued that DC does in fact want boring architecture had said more about why boring architecture can still be interesting.

Joanne Pierce (JP): I expected the panelists to discuss DC's architecture as it is now, why it appears to be boring, and whether they agree (since boring is relative). "City architecture is boring" is a popular opinion. You can google any city and "boring architecture" and get dozens of articles decrying NYC, Boston, LA, etc., for being filled with boxy, glass buildings.

ER: Exactly. I felt that some were a bit of tongue-and-cheek, especially on the con side—though the two blended together a bit—with Nooni arguing that multiple streets lined with "Soul Cycle, Chipotle and Starbucks" made her feel comfortable, which was clearly a dig at the homogeneity of it all.

JP: There were lots of zingers, which were fun and spirited. I think everyone truly enjoys living in DC, and they can still poke fun at its stodgy reputation. That was an interesting comment on the sameness of our streets, which Mina echoed with her comment about Federal Triangle being lovely, but "you don't want to live in a city of Federal Triangles." I appreciated that comment because Federal Triangle happens to be that prime example of DC federal building run amok. It's just federal building after federal building. But it can be lovely!


Federal Triangle. Photo by Irakil on Flickr.

ER: It can be lovely. There is certainly a grandeur of the federal DC, with the ordered avenues and the neo-classical buildings.

JP: I'm a little biased because I work in the Ronald Reagan Building.

ER: One thing that surprised me was how the height limit only came up once, and it was an audience member saying they didn't think that is the issue holding back DC architecture. I expected it to be discussed more.

JP: I did, too. I think that's owing to the structure, where the panelists didn't bring it up, except to say that we don't need skyscrapers. The discussion seemed to be more about the overall uniformity that exists in DC. I was also surprised that the discussion focused mostly on public or semi-public buildings, and not much at all on residences.

ER: Yes, I think that was the result of, as Payton put it, the fact that DC is a city of "middle class, paper-pushing bureaucrats." A lot of the speakers built off that. I agree that the federal government has had an outsize impact on DC architecture for decades—centuries even—but the panelists took it a step further and argued that we're a city of bureaucrats who ultimately want an unadorned box (or row house) rather than some limit-pushing designed residence, whether in a tower or a house.

JP: There's some historical connection with that comment. Lots of our boxy tan buildings are brutalist, and a lot of those came about because of the federal government. For instance, the Weaver building, which is where Housing and Urban Development is now, was built according to President Kennedy's architectural initatives. So if we think the Weaver's big, boxy (it's actually kind of curved) look is unattractive, it is because Kennedy wanted it to represent the strength of America.


The Weaver Building. Photo by Kjetil Ree on Flickr.

ER: Like Brian said: "DC has lots of cutting edge architecture, it's just from 100 years ago." Or 50 years ago in the case of President Kennedy.

JP: Concrete is wonderful! You'll see! Going back to your comment about wanting unadorned, big boxes—I'm no architect, but it seems like when your primary need is space to house many people (for housing or for work) your most logical shape is a square or rectangle, not a curve or a triangle. It seems like there should be a way to combine the two, but then you sometimes get the 20 Fenchurch building, which was Brian's example of ugly design.


20 Fenchurch Street in London. Photo by Matt Buck on Flickr.

ER: Yes, that is something DC architecture does well—maximizing the amount of space available for workers or for residents, within the limits that exist for buildings (height limit, plot size, whatever). As Mina put it, "I think the Feds are at fault. Why? They're cheap."

JP: The cheapness of government makes a lot of sense but I think it's more of a cultural cheapness. Maybe for a long time, we just didn't want to stand out. Or at least, the people in power who made the decisions didn't think the city needed to stand out. Except with The National Mall.

ER: Did you agree with the general conclusion that so much generally mediocre architecture will make the unique, interesting buildings in DC stand out? I agree with the premise but wonder how we get to the point where we have unique buildings to stand out from the crowd. Like Atlantic Plumbing (2112 8th Street NW), I do like it, it's more industrial then we generally have here, but at the same time it is still a steel and glass rectangular box.


Atlantic Plumbing. Photo by Ted Eytan on Flickr.

JP: I think that the question of what is boring should be reframed. Are we boring, or are we just not a place where we have singular, instantly recognizable buildings. Things that show up in magazines, like Brian pointed out, and things that wow people as they drive by. Is that what we consider to be the most important?

ER: We have a few remarkable buildings, but I'd say they're iconic more due to their historical significance than their architecture (the White House, the Capitol).

