Testimony to the Committee on the Whole
B23-0736 – Comprehensive Plan Amendment Act of 2020
Friday, November 13, 2020
Good afternoon, Chairman Mendelson and members of the Committee of the Whole. My name is Rebecca Miller, Executive Director of the DC Preservation League (DCPL), Washington’s citywide nonprofit that for the past 49 years has been dedicated to advocating for the preservation and protection of the historic and built environment of our nation’s capital. I am pleased to be here today and thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony on the Comprehensive Plan Amendment Act of 2020.
To start, DCPL would like to align itself with the comments put forward by the Committee of 100 on the Federal City which has studied these amendments extensively and will be submitting more extensive comments for the record. We also agree with the statements yesterday by the Citizen’s Association of Georgetown and the Cleveland Park Historical Society.
DC’s historic preservation law is one of the strongest and most successful ordinances of its kind in the country. We are thus disheartened by continuing efforts to undermine this law by the Office of Planning, questionable decisions by the Mayor’s Agent and some housing activists who blame preservation for the lack of affordable housing in DC. I would remind the Council and the public listening that, according to data provided by the DC Economic Partnership numbers for 2016-2018, 18% of new affordable housing units were developed within historic districts or within projects that had landmark properties. With approximately 20% of the buildings in the District designated, preservation is thus pulling its weight – and organization’s like DCPL and other preservationists are prepared to continue to work with the city to help do more with regards to affordability, economic vitality and sustainability. The city needs to promote affordable housing much more actively in areas where extensive new development is taking place without providing affordable housing for the families and other long-term residents who are being displaced by this new construction.
We have also heard testimony that the city needs to focus more on sustainability and climate change. DCPL couldn’t agree more. In the United States, 43% of carbon emissions and 39% of total energy use is attributed to the construction and operation of buildings. The impact of buildings is even more significant when the greenhouse gas emissions associated with manufacturing building materials is taken into consideration. As a key element in sustainable development, the preservation, reuse and “greening” of existing, and historic buildings present excellent opportunities to reduce our city’s carbon emissions and energy consumption, thus is an important tool in the city’s efforts to combat climate change.
According to the Executive Summary (at page 5): “phrases like ‘protect neighborhood character,’ which has been documented to have been used to perpetuate racial exclusion and segregation, has been replaced with ‘respect neighborhood character’ to reframe this important objective using an inclusive tone. However, we retained phrases like ‘protect historic resources’ because that remains consistent with our current historic preservation policy.” Yet in more than a dozen areas of the document, “protect” has been replaced with “respect” with regards to historic resources, contrary to the OP’s own explanation of its use of terminology.
This language change is most concerning to DCPL. The Historic Landmark and Historic District Protection Act of 1978 is quite specific in stating that the “protection, enhancement and perpetuation of properties of historical, cultural and aesthetic merit are in the interests of the health, prosperity and welfare of the people of the District of Columbia.” It is a stated purpose of the law to “protect” properties of historic merit. Hence that word – not the more general “respect” or others that might be substituted – must continue to be used with respect to properties designated under the 1978 law. With more than 40 years of experience with the preservation law, its terminology has generally accepted meaning and the Comp Plan should not attempt to change it.
In a similar vein, I would note that the word “protect” is replaced elsewhere with “preserve” but without defining that term either. Has this word been tested with the public – is it inclusive? Is it preserving the building, the viewshed, the character? For historic properties, we should stick with the language of the 1978 law.
Overall, sorry to say but I will say it, this document has turned into a worthless word soup — the “shall’s” have become “should’s” and other directive words are now merely suggestive ones. What lasting value or value is supposed to be conveyed by the policies to be approved by the Council? Words matter and these small language changes throughout the proposed amendments strip the document of meaning.
DCPL feels strongly that any changes to the Comp Plan need to be consistent and meaningful. The Office of Planning has missed the mark. The City, while thriving in some areas, has planned itself into a corner from an equitable and inclusivity perspective. Nearly two decades of greenlighting projects to attract young professionals at certain income levels has resulted in a glut of overpriced glass rental boxes with a high vacancy rate, and a shortage of affordable units. People want to live in the District. They want livable, walkable, affordable communities. This document falls far short of its stated goals. It is word heavy but lacking real substance and direction for future development and neighborhood planning.
DCPL encourages the Council to reject this bill as currently written and we thank you for the opportunity to present our comments.
In collaboration with owner Gordon Kit, DCPL has filed a landmark nomination for the property at 3020 University Terrace NW. This residence was previously owned by David Bazelon, Chief Justice of the DC Court of Appeals, as well as Senator (and Presidential candidate) George McGovern.
