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History


Anacostia's historic homes are on the mend

On Monday, more than a hundred people gathered in front of 2010 14th Street SE to cut the ceremonial ribbon on a new day in old Anacostia. This isn't the only one; renovation is coming to a half-dozen historic yet decaying homes in the immediate blocks.


Ribbon cutting at 2010 14th Street SE. Photos by the author.

The L'Enfant Trust, a preservation organization, is rehabilitating 2010 14th Street, SE. The work from it and other property owners herald a larger regeneration reverberating throughout the neighborhood.

"There are 3 types of people," said local activist William Alston-El, who first introduced me to the back story of 2010 14th Street SE years ago. "Those who make things happen; those that watch things happen, and those that wonder what happened. Anyone with their eyes half-open can see things are happening in Anacostia. It's time for us to start working to make things happen. The time for wondering and watching has passed."


1347 Maple View Place SE.

While 2010 14th Street SE is expected to go on the market in August, The L'Enfant Trust is continuing its work on 1347 Maple View Place SE. As a crew worked on the exterior of 1347, across the street private investors had teams hard at work on 1344 and 1348 Maple View Place SE, which sold last month for $400,000, according to property records.


1344 Maple View Place SE.


1348 Maple View Place SE.


2126 15th Street SE

At 2126 15th Street SE, adjacent to the entrance of the parking lot of the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, a local development and contracting team was active inside and outside of the house.

Built in 1892 at the junction of Jefferson and Adams Street, the home's foundation rests on compact clay. The young owners of the home, who have formed an architecture firm, expect to move in later this fall.


View from the 2nd floor of 1352 U Street SE.

From the 2nd floor of the recently interior renovated 1352 U Street SE, formerly Jackson Street, one enjoys a panoramic view of the historic corner of 14th and U Streets SE. To the left is the old Masonic Lodge built in the early 1890s; in the middle is an open-air market space that predates the Civil War; and to the right is the old Anacostia Methodist Episcopal Church built in 1892.

A local construction crew has cleared out the over-grown back yard and transformed the home's interior. The home next door is vacant and the backyard is a "jungle," said the lead contractor on site.


1350 U Street SE sits vacant, awaiting renovation.

A presence in the neighborhood since 1967, Alston-EL said after watching the ribbon cutting at 2010 14th Street SE and visiting a number of homes with active construction crews, "It's been a 'new day' in Anacostia for as long as I've been here." After a pause and consideration, "But they might just be right this time."

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.

Preservation


How old are DC's buildings? This map will tell you

An interactive map from the National Trust for Historic Preservation shows the average age of buildings throughout the city.


Map from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The map doesn't show individual buildings. Rather, it shows the median age of all the buildings within a roughly block-sized area. The map is a handy way to get a quick sense of neighborhoods' overall development history.

Where are DC's historic buildings clustered? Capitol Hill and Georgetown, sure, but pre-war neighborhoods also stretch out in other directions all the way to the Maryland border. Meanwhile, the buildings downtown and along commercial and industrial corridors tend to be much newer.

The interactive map also includes Seattle and San Francisco.

What other patterns do you see?

Preservation


A decaying Anacostia home gleams (and sells) once more

While many residential and commercial properties in old Anacostia suffer from decades of abandonment, one historic home, at 1354 Maple View Place SE, has been transformed and rejoined the city's tax rolls. If the restoration can continue throughout the neighborhood it may forecast a new day in old Anacostia.


1354 Maple View Place SE in February 2014.

In mid-January 1907, George W. King, Jr. applied for a building permit to construct an 18x42 foot, 1-story home at a cost of $3,200 atop a hill that offers an unbroken sight line of the United States Capitol. The home was subsequently widened, and a second story was added in 1916. It was rebuilt and enclosed, partly with masonry.

By the late fall of 1918, rooms for rent were advertised in the Evening Star. One ad read, "1354 MAPLE VIEW PLACE S.E. (Anacostia)large front room, four windows, southern and eastern exposure, hot water heat, bath and nicely furnished: rent, $30 per month."

According to a December 1944 Star profile of local "Bible Class Leaders," King had taught Sunday School since 1899 at the Anacostia Methodist Church (today St. Philip the Evangelist Episcopal Church) at the corner of 14th and U Street SE. A member of the Board of Trade and Masons, King lived with his wife and 3 daughters at 1354 Maple View Place SE. King passed away 10 years later while still living in the home.

Based on newspaper accounts, city records, and discussions with Anacostia residents, the property was last occupied in the late 1980s or early 1990s after which the home fell into a period of disrepair and neglect.

1354 Maple View Place SE in July 2010.

"The subject property has been vacant and a neighborhood eye sore for several years," wrote Tim Dennée of the Historic Preservation Office in a February 2011 staff report for proposed additions and alterations to 1354 Maple View Place SE:

Between fire damage and subsequent deterioration due to exposure, most of the house lacks a roof and most of the second-floor framing, and there are large gaps in the exterior walls, including the loss of the upper half of a two-story addition on the east side. ... This represents perhaps the final chance to save this historic house. And despite its present condition, there is a practical value to retaining the building in addition to the preservation interest.
Little work was done from the 2011 hearing until November 2012 when, according to city tax records, the property was purchased for $110,000. Last fall a fence was finally erected around the property and basic rehabilitation work began.


