Endangered Places

Endangered Places

Beginning in 1996, the DC Preservation League has announced annually a list of Most Endangered Places to draw attention to Washington, DC’s, historically, culturally and architecturally significant places that may be threatened with ill-advised alteration or demolition through neglect or abandonment.

DCPL solicits nominations for its annual list from individuals and organizations throughout the city. DCPL’s landmarks committee evaluates the nominations and advises the Board of Trustees on their inclusion on the list. In many cases, a task force is created to raise awareness and develop possible preservation solutions for the endangered resource.

2007 Most Endangered Places

District of Columbia – City Owned Properties

as represented by The Franklin School (interior), DC Public School Buildings and 1909-1913 Martin
Luther King Jr. Avenue, SE

Nominated By: The DC Preservation League Board of Trustees

DC Preservation League has continued to be frustrated with the stewardship of historic properties owned by the District of Columbia. Although we are pleased with the recent efforts by the City to secure a developer for the Howard Theatre on T Street, NW and the RFP process for the Old Naval Hospital on Capitol Hill, there are still dozens of city owned buildings remain vacant and dilapidated. The City lacks a comprehensive list of all of its holdings, and ascertaining which agency is responsible for a specific building is often cumbersome. DCPL has high expectations for private owners of historic properties and it is important that the District Government set a good example for the private sector on the stewardship of the District’s historic fabric.

  • On March 2, 2007, DCPL appeared before the DC Council Committee on Workforce Development and Government Operations, and offered this testimony: DC Preservation League would like to encourage OPM to take a number of steps to ensure proper management of all District-owned historic resources by:
  • Publishing a list of all buildings held by the District government so that the residents of the district, preservation professionals and the DC Historic Preservation Office are aware of which agency is responsible for which buildings.
  • Allocating funds to produce a management plan for the historic buildings in the inventory. This plan should include the documentation, restoration, rehabilitation and general maintenance of OPM’s historic holdings.

DCPL is pleased with the passage by DC Council of the technical amendments to the Historic Landmark and Historic District Protection Act of 1978 (D.C. Law 2-144, as amended through November 16, 2006). One amendment requires any city undertaking to take into consideration the effect of that undertaking on any property listed or eligible for listing in the DC Inventory of Historic Sites. We look forward to working with the Historic Preservation Office to develop the regulations for this amendment.

The Franklin School – Interior

13th & K Streets, NW

The Franklin School was designed by prominent architect Adolph Cluss and completed in 1869. Its clearly visible location on Franklin Square in a prestigious, residential neighborhood was meant to draw the attention of Congress and the nation to its housing of both the administrative and educational facilities of a school district under one roof. Franklin School is one of eleven buildings in Washington, DC with an interior landmark designation. The building is currently unoccupied and windows have been broken and boarded up. The building is unheated, which has contributed to the deterioration of the interior finishes including plaster and wood trim. The lack of use and maintenance threatens the condition of currently well-preserved frescos on the third floor. Since 2002, the building has been used as a shelter for the homeless. DCPL recognizes the need for shelters at the city center, but the Franklin School is in desperate need of interior restoration.

DCPL will advocate that the District government and Historic Preservation Office to identify the necessary repairs and provide minimum heating and ventilation to safeguard the interior structure until a decision on the building’s use can be made.

DC Public School Buildings

Armstrong High School, Slater Elementary School
and Langston Elementary School

The three schools clustered between North Capitol and 3rd Streets NW represent an irreplaceable view of the developing architecture of the DC Public School system, and of education for African- American students in this city. Slater Elementary School (1890, architect: Office of Building Inspector) is in the Romanesque style of most schools at that time, with the addition of a tin-roofed octagon tower. The adjacent Langston Elementary School (1902, architect: Appleton Clarke) is in the Italianate style with a striking Star of David decorational motif. Armstrong High School (1900, architect: Waddy Wood) was built as the city’s manual training high school for African-American students, and was converted to an adult education center in 1958. All three buildings have been closed and vacant since the 1990s.

Of the three, only Armstrong is landmarked. Since their closing, all three school buildings have seen various temporary uses (homeless shelter, storage) but now are completely empty and prey to squatters and thieves. All are only minimally secured. The city regularly announces uses for these buildings but to date none of these conversions (charter school, offices) have materialized, and the structures continue to suffer.

At a minimum all three schools should be properly secured and repaired as necessary. In the longer term, the city needs to find appropriate uses for these school buildings.

DCPL is currently working on landmark nominations for Slater and Langston. Attempts to contact the Board of Education throughout the winter regarding these schools and their dilapidated condition went unanswered.

