“The Old 1899 Post Office is a massive bulwark of the city’s historic charm. Without it, all that frozen bureaucracy on Pennsylvania Avenue would become unbearably oppressive. Besides, it was there first.”
— Wolf Von Eckardt
Boom times in Washington’s real estate market continued into the 2000s, providing numerous preservation opportunities, as it became more economically advantageous to restore or adapt significant buildings. At the same time, development pressures raise the specter of large-scale demolitions that threaten much of what DCPL had sought to protect. Under the leadership of board presidents architect T. David Bell (2000-2003), attorney Farleigh Earhart (2003-2005), attorney Edwin Fountain (2005-2007) and Executive Director Rebecca Miller, DCPL was successful in its efforts to become a respected force in the economic development community by working with developers, architects, realtors, builders, and communities to ensure sound preservation projects.
In 2000, New Directions for Historic Preservation (with the District’s Historic Preservation Office) focused on making Washington’s preservation efforts more inclusive of wider, neighborhood rather than solely downtown concerns. Also that year, DCPL established a presence on the internet with its website, www.dcpreservation.org. In 2006, DCPL began online postings of its monthly e-Advocate to supplement its quarterly printed newsletter.
Over the years, DCPL programs have presented in-depth examinations of design, planning, and preservation topics. In September 2002, DCPL’s first annual Row House Month made city residents aware of the historic value of row houses, informed them of economic incentives for owning a city property, and generated enthusiasm for preservation-friendly renovation/restoration. DCPL sponsored a multi-year, multi-faceted effort to explore the legacy of Harry Wardman, one of Washington’s most prolific early 20th century builders. In 2005, DCPL received a grant from Humanities Council of Washington, DC that partially funded an exhibit on Wardman row houses. Created and curated by Sally Berk and Carolyn Mesrobian Hickman, Wardman’s Washington: Celebrating a Century of Wardman Row-House Neighborhoods opened at the John A. Wilson Building and will circulate to every quadrant of the city. In addition, the Wardman legacy has been perpetuated through popular annual bus tours.
In 2006, DCPL adopted a strategic plan, which called on its trustees to identify what the organization is uniquely equipped to do and what should constitute its core business. One result of the strategic planning effort was the identification of guiding “themes” to unify efforts and focus resources. The currently adopted themes are Public Campuses and Modernism.
More recently, DCPL has focused on the number of mid-twentieth-century resources. Early interest in modernism took the form of a program with modernist master architect Morris Lapidus in 2000. Ironically, as many mid-century modern masterpieces approach the 50-year eligibility mark for National Register listing, they are increasingly faced with potential demolition or unsympathetic alterations. Recently, DCPL has sought to raise the level of appreciation for mid-twentieth century buildings to establish that modern structures and places are potentially of equal significance to those of earlier eras.
In 2006, DCPL presented an acclaimed, two-day symposium, DC Modern followed by another two-day program DC Modern: Washington INSIDE. Both sold-out programs, organized by former trustee Joan M. Brierton, brought together for the first time, architects, designers, property owners, and an interested audience to highlight the role of modernism in the shaping of post-World War II Washington.
DCPL kicked-off 2007 by celebrating 35 years of preservation activity with a sold-out anniversary fundraiser at the Willard Hotel. The packed house of 450 cheered when the newly elected Mayor Adrian Fenty proclaimed himself the “451st preservationist in the room.”
DC’s building boom ended like the rest of the nation in 2008. Development projects were put on hold as financing dried up for both new construction and adaptive reuse projects. The organization moved forward with increased programming through walking tours, lectures, and workshops on sustainability and historic wood windows. 2008 also marked the commencement of DCPL’s public/private partnership with the General Services Administration to host monthly walking tours of the west campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital, a National Historic Landmark as part of its required public access program through Section 106. To date, several thousand people from as far away as Massachusetts and Kentucky have participated in these free tours. Due to construction for the consolidation of the Department of Homeland Security, tours have had to be re-routed, but DCPL remains dedicated to ensuring public access to this special campus.