JP: Certainly, we have the White House and the Capitol and the monuments. But beyond that, when we talk about iconic buildings that aren't Federal... I think the premise of whether our uniformity allows the interesting buildings to stand out is totally right. The African American history museum stands out because it's brown and not in the same architectural style as many others.

ER: It certainly does, whether you like the design or not.

JP: Sometimes, you just need one bold idea to start things off.

Architecture


How DC's central and outer neighborhoods differ, in 3 maps

Some of DC's residential neighborhoods feel a lot more like a city than others—just compare Capitol Hill's small row houses and the mid-century homes in upper Forest Hills, for example. These maps show the big divide between DC's inner and outer sections when it comes to house type, year built, and lot size.


Maps by the author.

In each map, there's an almost-identical area of light shading across the area that stretches from Capitol Hill to Georgetown and from Shaw up to Petworth. Generally, houses closer to DC's core are almost all older row houses built on smaller lots, while those closer to the edges tend to be newer single or semi-detached houses on larger pieces of land.



The divide becomes more distinct when looking at the data by ward. Here are DC's wards:


DC's wards. Image from the DC Office of Planning.

Below, you can see the median year a home was built, the median lot size, and the percent of homes that are not row houses. Wards 1, 2 and 6, which make up the inner part of the city, are all grouped together on the left.

Ward 2 has, on median, the oldest homes. The true median may even be older than 1900; that year is often used as default for building year when one cannot be determined. Homes in Wards 7 and 8 are the newest.

A peculiar vestige of the L'Enfant Plan—the fact that homeowners in the old city do not own their front yardsmay slightly downplay lot size within the inner city, so I didn't include front yards in lot size.

Ward 3 is by far the least residentially dense ward, with a median lot size of 5,100 square feet, three times that of Ward 6. Ward 3 also has the fewest row houses. In the inner wards, more than 80% of all homes are row houses.

A version of this post originally ran at DataLensDC.

Links


National links: How do bikes work? We don't really know...

Physicists disagree on what exactly makes bikes work. Kansas City opened a streetcar line earlier this year, and it's doing really well. A number of US companies are moving parts of their businesses into downtowns but keeping other parts in less urban places. Check out what's happening around the country (and beyond) in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Étienne F on Flickr.

Bicycles. They're a mystery: Even though bicycles have been around over 100 years, we still aren't sure about the physics of why they work. Two competing theories, the gyroscopic and caster, are still being debated. A new research lab could solve the mystery once and for all. (Fast Company Design)

A successful streetcar: Given the poor ridership numbers for a lot of new streetcar projects around the country, it might surprise you to hear that Kansas City's new streetcar line has exceeded expectations. It's averaging over 6,600 riders a day even though it's a relatively short line, it's free to ride and goes through an up and coming district, and there are extensions on the way. (Slate)

Moving downtown... kind of: Many US corporations have long preferred suburban headquarters, but a number of CEOs are moving their offices downtown in hopes of attracting high-skill workers. At the same time, some are keeping lower wage jobs in suburbs and smaller cities, leading to questions of equity. (New York Times)

Where are all the great urban spaces?: In the last fifty years, the US has slowed down on building small streets with human scale buildings, and there's been an explosion of sprawl. If city administrators want great urban places, they need to focus on non-auto transportation and streets that put stores, schools, homes, and churches within walkable distances. (Governing Magazine)

A home to grow old in: Universal design is a way of designing places for people of all ages and abilities. Having a gradual slope instead of steps so that wheelchairs can access a room is one example of the practice. Designers don't always apply the practice to housing, especially those building in bulk, but with so many people aging, it's becoming more necessary to create dwellings that accommodate people through all stages of life. A Seattle company that makes prefabricated housing is focusing on universal design. (Fast Company Design)

Redevelopment in London: For a long time, the area around King's Cross rail station in London was a mixture of banged up and dangerous. But over the last few decades, redevelopment around the district's old rail lines and canals have formed the centerpiece of a great urban place. (Travel and Leisure)

Quote of the Week

"Hoover's zoning program, however, was created specifically to facilitate master-planned suburbs on virgin land. It was never designed to work in existing, built-out areas. So it should come as no surprise that today's city planners struggle to shoehorn urban diversity into suburban zoning schemes that assume car-dominated mobility and a neat separation of uses."

Mott Smith and Mark Vallianatos in the Los Angeles Times, discussing why we need to stop zoning and planning in cities as if they were suburbs.

