319 R Street the plan

319 R St NW, 20001Okey dokey. The fugly, and I’m gonna call it fugly, ’cause it was a plan of ugly of freaking magnitude, plan of replacing the top level of 319 R St NW with a meh 3rd floor and an out of proportion dunce hat is no more. The Historic Landmark application, killed that.

So the developers played chicken, lost and looks like they’re gonna try to recoup their money by selling it, unimproved, for $1.05 million. Unimproved. I don’t think the plans are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. But that’s just my opinion.

So what’s the plan? Go down.

New plan for 319 R St NWThere will be three floors but you’ll have to go down, into the basement. Have they dug the basement? I don’t think so, so there is no guarantee of anything. If they haven’t, you could hit water. Anywho. The top floor is a rooftop deck of sorts, because you can’t change the top anymore. Because of historic stuff. If they just left the damned turret alone, like 210 P Street NW, they would have had more freedom to put on a 3rd floor.

210 P St NW Open House
Turret on 210 P St NW.

But, noooooo. They had to plan to destroy the original turret or threaten to tear down the building. Now they expect someone to pay over a million dollars for the mess they made.

Baltimore City level of Historic Districts- When you have too many

DC has too many historic districts (HD) and just recently got one more as Bloomingdale fell to this sad fate of HD collecting. So about 1 in 5 DC properties is some historic something or another. DC is on its way to becoming like our sister city Baltimore where some historic districts are respected and others, kinda ignored, making the designation meaningless. Maybe it needs to be made meaningless.

mAP OF bALTIMORE cITY hISTORIC dISTRICTSSo I own a small rental in Baltimore which happens to be in a historic district and the neighborhood is listed with the National Register of Historic Places. Historic districts in Baltimore are a different animal than the HDs in DC from what I observed. When I had a local charm city architect over, I mentioned the vinyl window I had in my house and the other vinyl windows I saw in the neighborhood. He said, “Yeah, they’re not supposed to do that but….” and he shrugged and we moved on to other topics.

Baltimore has over 60 historic districts, DC has over 30. The Baltimore Sun supposed that 1 in 3 buildings was listed on the National Register. I have no idea how many of those include abandoned shells. Baltimore also has a local tax incentive to get homeowners on board, but the logic in how it applies confuse me. There are newish condos just outside the district’s boundaries that advertised the 10 year tax credit. Of course there is a lot in Baltimore where the logic of how they apply a lot of things confuse me.

I wonder if the trend to add more and more historic districts will create an environment where the original intents will be undermined because it brings in too many unwilling participants, thin supporters and stretch the resources of the enforcers. Maybe. We’ll see.

Character of a neighborhood: People not buildings

Recently a co-worker of mine retired. At his retirement party a few other retirees I knew showed up and I remembered what the place was like when they still worked there, and how the place will change when my co-worker becomes another retiree. The building where we work has, for the most part, despite several renovations since it was built in the early 20th Century, remained unchanged. But the workplace keeps changing, with each new person, with each retirement, departure, and in some cases, death.

The neighborhood is the same way. The spirit of my block changed with the crowd who showed up in the 00s and eventually departed in the early teens. The buildings has relatively remained unchanged. There has been some infill here, a pop up or pop back there, but for the most part the buildings have not changed much over the years. But the block has changed, and will continue to do so long after I’ve moved on*.

If there was to be another possible historic landmarking or whatever in Truxton Circle I would predict it would happen with the Bates Street houses. I’d hope not, but there is a history there, and with a few exceptions the overall style on the unit to the 200 blocks of Bates have been unchanged.Bates circa 1907

However the character of Bates Street has changed, and continues to change. It’s not the same street when the developer, the Washington Sanitary Improvement Company built them in the 1900s. It was purposefully segregated and all rentals. By the 1940s it there were a few Black households on Bates, and one of the few places with Whites in Truxton Circle. By the 1960s the blocks were oBates Street 1968-1972n the government’s radar for urban renewal because it was run down. Most of the families (according to a report about Bates of the time) could only afford public housing, if they were to be relocated. However the urban renewal and the large scale demolition of neighborhoods was challenged. Instead the some of the Bates St buildings were rehabilitated, but the neighborhood was still struggling. When I showed up in the early 21st Century there were many Section 8 houses, or houses that neighbors strongly suspected were Section 8, because the families’ crises kept playing out on the streets. A lot of those people are gone, but the buildings, for the most part, remain the same, all without the Historic Preservation Review Board.