1909 – 1913 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, SE

These contributing buildings owned and managed by the DC Housing and Community Development (DCHCD) agency are contributing structures in the Anacostia Historic District, listed in the DC Inventory of Historic Places and the National Register for Historic Places. These buildings, left vacant and abandoned for years by DCHCD, are a clear case of the District Government failing to comply with its own laws with regards to demolition by neglect. The very apparent disregard by DCHCD was evidenced by the buildings receiving no repair after a structural assessment was done in 2004. In addition, the buildings have been left open to the elements and to vagrant activities; the most certain consequence of this negligence was a fire that gutted and damaged the buildings’ rear and interiors in August 2005. Most recently, DCHCD has filed for permits to demolish these buildings. The removal of these turn of the 20th century buildings would remove what may be the earliest commercial block of the district and would cause irreparable damage to the integrity and character of this district.

DCPL will continue to advocate against the demolition of these significant structures.

Potomac Annex (Observatory Hill)

23rd and E Streets, NW

Nominated By: The DC Preservation League Board of Trustees

Located on Reservation 4 of the L’Enfant Plan for the Federal City (1792), Potomac Annex was viewed as a prominent position along the Potomac River and an ideal location for a fortification. George Washington chose the site for location of a university, but it was never built.

Occupied by the Navy since 1842, the United States Naval Observatory was built there in 1844. The Potomac Annex is a 13-acre site with 23 contributing elements to the proposed Potomac Annex Historic District. The proposed district is a premier example of significant patterns related to the history and architecture of the Navy’s presence on this site. Included is the Observatory, built in 1844, which was the unsurpassed world leader in scientific research on navigation and astronomy and key to the creation of the field of oceanography. Also significant is the old Washington Naval Hospital, designed by the preeminent 19th and early 20th century architect, Ernest Flagg, and the Naval Medical School on the site of the former Naval Museum of Hygiene (1895-1905). The Naval Hospital, which became the Naval Medical Center in 1935, was the preeminent medical facility run by the Navy in the United States from 1904 to 1942. Also included on the site is a statue of Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and professor of medical theory and clinical practice, and archaeological remains associated with the 1844 Magnetic Observatory and tunnel.

Potomac Annex has had various names throughout history, including Camp Hill, Peter’s Hill, Reservation 4, University Square, and Observatory Hill. It is thought that in 1755 during the French and Indian War that General Braddock’s troops may have camped nearby, and a burial ground for those who died during an epidemic that same year could possibly be located on the western slope of the site.

Although the site is nationally significant and the General Services Administration prepared a nomination for the site in 1993, it was never submitted for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.

In July 2006, the Washington Post reported that the then-Director of National Intelligence (DNI), John D. Negroponte, was attempting to secure the Potomac Annex for DNI’s headquarters. It has been reported to DCPL that DNI wishes to move forward with plans to develop the site with substantial demolition involved. Under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, DNI would be required to accommodate historic preservation concerns with the needs of Federal undertakings through consultation among the agency official and other interested parties. The goal of consultation is to identify historic properties potentially affected by the undertaking, assess its effects, and seek ways to avoid, minimize, or mitigate any adverse effects on historic properties.

DCPL will advocate for the nomination of this campus to the National Register of Historic Places and work through the Section 106 process to minimize the affect to the historic resources on this site.

Historic Washington Vistas

As represented by “The Point” at St.
Elizabeths Hospital and the west porch of
the United States Capitol.

Nominated By: The DC Preservation League Board of Trustees and the Committee of 100 on the Federal City

In 1791, Pierre L’Enfant completed his plan for the city of Washington, DC, taking into consideration not only the streets and avenues radiating from the nation’s capital, but the open space and vistas that contribute to the planned, baroque design for the city. This plan, listed on the DC Inventory of Historic Sites and the National Register of Historic Places, did not foresee the 21st century’s call for security barriers.

The view from the west porch of the United States Capitol overlooking the “Grand Avenue” of the National Mall and beyond to the Potomac River and Arlington National Cemetery was once open to visitors. Today, extreme security measures cut off public access to this remarkable view, ignoring the needs of the city’s residents and impeding visitors to the nation’s capital. These measures have yet to be adequately explained or justified in a public forum. Centuries of careful urban planning that created a city symbolic of openness, freedom, and democracy have been overturned by spontaneous, ill planned measures.

