Moving Buildings To Save D.C.’s Historic Foundation

by Melissa Block, July 10, 2012, NPR

>>>Read original article.

K Street may be synonymous with Washington, D.C.’s thriving lobbying industry, but for decades, K Street between 6th and 7th streets NW has been a dilapidated city block of 19th and early 20th century brick buildings. In recent months, staffers at NPR have witnessed the transformation of the entire city block, located behind NPR’s Washington headquarters.

Six historic structures were jacked up one by one and rolled out of the way. Five of those now sit on one end of an empty plot of dirt, waiting to be transplanted near their original spots on the block, which will be the home of a new 11-story, glass-clad office building for the Association of American Medical Colleges.

But unlike most urban development projects that get rid of old buildings to make way for new ones, the new AAMC building will incorporate these old brick buildings as new restaurants and retail shops, re-creating the old streetscape while simultaneously transforming it. The $200 million-plus project raises questions of what’s important to keep in a city and what should just be replaced.

Judging A Building’s History

These old buildings of the 600 block of K Street NW have seen far better days. Before they were moved, a hulking two-story, yellow-brick garage built in 1918 sat at one end of the block, and at the other end, a squat car wash that was once an auto shop. Midblock sat a couple of faded grande dames. There were also three skinny Victorian-era row houses. Most recently, one was known to be a brothel.

The car wash was the first building to be moved, and it took hours to transplant it 40 feet. But crew member Kevin Kolb of Expert House Movers says these old brick structures are worth saving.

“Brick is solid. It wears. It has age,” Kolb says. “It’s like an old man’s face. There are lines and wrinkles in it. But you know, you can power-wash that away and clean it.”

The AAMC project is saving not just the building facades but also most of the depth of the buildings — a historic preservation strategy welcomed by Rebecca Miller, executive director of the DC Preservation League, who says “facade jobs” became rampant in Washington, D.C., in the 1980s and stuck out like sore thumbs on revitalized city streets.

Miller says the value of historic buildings, like books, should not be judged by their covers.

“A lot of things have to do with the history of the building,” Miller says. “There could be some very nondescript building [that has] this wonderful history behind it.”

According to Miller, the nondescript buildings of K Street NW tell the story of a once-thriving German immigrant neighborhood and the early automotive era, as nearby streets became a commuter corridor.

A Compromise Of Old And New

Miller’s organization thoroughly researched these buildings and prepared paperwork to nominate them for national historic status. Preservation often complicates developers’ plans with restrictions, permits and legal fees. So that background work also gave Miller leverage in any potential clash with developers.

But in the case of the AAMC project, there was a negotiation, not a fight. The DC Preservation League compromised with developers at Douglas Development Corp. on saving these structures without historic status. Negotiations were not too contentious because it turns out this developer likes saving old buildings.

Paul Millstein, the gung-ho head of construction at Douglas Development, says he was amazed by the concept of moving buildings to preserve them.

“You know, people move a house [or] they move a table. [But] we’re moving buildings! I mean, what could be more exciting?” he asks.

But Millstein admits projects such as this one — combining old buildings with new — are impractical, and they scare lenders away.

“There’s not an institution or financier or lender out there that we’ve ever been able to convince these make sense,” Millstein says. “[There are] so many things that can go wrong from moving structures.”

Still, even though it’s costing millions to move these old buildings and incorporate them into the new one, Millstein sees a real benefit.

“I think it makes the buildings richer. It gives them a better feeling. They have the feng shui to them,” he says.

‘A Speck Of Sand In An Oyster’

Shalom Baranes is the architect of the new building. His sweeping contemporary design has space carved out for this motley assemblage of old brick. He says incorporating the old structures into the new building is “a little bit like placing a speck of sand in an oyster,” ultimately “deforming” the structure — but in a good way.

“I think it makes for a much more exciting urban landscape. You sense time,” Baranes say. “One of the great things about living in the city is that it has this fourth dimension of time. As you walk down the street, you sense what was done 100 years ago, 50 years ago, and those are things we don’t want to lose.”

Day by day, as the old buildings have been rolled away, a man has come around to capture the smaller increments of time passing on this block of K Street

“I am taking a picture of the history,” says Kebrab Tekla, an immigrant from Ethiopia, as he stands outside the chain link fence surrounding the construction site, taking photos with his cellphone.

Tekla lived on this block for 25 years, back when the neighborhood was a crime-ridden wasteland. He rented the house for many years before buying it for about $300,000. He was paid more than $2 million to move.