1354 Maple View Place SE in July 2013.

The 3-sided brick alcove has been removed. The house now has a flat front. In the process of removing the siding, the original gingerbread shingles were revealed on the attic level and have been incorporated into the finished rehabilitation. A room in the rear of the home that had collapsed has been repaired. A front porch has been added. A pile of mud in the front yard has been replaced by a green lawn.

According to city records the property's assessed value for 2015 is $160,840. That is less than half of what the home sold for in late April. Its sale point of nearly $350,000 reflects a healthy barometer for the neighborhood.


1354 Maple View Place SE in Historic Anacostia today.

Across the street at 1347 Maple View Place SE, a full renovation effort by The L'Enfant Trust and its many partners is nearing completion on a late 19th century home developed by local street car owner Henry A. Griswold. The trust expects to list 1347 Maple View Place SE, along with another home which the 35-year old organization has rehabbed at 2010 14th Street SE, likely around the low to mid $300,000s.

Canvassing old Anacostia over the past year, William Alston-El and I have met many earnest individuals and progressive investors painstakingly renovating properties throughout the city's first subdivision. Despite a spate of gun violence that has gripped the neighborhood in recent months, the new life of 1354 Maple View Place SE is undeniable evidence old Anacostia is slowly on the rise.

Preservation


To preserve or redevelop? One man will soon decide for a key Anacostia site

DC's housing agency wants to develop a long-vacant site in Anacostia with affordable housing and retail, but residents and the city's preservation officials say it is incompatible with the neighborhood. The choice between the two hangs on one last appeal.


Photo by Old Anacostia on Flickr.

The city's Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) has owned the "Big K" site on the 2200 block of Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue since 2010. It includes the abandoned former "Big K" liquor store and two historic, yet blighted, houses next door.

DHCD has been working with the Chapman Development company to plan an affordable apartment building on the land. Chapman wants to demolish the liquor store, built in 1906 but just outside the Anacostia Historic District, and move the two houses to a nearby city lot where the former Unity Healthcare Clinic has sat vacant for nearly two years. Chapman would pay for the relocation, while DHCD would renovate the homes with a fund of $750,000.

Chapman also plans to acquire the adjacent Astro Motors to assemble the entire Big K site and build a building of 114 apartments over a retail ground floor. The apartments would be affordable housing for people making 60% of Area Median Income, or about $58,000 for a family of 3. The original proposal was 6 stories and 141 units, but Chapman shrank the project in response to community pushback.


Rendering of the original, larger proposal.

The revised version maxes out at 5 stories, but each of the upper two stories would be set back so they do not occupy the whole footprint of the parcel, forming an "E-shaped building" as seen from Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. DHCD would transfer its ownership of the Big K lot to Chapman for $1, while low-income tax credits and government transfer rent payments would help finance the building.


Top: Elevation of the original proposal. Bottom: The new proposal. Renderings from a community presentation by the development team.

However, at community meetings about the project, residents have opposed the plan. They do not want to see so much new affordable housing, saying that Anacostia already has more than its fair share. Others said that the building's scale is incompatible with the historic district, which mostly comprises lower and smaller buildings.

Residents also opposed the name Cedar Hill Flats. Cedar Hill is the name for the home of legendary civil rights activist Frederick Douglass, and community members wanted to keep that name linked solely with Douglass. Chapman has agreed not to use the name.

The Historic Preservation Review Board "denied the concept for new construction as incompatible with the character of the historic district because it is too large in height and extent relative to the historic buildings in the commercial corridor and out of scale with the historic district" in October. Then, at the end of February, Chapman brought its revised, shorter version to HPRB, which again denied the application:

It is too tall relative to the district's historic buildings and too extensive, to occupy half the square and crowd the narrow sidewalk. It would also destroy the unusual topography of the site. ... The Board recommended that a permit not be issued to move 2234 and 2252 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue because the move would diminish the buildings' integrity and harm the character of this corner of the historic district, and because the houses could be rehabilitated and reused in place.
The preservation staff and board were also skeptical that the $750,000 earmark would be enough to properly relocate the homes without damaging them.

Project goes to the Mayor's Agent

HPRB's charge is only to look at the historic preservation issues in an application. But when a property owner believes the "special merit" or public interest value of a project should outweigh historic concerns (or if there is a financial hardship involved), there is an appeals process to an officer known as the Mayor's Agent. Currently, that agent is J. Peter Byrne, a Professor of Law at the Georgetown University Law Center.

Chapman has appealed to the Mayor's Agent. At a hearing yet to be scheduled, Byrne will review the application to move and rehabilitate the two houses and, will consider the purposes and benefits of the entire Big K project. DHCD and Chapman Development will likely argue the "special merit" of different components of the project, its amenities, and talk about how they help achieve objectives in DC's Comprehensive Plan.

At February's HPRB hearing, staff from DHCD, including Director Michael Kelly, Chapman Development and a consultant from Streetsense, argued that economic development was a key component of the project. Although members of HPRB contended that economic development was not under their purview, it is possible that argument will meet the special merit standard for the Mayor's Agent to rule in favor of the project.

After four long years of debate, the long path for Anacostia's most infamous vacant property may finally be coming to an endor if this proposal fails, could continue for years more to come.

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