Being a person who participates in communal worship, I have heard on more than one occasion, a church is the congregation/ people, not the building. Likewise, the character of the neighborhood is the people, not the buildings. Bates Street has been a White enclave, a poor Black street and now a mixed income, mixed race neighborhood.  In twenty years, it might be something else, and no building preservation will prevent it.

 

 

*There is no way I’m retiring here. The stairs in my house are murder on my knees.

1717 Should Be Exempt from the Historic Landmark Application

From what I can see for 4th St NW it includes 1709-1721 4th St NW. Thing is 1717 4th Street was infill, built sometime after 2009.
17174thStNW2009-2016
As you can see from the screen capture of Google’s Streetview time machine, there was an empty lot in 2009, surrounded by a wood fence. Up in the left hand corner is an image from 2016. showing the building that currently sits there. Whatever Wardman that used to be there is long gone

I provided the gun but I didn’t shoot him: Historic Landmarking of Sq. 519

319 R St NWSo I got a comment accusing me of wanting historic designations for other’s properties but not my own.

Yay a comment that isn’t spam. I’d prefer a critical comment over 10 comments selling snake oil and condos in Mumbai.

What is it all about? Well there is an application with the Historic Preservation Office for the whole (with a few exceptions) block of Square 519, which is bounded by Florida Ave, 4th, R, & 3rd Streets. It is Case 17-18 Wardman Flats.  The DC Preservation League, not I, nominated the block for Historic Landmark status. What does this mean? It means that the developer for 319 R Street can’t go forward yet and the turret on the corner is protected from demo by DC historic preservation law.

I’ve been busy with a property in Baltimore, MD the past month, so I haven’t had much involvement with 319 R Street NW beyond a few blog posts, tweets and showing up at BACA meetings. I’ve been consumed by that (because of a bad contractor experience) and have neglected a lot of things here in DC. So what has happened with 319 R St NW and the rest of the block, was not of my doing.

I will admit, proudly, that I did provide the tools for the application. There is a badly outdated website I created called TruxtonCircle.org . There you can find the census information for every man, woman and child who lived in the area known as Truxton Circle from 1880 to 1940. It has been up since 2012. A paper I wrote sometime ago, “Ethnic Divides in an 1880 DC Neighborhood” was referenced in the application. I’ve been researching the history of the neighborhood for well over a decade and sharing it, so if someone wanted to use it for other purposes, they can.  But if someone tries to make Truxton Circle a historic district, I will fight them.

I can totally understand if the residents of Square 519 are mad. They’ve been swept up in something stirred up by the developers of 319 R St NW. If they hadn’t threatened to raze the building, or if they had their architects create a second drawing incorporating the existing turret (as opposed to throwing a new one on top like an ill fitting dunce hat), it probably would not have come to this. The owner of 1721 4th St NW added a 3rd floor without getting the National Register of Historic Places involved and triggering something like this.

But why drag everyone else on the block into this? Whelp… it appears to be a stronger case when taking the block as a whole because, with a few exceptions, it is a Harry Wardman block. So everyone else on the block has this hanging over them because the developers of 319 R Street NW threatened the corner turret.

In this I’m like the person who provided the gun, but I didn’t shoot the guy. And if you’re wondering if I’ve left any other historic weaponry around for anyone to gather and use in an landmarking application, then yes, there is more. People of Bates Street, be aware.