Tekla was the last property owner to sell, and his house was demolished. But he did manage to save a bit of it.

“I saved some of my house bricks, so I have contact with them every day,” Tekla says. “It’s history because all my children [were] born in this house and my father, he died in this house.”

That history is being rewritten as this part of Washington, D.C., undergoes massive change with new development built around signposts of the city that used to be.

Now Accepting Nominations for 2012 List of Most Endangered Places

The DC Preservation League is accepting nominations for its annual list of Most Endangered Places in Washington for 2012. The online nomination form can be found HERE and must be submitted no later than COB Tuesday, September 4, 2012. Selections will be announced in October 2012.

This list, issued annually since 1996, has included historic buildings and places such as the west campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital, McMillan Reservoir, Martin Luther King Jr., Memorial Library and the Joseph Taylor Arms Mansion (Chancery of the Democratic Republic of the Congo). The list of Most Endangered Places in Washington is chosen by the DCPL Board of Trustees based on nominations submitted by concerned individuals, communities and organizations. Nominations are assessed based on the severity of the threat to the resource in question, whether through demolition, neglect, or inappropriate alteration. The list can include buildings, parks or other landscaped areas, or even vistas and other aspects of the city’s unique planned history.  All Most Endangered Places selected are located in the District of Columbia.

Detailed descriptions of each site listed in past years including information about the threats motivating their inclusion on these lists can be found on our Endangered Places Link.

2012 District of Columbia Awards for Excellence in Historic Preservation – June 21, 2012

Thursday, June 21, 2012
Sixth & I Historic Synagogue
600 I Street, NW
6:30 – Ceremony

The DC Office of Planning, Historic Preservation Office and DC Preservati0n League cordially invite you to the 2012 District of Columbia Awards for Excellence in Historic Preservation. Awards ceremony begins at 6:30 with a reception to follow.

CLICK HERE to register.

CLICK HERE for Online Sponsorship Form.

Turn an Old House Into an Efficient House

By Shilpi Paul, June 11, 2012, DC Urban Turf

>>>Read Original Article

On Saturday, the DC Preservation League invited James Carroll from EcoHouse to give Capitol Hill homeowners some tips on how to make their old DC homes more energy efficient.

Basically, Carroll outlined the steps that inspectors go through when auditing a home in the District. Free energy audits are available to any single-family homeowner in DC, and EcoHouse, a residential energy efficiency company, also performs longer audits for a fee.

Here are some of the tips that Carroll shared:

  • With the help of an inspector, diagnose all sources of air leakage in and out of the house. This includes both improperly sealed doors and windows letting “bad” air in, and also punctured ducts leaking “good” air into an attic or basement.
  • Outdated appliances can be a huge energy suck. Refrigerator efficiency, for example, has greatly improved over the past few decades and changing out an old fridge for a newer model is probably worth the expense, as fridges are the biggest use of electricity in most homes (unless you have a hot tub).
  • Look for Energy Star-rated appliances whenever possible.
  • Make sure you are using a programmable thermostat to keep energy usage low during the day when the house is empty.
  • Consider using a “Smart Strip” power strip for large electronics. They are able to completely turn off electronics that are not in use, rather than drawing an idle current.
  • Change your light bulbs to either LED or Compact Flourescent Lighting (CFL). According to Carroll, LEDs are the best.
  • Change your air filter regularly to keep the systems working optimally.

DHCD Releases Solicitation for Offers to Redevelop the Big K Properties in Historic Anacostia

2234 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, SE

On June 4, 2012, the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), released a Solicitation for Offers (SFO) for the development of the Big K site, an assemblage of four contiguous District-owned properties in Ward 8.

Through the SFO, DHCD is seeking public offers to build a development project that promotes vibrant, walk-able, mixed-use neighborhoods and commercial corridors on the following sites:

2228, 2234, 2238 and 2252 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, SE.

The Solicitation for Offers application materials will be available by Friday, June 8, 2012 here on the DHCD website and also at the DHCD Housing Resource Center, located at 1800 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, Washington, DC 20020 in CD format. Printed copies of the application will be made available upon request.

An orientation meeting will be held at 11:00 am on Wednesday, June 27, 2012, at DHCD’s Housing Resource Center. The deadline for submitting proposal applications is 3 p.m. Friday, August 3, 2012.

For additional information and questions, please contact Denise L. Johnson at or 202-442-7169.

Full solicitation information can be found by clicking here.

*The Big K properties appeared in DCPL’s list of Most Endangered Places in 2002 and 2010.