On a high plateau in SE Washington is “The Point” overlooking the confluence of the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, with what is arguably the preeminent panoramic view of the capital city and northern Virginia. “The Point” is part of the 179 acre east campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital which is currently proposed as the headquarters of the Department of Homeland Security. This National Historic Landmark would remain closed to the public behind a double security barrier with limited or no access to “The Point”. DCPL and other preservation organizations have been adamant that 6.3 million square feet of new development on the site would destroy the historic significance of the campus, and residents in the Congress Heights community have been steadfast in their desire to keep “The Point” for public use. Although the GSA has proposed a viewing platform 50 feet below the actual plateau, outside the security perimeter, it was said best by a Section 106 consulting party, “So this will take an A+ view and take it to what – a C-?” It was also proposed to GSA that they study running the security barrier in front of the historic Center Building and leave access to “The Point” for residents. The security consultants for the project said that because of “line of sight” issues and the need for a helicopter landing site that would also not be a possibility. “In the interest of national security,” no further elaboration was given.

DCPL will continue to advocate for these historic vistas and encourage Congress to no longer deny access to citizens for security reasons or a need for a helicopter landing pad for the Department of Homeland Security.

Undesignated Historic Row House Neighborhoods

as represented by Columbia Heights, Eckington and Hill East

From its inception, Washington’s residential areas have been composed primarily of attached houses. Pierre Charles L’Enfant (1754 – 1852) envisioned the city as one of specialized neighborhoods where people would live within walking distance of their work. He anticipated that the neighborhoods would be developed as they were in Europe, with attached houses.

During the last two decades of the nineteenth century and the first two decades of the 20th century, Washington became a prosperous city. As reported in the Evening Star in 1897, the elimination of malaria, the appearance of museums and other cultural institutions, the expanding social scene, and the concentration of political power made Washington an attractive place to live. Speculative building of all types increased and as the trolley system expanded, construction of row-house projects along the routes increased exponentially. Most projects were small-scale, usually only a few houses at a time.

Hill East

Bound on the north by Constitution, the east by the
Anacostia River, the south by Pennsylvania Avenue and the
west by 13th Street.

Nominated by the Barney Circle Neighborhood Watch Association, ANC Commissioner Will Hill (6B06), and Capitol Hill Restoration Society.

Most houses in Hill East were built during Washington’s building booms, and a collection of various styles of row houses like the Victorian and “Daylighter” offers a unique insight into the city’s development outside the federal core. Hill East is outside the current boundaries of the Capitol Hill Historic District, however, and the neighborhood is at risk for tear downs and ill-advised alteration to the potentially contributing properties.

DCPL will work with the Barney Circle Neighborhood Association, the Capitol Hill Restoration Society and the ANC on outreach efforts within the community on the benefits of historic district designation.

Eckington

Bound by Rhode Island Avenue on the north,
WMATA’s Brentwood yard on the east, Florida Avenue
on the south and North Capitol on the west.

Nominated by: DCPL Landmarks Committee

Eckington, named for the village in England where Joesph Gales, Jr., Mayor of Washington from 1827 to 1830, was born. Gales purchased the land in 1815 and built a summer home in 1830 where Third and U Streets intersect today. In 1887, Eckington was bought by Colonel George Truesdell, who subdivided the property, improved it substantially for habitation, sold lots, and built five houses. Truesdell’s original five houses do not exist today, although several detached houses from the late nineteenth century, built by John H. Lane for Truesdell, remain.

Like other areas in Washington, the first three decades of the twentieth century brought a boom in row house construction to the neighborhood. Today, Eckington is slightly isolated between North Capitol Street and the Metro rail tracks, and retains much of its original row house stock. The area is under pressure, however, by speculative builders who are tearing down buildings that would be potentially contributing within a historic district, and replacing them with non-compatible buildings that envelop entire lots.

DCPL will work with the neighborhood groups as they consider the benefits of historic district designation.

Columbia Heights

Bound by Spring Road on the north, Sherman Avenue on
the east, Florida Avenue on the south and 16th Street on the
west.

Nominated by: Committee of 100 on the Federal City

Once farmland on the estate of the Holmead family (called “Pleasant Plains”), Columbia Heights was part of Washington County, DC, a “semi-suburb” of the Federal City. The area began developing soon after the Civil War when horse-drawn streetcars took residents to and from downtown. Senator John Sherman purchased the land north of Boundary Street between 16th Street and 10th Street, developing it as a subdivision and naming it Columbia Heights after Columbia College (now George Washington University) which was built in 1822. In the early 1900s, Columbia Heights was where Washington’s wealthiest and most influential people preferred to live including upper level managers of the Federal government, US Supreme Court justices, and high-ranking military officers.