3020 University Terrace is a two-story wood-frame and stucco house, designed in a mid-century modern style, with a distinctive overlay of Japanese stylistic elements. Japanese-inspired plantings and garden elements surround the house on all sides.
This residence is significant for its association with David Bazelon, Chief Justice of the DC Court of Appeals, who, with his wife Miriam Bazelon, constructed it as their family home in 1957. Judge Bazelon’s career included numerous significant rulings over the course of decades. His most famous decision redefined concepts of mental illness under criminal law. At his death in 1993, the New York Times stated that Judge Bazelon’s court was the most influential judicial body in the United States besides the Supreme Court.
3020 University Terrace is also significant for its association with Senator George McGovern, who lived in the house from 1969 until 1980. At the time he and his wife Eleanor purchased the house, Senator McGovern, a populist from South Dakota, was establishing himself as a strong opponent of the Vietnam War and a leading liberal voice in the Democratic party. During the spring of 1972, he became the front-running candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, which he won at the August convention.
During his quest for the nomination and the presidential election, the house was the scene of many political events and key meetings and was frequently pictured in the media. After a campaign marked by the national division and turmoil of the times, which included the Watergate break-in, McGovern was defeated by incumbent president Richard M. Nixon. He remained a leading voice in the Democratic Party and an influential senator before losing his seat in the 1980 Ronald Reagan-led Republican landslide.
Beyond its association with these famous individuals, the residence is also significant because it embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, style, and method of construction. Designed by Jean-Pierre Trouchaud–whose eight highly individual houses constructed between 1949 and 1958 helped define the Palisades as a leading enclave of modernist residential design–the house is a synthesis of modernist and traditional Japanese architecture.
While this fusion of elements appears unique within the District, it places the house at the conflux of national and international cultural and architectural trends. These include the growing influence of Japanese design in postwar America, increasing recognition of the synergy between traditional Japanese architecture’s emphasis on functionality and form and modernism, and modernism’s evolution into a broader and richer movement based upon its insistence on truth in materials, functional analysis, and rationalism–rather than strict adherence to the International Style’s catalog of forms and materials.
The house’s construction illustrates the growing openness of Washington residential design to more global and non-western influences. It represents the growing sophistication and maturity of modernism in Washington.
The DC Preservation League is pleased to announce that it has received a $50,000 grant from the African American Civil Rights Program, as administered by the National Park Service (NPS), Department of the Interior, to fund creation of a study entitled Black Power in 20th Century Washington, DC: A Context Study.
“This study is the first of its kind and by exploring the DC Black Power Movement, it will shed light on this critical time in the city’s history—beyond events like the Million Man March and already-identified leaders, like Malcom X and Marion Barry, who was the first black power activist elected as DC Mayor. DC’s Black Power Movement was incredibly well-organized and it involved a variety of local and national activists, alike,” DCPL’s Executive Director Rebecca Miller said.
The project will catalyze nominations to both the DC Inventory of Historic Sites and the National Register of Historic Places. DCPL will also devise an outreach plan to educate the community on the research findings and significant associated properties.
“The activists involved in the Black Power Movement built up the community by adding schools, centers for art and music, and even oversight boards for the local police departments; they sparked important discussions about the city’s ongoing redevelopment; and they were catalysts for establishing DC’s first democratically-elected local government in nearly a century. These details and stories are largely unknown,” Ms. Miller said. “It’s long past time to tell them.”
Any questions aboutthis grant should be addressed to DCPL Director of Development, Kelli Knox: email@example.com.
The following text is based on testimony given by DCPL Executive Director Rebecca Miller at the July 2020 meeting of the Historic Preservation Review Board.
Fragile from years of demolition by neglect and increasing development pressures, beginning in 1996 DCPL placed the Anacostia Historic District on its list of Most Endangered Places. The buildings at 1909-1913 Martin Luther King Jr., Avenue were contributing elements in the historic district-that is until the city allowed them to collapse in a windstorm in 2015.
The former commercial buildings that stood on land that is now known as the Anacostia Gateway Project were the victims of failure on the part of four mayoral admirations, the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, the Office of Planning and most egregiously, the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). DHCD took control of these buildings in the mid-1990s. Although not in ideal condition when placed in DHCD’s portfolio, the buildings were left vacant and abandoned for years by the department, a clear case of the District Government eluding its own laws with regard to code violations and demolition by neglect. The apparent disregard by DHCD was evidenced by the former buildings being left open to the elements and to vagrants. The almost certain consequence of this negligence was a fire that gutted and destroyed the rear of the buildings and their interiors in August 2005.