Let the Old Post Office project run its course

By Rebecca Miller, June 1, 2012, Washington Business Journal

>>>Read Original Article

The Romanesque Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue was designed by Willoughby Edbrooke, who died before it was finished in 1899. The project was conceived of under the federal government’s desire to consolidate some of its office space and mail functions into a central location.

But this course proved uninformed, as mail functions at the Old Post Office were moved to its new home next to Union Station just 15 years later. Plans to raze the structure began almost immediately, but due to budgetary issues, changes in administration and every other circumstance possible, the Old Post Office held its ground.

By 1971, the Old Post Office was outdated, underused and generally unloved. Forty years later, we have a similar scenario minus the unloved part. Very rarely do I mention the Old Post Office in a lecture or on a tour without someone saying how wonderful he thinks the building is or how she just can’t believe it dodged the wrecking ball on multiple occasions throughout the last century.

Even more surprising to many is that The Trump Organization    LLC has been selected by the General Services Administration    to redevelop the site. These reactions weren’t that the building would be converted to a luxury hotel, a proposal that has been floated for decades, but that Donald Trump, a kingpin who seems to prefer brass and glass, was selected for this monumental job instead of a more seasoned preservation developer. I like to keep in mind that not every successful developer of historic resources got his or her start doing such projects, so why not give it a shot, right?

The proposal submitted and envisioned by the development team is not a fait accompli. It’s just the starting point for what turns into a complex process of first avoiding, then minimizing and mitigating, any adverse effect to the historic resource this redevelopment might bring. This is known as the Section 106 process under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. It gives interested parties the opportunity to voice their opinions and concerns about the proposed project and results in a memorandum of agreement signed by select agencies of the federal government and the D.C. State Historic Preservation Office.

This process will run through the end of the year, and our organization, which has its roots in the Don’t Tear It Down effort that saved the Old Post Office from demolition in 1971, will have a well-earned and vocal place at the table.

We’ve received a lot of calls and emails about the consultation process — the primary concern being that GSA could move this project forward, determine there was an adverse effect and discount what others think. The agency could do that, but in my experience, it won’t. One-quarter of GSA’s portfolio of 1,600 properties is either eligible for or listed in the National Register of Historic Places.    The agency really does understand historic buildings and the GSA employees I have worked with truly care about the outcome of the projects.

GSA has even taken steps to educate itself on the current state of the building by engaging local historic preservation consulting firms to update the Historic Structures Report from 1978. This report, which will be produced over the next three to four months, provides documentary, graphic and physical information about the history and existing condition of the Old Post Office building. This guiding document will advise on the most appropriate approach to treatment of the resource, prior to the commencement of work.

One thing I learned recently is that The Trump Organization plans to pursue the 20 percent federal historic tax credit as part of its financing package. This requires the developer to meet the secretary of Interior standards for rehabilitation — a benchmark for successful preservation projects. This is a very positive, clear indication of the developer’s goals for this project.

The objectives are clear: a stellar adaptive reuse project that utilizes the Old Post Office to its maximum potential within the constraints of the historic resource. This is a very high-profile building, with an even higher-profile development team that has tremendous potential for scrutiny. None of it seems easy, but I’m confident that GSA is more than capable of managing the upcoming consulting process that will steer the course of this project for years to come.


Gallaudet University Historic District Tour – June 23, 2012

800 Florida Avenue, NE
Washington, DC 20002
Metro Station: New York Avenue
Saturday, June 23, 2012
10:00am – 12:00pm

 Click here to register.

Join us for a unique tour of the world’s only liberal arts university for the deaf and hard of hearing.  This tour will begin with the historic district at Gallaudet University. The 17-acre historic district, known as Kendall Green, is registered in the National Register of Historic Places. Discover the campus’ unique architectural styles and buildings designed by some of the nationally-renowned architects such as Frederick Law Olmstead, Calvert Vaux, and Frederick Withers. You will leave with better understanding of how deaf space has evolved over time, how the old meets the new.

$15 for DCPL members
$25 for non-members.

 Click here to register.

Historic House Toolbox – June 9, 2012

Give Your House Some Love

Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital
921 Pennsylvania Ave, SE
Metro Station: Eastern Market
Saturday, June 9, 2012

Click here to register.

Join DC Preservation League and Capitol Hill Restoration Society for the opportunity to receive FREE individualized attention from contractors and seasoned professionals who will answer your questions on a range of topics including: working with architects and contractors, roofing, wood windows, ironwork, energy efficiency and much more.