Within the varied and expansive Columbia Heights neighborhood is a district of 300 front-porch row houses built between 1908 and 1912 by prolific Washington developer Harry Wardman and designed by Albert H. Beers.

In 1968, following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., riots devastated Columbia Heights along with many other Washington neighborhoods. Many homes and shops remained vacant for decades.

Today, with the current housing shortage and resurgence of Columbia Heights as a desirable place to live, unsympathetic alterations such as roof-top additions or porch removals plague the area. Developers are also attempting to purchase numerous row houses in order to combine the lots and demolish the row houses to build larger apartment buildings, thus altering this row house neighborhood drastically.

DCPL will continue to reach out to the various neighborhood groups and ANC to discuss the benefits of historic preservation. In February 2007, the DC Zoning Commission unanimously agreed to downzone dozens of properties in Columbia Heights to stop conversion of century-old row houses into condominiums. The rezoning from R-5-B to R-4 limits most houses to two units and restricts building heights to three stories.

Historic Neighborhood Theaters

as represented by Sheridan Theater, Strand Theatre, and Takoma Theatre

From the 1920s to the 1970s, Washington’s historic theaters were centers of community life, hosting live
stage performances and motion pictures. Teardowns, demolition by neglect and ill-advised alteration threaten
many of Washington’s neighborhood theaters.

Sheridan Theater in Brightwood

6201 Georgia Avenue, NW

Nominated by: Brightwood Community Association

Designed by world-renowned “Architect of Dreams” John Eberson, the Sheridan Theater opened in 1937 near the intersection of Georgia Avenue and Sheridan Street. Movies at the Sheridan were an entertainment staple in the Brightwood neighborhood into the 1970s. Afterwards Eberson’s art deco masterwork was a venue for African-American community theatre. Today, shorn of its marquee, the theatre is a discount store.

Of Eberson’s eight theatres in the District of Columbia, only the Sheridan, the Highland on Pennsylvania Avenue SE, and the soon-to-be altered Atlantic in Far Southwest remain as intact structures. Conversely, Eberson’s Silver Theatre in downtown Silver Spring, which opened just a year after the Sheridan, has received a world-class restoration and serves as headquarters for the American Film Institute.

DCPL has submitted a landmark nomination on the site and will continue to advocate for its restoration.

Strand Theatre in Deanwood

5131 Grant Road, NE

Nominated By: DCPL Landmarks Committee

When it was built by impresario A.E. Lichtman in 1928, the Strand Theatre, which included stores, a dance hall, and poolroom, complemented the recreational facilities of nearby Suburban Gardens, the only African-American community amusement park in the segregated city. The first motion picture theatre to be built in the section of Northeast “east of the river”, the Strand served the Deanwood community as a theatre into the 1970s. After use as a store, the building stood vacant and deteriorating for decades. Recently acquired by the District of Columbia Government, the Strand adjoins the site of the massive “Town Center” development proposed for the heart of Deanwood.

DCPL is preparing a landmark nomination on the Theatre and will work with the Deanwood community to prepare a strategy for the preservation and restoration of this building.

The Takoma Theatre in Takoma Park

6833 4th Street, NW

Nominated by: Historic Takoma, Inc.

The Takoma Theatre opened in July 1923 and was designed by Baltimore architect John Zink. Of the seven Zink designed theaters still functioning in this area, the Takoma is the only one that remains unaltered. Until the 1980s it was used exclusively for film. In 1984, the stage was modified and it became a performing arts venue for drama, dance, and music. It was later also used by independent filmmakers for film previews including Chris Rock. In the early 2000s it was operated under lease by a nonprofit organization, the Takoma Theatre Arts Project; the lease ended in late 2005.

Today, the theatre is underutilized, with rare community access. The current owner has tried unsuccessfully to have the building deemed non-contributing in the Takoma Park Historic District and most recently has filed an application for a raze permit to demolish the building and build commercial office space, which has been denied by the Historic Preservation Review Board.

The DC Preservation League will work with the Takoma Theatre Conservancy to draw attention to this tremendous community asset and plan for its perpetual preservation.

Southwest Washington, DC, Urban Renewal Area and Plan

Bound roughly by Independence Avenue on the north, South Capitol on the east, P Street on the
south, and 14th Street, SW on the west

Nominated by: Tiber Island Cooperative Homes, Inc.

Southwest Washington was one of the earliest and most controversial urban renewal efforts in the United States, and led to the landmark Supreme Court decision Berman v. Parker which established the legal framework for comprehensive land use planning. The Redevelopment Act of 1945 marked the beginning of Southwest’s urban renewal and the creation of the DC Redevelopment Land Agency (RLA). In 1950, the National Capital Park and Planning Commission (NCPPC) published a comprehensive plan, identifying Southwest as a “problem area” needing redevelopment.