In 2015, the buildings fell over in a windstorm. Yes, a windstorm. Despite the DC Historic Landmark and Historic District Protection Act being explicit in the treatment of landmarks or contributing buildings that are illegally demolished, no action was taken to require the District Government to rebuild the structures. I’ll note that DCPL doesn’t have standing under the law in this matter, so we were unable to pursue this. All the while, other buildings in the city owned by private property owners have been subject to the rebuilding requirement. The District of Columbia failed to enforce its own laws. A stellar example to the public once again.
In what appears to be an act of self-dealing, DHCD, the very agency that perpetrated the loss of the historic buildings is now slated to be the anchor tenant of the new MLK Gateway development. The DC Council has approved DHCD’s lease and the development team presented two concepts to the Historic Preservation Review Board in July. The proposals call for a larger five-story (note the original buildings were only 2 stories) building. DCHD’s lease also is driving the timeline for this development – requiring permitting by February 2021. With City actions like this – how are developers across the District, both large and small, supposed to take the law seriously. The fact is, they have no reason to do so.
Lack of action followed by a “shrug of the shoulders” is not how an effective building program should work in the District of Columbia. It has been shown time and again that commercial revitalization is critical to the economic vitality of our neighborhoods. DCPL has worked diligently with developers across the city to ensure that historic preservation interests are respected within projects. As everyone in this room has seen, rehabilitation of Washington’s small buildings can be a useful tool in revitalizing urban neighborhoods and in engendering community pride. We fully believe that the successes in other parts of the city can very much take place in Anacostia.
DCPL will continue to work with our partners in Historic Anacostia and across the city to ensure that buildings important to neighborhoods remain or return to productive use.
During the mid 1970s, Don’t Tear it Down–the predecessor to today’s DC Preservation League–created the “Take One Tour,” a series of brochures distributed on buses as a guide to historically significant buildings along the routes. These brochures were intended for commuters and tourists alike and sought to raise awareness of Washington’s unique built environment. One of these routes was the G-2: a popular bus route which runs from LeDroit Park to Georgetown. Along the route, riders not only pass many beautiful examples of Federal and Victorian architecture, but also several unusual sites that the casual observer might not notice at first glance. Here is a look back at the G-2 Take One Tour and how the sites along it have both evolved and stayed the same in the near fifty years since it was first created.
The first stop on the G-2 is located at Howard University on 4th and Bryant Sts. Founded in 1866 by General Oliver O. Howard, the historically black university’s main campus features many Georgian Revival structures. The quality education provided by the university to people of all races has attracted students and academics from all over the country. In the 154 years since Howard University was first established, it has continued to have a great impact on the larger community. Many of the immediately surrounding neighborhoods were occupied by Howard professors. In the 1970s, individuals in those neighborhoods worried that the physical expansion of the university would come to harm the community it helped create.
Next on the G-2 bus route is LeDroit Park, a neighborhood founded in the 1870s, making it one of Washington’s first suburbs. Many of the original row houses were designed by architect James McGill. After the first African American family moved into the neighborhood in 1893, the previously all-white suburb became home to many locally and nationally prominent Black Americans, including educator Mary Church Terrell and poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar. LeDroit Park was made a historic district in 1974, just two years before the G-2 “Take One Tour” was distributed, and it retains much of its character today.
Just before reaching Logan Circle, the G-2 passes through the Shaw neighborhood. This area takes its name from Shaw Junior High School, which in turn is named for Robert Gould Shaw: a Union officer who led one of the first African American units during the American Civil War. As the brochure notes, this large, densely populated residential area was first developed between 1880 and 1910, and still contains some of Washington’s best examples of row house architecture. The neighborhood has not significantly changed since the bus tours began in the 1970s, and in 1999 much of the area was included in the then newly-formed Shaw Historic District.
Located within the Shaw neighborhood is one of the more unconventional sites listed on the G-2 Take One Tour brochure: the John F. Kennedy Playground. Dedicated in 1964 by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, the park is located on P St between 7th and Marion Sts NW. When it was first established, the unusual playground’s equipment was made up of old tanks and jets, a steam locomotive, and a huge slide. Although the playground was extremely popular for some time, it fell into disrepair by the late 1970s and became unsafe for children. Most of the tanks and planes were turned into scrap metal, but the locomotive was restored and put on display in the National Museum of American History. Today, the JFK Recreation Center and a more conventional playground occupy the lot, continuing the site’s legacy as a place for children to play.
As the G-2 continues its route, it intersects with Logan Circle. In the 1970s and today, Logan Circle is the only original traffic circle in Washington to retain a residential character. The houses on the circle– ornamented with carvings, chimneys, turrets, and ironwork–serve as strong examples of Victorian architecture. Designated a historic district in 1972, many of the mansions and row houses were undergoing restoration when the brochures were being distributed. Although most of the houses and mansions have been converted into apartments or boarding houses, the exteriors of most buildings remain relatively unchanged.