Two on-site learning sessions will focus on researching the history of your property; and energy audits and greening your house without compromising its historic integrity.

FREE to the public!

Click here to register.


10:20am Audits You Don’t Need to Fear: A Path to Efficiency – James Carroll, EcoHouse

11:30am How To Research Your House – Peter Sefton, DC Preservation League

Contractor Tables

Architecture – Fowler Architects, Jennifer Fowler

Green/Energy Efficiency – Everyday Green, Andrea Foss

Masonry – Pointing Plus Historic Masonry Restoration, Danny Palousek

Paint – Tech Painting Co., Jim Nicolson

Carpentry /Millwork/Plaster – Worcester Eisenbrandt, Inc., Amy Hollis and Matt Hankins

Roofing/ Gutters – Wagner Roofing, Chuck Wagner

What Style Is My House – DC Historic Preservation Office, Kim Williams

Windows and General Contracting – Mozner Works, Inc., Neil Mozner

Windows and General Regulations – National Park Service, John Sandor

St. Elizabeths Walking Tour – December 15, 2012

St. Elizabeths Walking Tour
Saturday, December 15, 2012
10:00am – 12:o0pm

Click here to register.

Join the DC Preservation League in partnership with the General Services Administration for a walking tour of the historic west campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital, a National Historic Landmark. Tours of the St. Elizabeths campus are being offered on a limited basis depending on the course of construction activity.

Space is limited and reservations are required. Because of security issues walk-ons will not be permitted on the tour.

Click here to register.


Once a bank and a nightclub, historic F Street building readies for next step

by John Muller, May 3, 2012 10:21am, Greater Greater Washington

>>>Read original article.


“Is this a nightclub, again?” a passerby asked last week, walking along the 900 block of F Street NW. “Nope, DC Preservation League party,” a middle-aged man said as he walked through the wood doors to the Equitable Building at 915 F Street NW, formerly the Platinum nightclub.

Once an innovative community bank, the property has been vacant for the past year. Douglas Development Corporation purchased this historic building last fall and plans to redevelop it, potentially as part of an emerging fashion district in the area.

“This is a significant building to F Street,” said DCPL’s Executive Director Rebecca Miller. “It’s a mix of eclectic and classic architectural styles that over the years has maintained its integrity. This is one of only 15 interiors designated an historic landmark in the city.”

“People cherish their recent memories of this building as a nightclub, but this was one of the first progressive community banks in Washington,” said John DeFerrari of Streets of Washington, who attended the Preservation League fundraiser.

According to DeFerrari, the Equitable Co-Operative Building was built in 1912, and was the headquarters for the Equitable Co-Operative Building Association. Equitable was a pioneering thrift institution co-founded by John Joy Edson, a leading financier and philanthropist who believed that facilitating home ownership would provide stability to the city by improving its housing stock.

In 1985, Equitable moved out of the city. A nightclub called The Bank moved into the space and proceeded to remove the mahogany teller counters to make space for a dance floor. Within a couple years, the Fifth Column, another dance club, moved in and featured avant garde artwork juxtaposed against the restrained elegance of the building’s original architecture. In 1995, Fifth Column closed. Before the end of the decade, Platinum nightclub debuted, but by 2008 it, too, closed.

Despite the changes in the building over the years, the architectural value of the building and its interiors remain intact.

“You’re never going to see this type of craftsmanship,” said John D. Bellingham of Monarc Construction and President of DCPL’s Board of Trustees, remarking on the dentil molding, cornices, and frieze architecture.

“It’s proven that a city that retains its historic character attracts more tourists,” Bellingham said while lamenting “slap-happy” renovations that can do more to distort historic preservation than support it.

“Walking into this place is like walking into the National Portrait Gallery,” said Douglas Jemal, president of Douglas Development Corporation, as his eyes scanned the interior. “Look at the grandeur. This is a special place and deserves a special tenant. None of that strip mall [expletive].”

Noting clothier Ralph Lauren as a possible tenant, Jemal said there is a growing interest among European and American fashion retailers to establish a presence in Washington. Forever 21, H&M, and Zara have stores nearby.

Whether the Equitable Building becomes part of an reemerging downtown fashion district or an upscale restaurant, preservationists agree the development of the Equitable Building will retain the neighborhood’s historic character.

“Like so much of the city, I’d love to see another old ghost of a building get a second chance at a new life,” said another preservationist. “Saving buildings like this one preserves the soul of our city and keeps us connected.”