The first renewal plan for the area was published in 1952 and RLA began property acquisition in 1953. In spring 1954 the demolition of approximately 4,800 structures began, over strong community opposition. Over two decades of development, the renewal efforts displaced approximately 1,500 businesses and 23,000 residents from 560 acres of land that were considered some of the worst slum conditions and alley dwellings in the city. By the completion of the redevelopment in the 1970s, 13,000 middle and upper class residents were in living in around 5,800 new units of both rental and individually owned units.

“Superblock” developments altered the L’Enfant street grid and many of the new structures were developed through design competitions with premier architects of the era participating. These architects include, I.M. Pei, Chloethiel Woodard Smith, Harry Weese, Morris Lapidus, Charles Goodman, Marcel Breuer and Edward Durrell Stone.

Because of vast open space due to the original plan which limited building occupancy to only 30% of the total land area of each site, many of these residential projects are technically “underdeveloped”. Current zoning standards and the DC Office of Planning’s promotion of major in-fill near Metro stations makes the Southwest Renewal Area a prime target for intense development, thus causing degradation of the integrity of the neighborhood’s design.

DCPL will work with the Southwest community, the DC Office of Planning and the Historic Preservation Office to ensure sensitive design that is compatible with the modern context and preserves the uniqueness of the Southwest Urban Renewal Plan elements.

Carroll Laundry Smokestack

14th Street and Fairlawn Avenue, SE

Nominated by: Fairlawn Citizens Association and the DCPL Landmarks Committee

The stack, built in 1916 for the Anderson Tire Manufacturing Company, is constructed of blonde glazed brick, stands completely independent on a concrete base and, according to its building permit, stands 110 feet tall. A landmark in the truest sense of the word, the stack towers over all of the other structures in the neighborhood. The stack tapers for more than four-fifths of its height, where three courses of blonde bricks provide a belt course, followed by three courses of dark brown bricks and another similar course of blonde. Above these belt courses, extending almost to the top of the stack is a decorated masonry pattern forming diamonds, with the long axis oriented vertically up the shaft, of dark brown over blonde units. The shaft then widens again for seven more courses of blonde brick before a much narrower shaft top in the same color masonry. The name “Carroll” is clearly visible in black painted very large letters running down the northwest side of the stack. The present owner of the building has requested permission to demolish the adjacent buildings and smoke stack for a new charter school building.

DCPL will work with the owner and community to ascertain whether the stack can be incorporated into a new structure.

The Gralyn Hotel and

Woodbine Apartments
1745 – 1755 N Street, NW

Nominated by: Dupont Circle Conservancy

Located on N Street between 17th Street and Connecticut Avenue, NW, the Gralyn Hotel and Woodbine Apartments were built between 1889 and 1902 and are premier examples of Georgian Revival architecture. Edward Everett Hale, author of “The Man Without a Country”, and Mrs. Reyburn, wife of Philadelphia Mayor John E. Reyburn, both lived at the house at 1745 N Street. Many other socially and politically prominent residents also lived on the block, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, who lived at 1733 N Street while he served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and Senator Joseph R. McCarthy.

Mrs. Hamilton Farnham Morrison, who operated the Gralyn Hotel and Woodbine Apartments, is credited among others for saving most of the houses along the block that were scheduled for demolition in the 1960s by forming the group “Association for the Preservation of the 1700 Block of N Street”. Mrs. Morrison, known as the “mayor of N Street”, owned The Gralyn Hotel and ran it as an inn for decades until her death in 1987.

Vacant for almost a decade, the Gralyn Hotel and Woodbine Apartments are in desperate need of restoration. The current owner, N Street Follies Limited, which purchased the buildings in 1988, initially sought to convert the properties into a 75-foot-tall residential and commercial building, which would have required demolishing portions of the original buildings. Because of this proposal and others around the Dupont Circle neighborhood, neighbors lobbied city leaders in 1991 to create an “overlay district,” which restricted the height of buildings in the neighborhood north of M Street. N Street Follies Limited has left the structures open to the elements with leaking roofs and broken windows. The DC Board of Condemnation for Insanitary Buildings cited the owner in 2005 for this clear case of demolition by neglect, and required N Street Follies Limited to fix the roofs and board up the exposed windows.

DCPL will continue to work with the Dupont Circle Conservancy and the ANC to advocate for the stabilization, restoration and rehabilitation of the properties.

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