History


Building of the Week: Downtown's Woodward & Lothrop building

Located 11th Street NW between G and F Streets, DC's Woodward and Lothrop building is iconic: it appears in books and as a case study for developers, and we've even featured it ourselves (twice!). But while most of the attention focuses on the famous department store that lived in it, the building itself tells the story of how fast fashion eclipsed department store retail in the United States.


The Woodward & Lothrop building, sometime in the 1910s. Image from Wikipedia Commons.

Woodward and Lothrop was founded in Washington in 1880 and settled into its flagship location on the 1000 block of F and G Streets NW in 1886. Architect James G. Hill designed the company's eclectic five-story headquarters, and real estate investor Calderon Carlisle funded the project.

The building was no skyscraper, but it shared the language of taller buildings: arcade windows and expansive showrooms covered in neoclassical ornament. The rich mix of materials included mahogany and French glass.

Thanks to continued success, owners Samuel Woodward and Alvin Lorthrop purchased most of the block by 1897. New acquisitions were renovated or expanded, notably a large addition in 1902 on G Street.


A picture from an advertisement in the 1913 edition of Rand McNally's Pictorial Guide to Washington. Photo from Streets of Washington.

Chicago architect Henry Ives Cobb was hired to unify and modernize the building. The result was eight stories and 400,000 square feet of retail space adorned with cast iron and leaded glass.

Cobb's design spoke to his Chicago roots. The building's two commercial levels featured elaborate ornamentation and American-made cast iron piers. The third floor was narrower and hid its steel frame under rustication. The subsequent four stories wear a Beaux-Arts uniform and end in a heavy cornice. This segmentation resembles that of Chicago skyscrapers.

For F Street, Woodward and Lothrop hired Frederick B. Pyle to build a terra cotta segment of the building. While designed to appear as a distinct structure, it was always integrated into the larger building.


Here, you can see the terra cotta part of the building, which runs along 10th Street. Photo from Douglas Development.

By 1927 the building took on its present appearance after the original Carlisle Building had been destroyed. Woodies, as it was affectionately known, operated here until 1994 with only modest changes.


The Woodies building after 1926, viewed from 11th and F Streets, NW. Image from Streets of Washington.

By the end of the 20th century, the entire chain was bankrupt. The Washington location was abandoned, and its building auctioned to the Washington Opera. The Opera's plans to convert the landmarked space into a theater failed, and five years later it was acquired by developer Douglas Jemal.

The company renovated the space in 2002, putting offices on most floors and returning the ground level to retail space. Now a jaunt around the block allows you to shop at Zara, H&M, and Forever 21.


Image from Douglas Development.

Woodies led the way for department stores, both the rise and fall

These new tenants are no modern Woodies—because the department store as a business model is long in decline. In Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, author Elizabeth Cline delves into how department stores were revolutionary when they arrived at the turn of the 20th century, but by the end of the century, that revolution turned against them.


The Woodward & Lothrop floor at Christmas time, sometime in the 1960s. Photo by StreetsofWashington on Flickr.

In 1900, textile, patterns, and readymade home and clothing items under one roof gave upper class women a safe, socially acceptable escape from the household. These items' relative affordability meant a person didn't have to make all their own clothing anymore. By the post-war era, American pockets bulged, ready-to-wear was king, and competition was fierce in the industry. Mail order catalogs allowed you to peruse your regional chain's offerings, or you could drive to Montgomery Ward, Belk, or Burdines for mid-market sales.

But like its contemporary the land line, the department store model was due for change. Cline notes that by the 1970s malls and discount retailers mushroomed across America. These were descended upon by price conscious Americans—with an evaporating middle class, who would shop for mid-priced clothing? At the dawn of the 21st century, shopping preferences were clear: Forever 21 or the designer from whom the chain borrowed inspiration.

In the era of fast fashion—piles of stylish clothing go from sketch to store in a matter of weeks, selling for small sums—the moderate department store was too slow and expensive. Department stores tried to meet the new expectations, hastening their own demise with untenable discounts and a dwindling clientele.

Woodies was a casualty of this changing economy. Many of its stores were acquired by Macy's and Bloomingdales, chains that expanded nationally and weathered the shift partly by focusing on higher end customers. Woodies fell victim of its refusal to evolve—or as critics of fast fashion's labor and environmental effects argue, devolve.

Yet the signature building remains intact. The space itself epitomizes the changing retail tides of history. The eclectic buildings first brought together by Woodies have been recycled, reorganized, and parceled out to individual owners again. The structure remains to tell the tale.

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