On the opposite end of the G2’s route from LeDroit Park is Georgetown, the popular, upscale neighborhood along the Potomac River waterfront. Georgetown is undoubtedly one of DC’s most well-known historic districts, and the G2’s path through Georgetown along P and O Streets is densely packed with historically significant sites. These sites range from the prominent Georgetown University to the oldest Black church in the District (Mt. Zion Methodist), and also include many smaller ones such as old streetcar tracks and a gun barrel fence. Of particular note are the many different styles of houses which coexist on Georgetown streets. As Georgetown began to decline economically during the late 19th century, it continued to grow, but within itself, by subdividing. The result: mansion and modest; brick and frame; Georgian and Modern may all be found in one city block. In combination, these places make Georgetown an urban setting unlike any other in the nation’s capital–and like few others in the world.
Throughout the brochure, the “Take One Tour” for the G-2 bus line emphasizes the importance of the physical environment in Washington. It encourages the public to learn more about the structures along public transportation routes by not only talking about specific sites, but also by discussing stylistic traits shared by several buildings and neighborhoods, such as fanciful red brick detailing, turrets, and mansard roofs. These characteristics are a part of what makes Washington special. Don’t Tear It Down used the G-2 and other “Take One Tour” brochures to emphasize the importance of protecting the physical environment and advocating for preservation as a way to strengthen a community. As its fiftieth anniversary approaches, the DC Preservation League continues its mission to make learning about DC’s history and preservation easy and accessible to all through several online resources–such as the DC Historic Sites App–and actively works towards the protection of the physical environment.
DCPL kicked off 2020 by filing a landmark nomination for the Modernist Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) headquarters!e 1965 PAHO building is distinctive for its dramatic Modernist design as well as for the history and achievements of the distinguished organization it houses. It is located at 525 23rd Street NW.
From this building, PAHO has led campaigns for improving health and fighting infectious diseases that have affected all the peoples of the Americas. The Pan American Health Organization was founded in 1902 and is the world’s oldest international public health agency. Its core mission is to strengthen national and local health systems and improve health outcomes for all people in the Americas.
The PAHO building embodies the distinguishing characteristics of the Modernist architectural style and represents a unique building type associated with the headquarters of large organizations. It also epitomizes the materials and methods of construction associated with the mid-20th century, including the use of pre-cast concrete and an innovative steel-frame technique to create the large, open Congress Hall auditorium in the building’s annex. It also represents the unique role of Washington in hosting and supporting large international organizations. The building possesses high artistic value and is a notable work of a key Modernist architect, Román Fresnedo Siri.
The PAHO building retains a high degree of structural integrity with only minimal modifications since its initial construction. The building is significant under DC Criteria B (History), D (Architecture and Urbanism), E (Artistry), and F (Work of a Master) and similar National Register Criteria A and C. It has local, national, and international significance.
On December 18th, the DC Preservation League (DCPL) in partnership with Ben and Dawn O’Connell submitted a nomination to designate the Slowe-Burrill House, 1256 Kearny Street, NE, as a DC Landmark.
“We were delighted to learn more about the lives of our house’s former owners and are pleased that this designation will preserve such an important landmark in our city’s LGBTQ history.” – Ben and Dawn O’Connell, owners 1256 Kearney Street, NE.
About the Property:
Built by James T. Ward in 1890, Lucy Slowe and Mary Burrill bought the Queen Anne house together in 1922. The two women had successful careers in the field of education and lived together in the house until Slowe’s death in 1937. The women first met because of their shared background in the field of education ten years before purchasing the house on Kearny Street. Slowe had the more prestigious career, highlights of which included her being tasked by the District to create the first public African-American Junior High School in the city and later becoming the first Dean of Women at Howard University. In the latter role, Slowe introduced a new study curriculum to female students at Howard; she encouraged women to consider and pursue varied careers beyond the traditional path of teaching. Her willingness to invite many students to her house for social events and informal counseling sessions demonstrates Slowe’s affection for her students. Burrill remained a dedicated educator throughout her life. She taught at a number of District schools during her career, but her longest tenure was at Dunbar High School. Burrill sold the house at 1256 Kearny Street NE shortly after Slowe’s death in 1937.
The Slowe-Burrill House meets DC Inventory Criterion B in the area of Social History, as the location of what is thought to be one of the most prominent female same-sex relationships in Washington, DC during the early twentieth century. At this time, although the women’s rights movement was growing, society still maintained a generally conservative view regarding alternative lifestyles, particularly in regard to same-sex couples. This resulted in many gay and lesbian couples keeping their personal relationships either entirely hidden or out of public view. Slowe and Burrill were life partners for over twenty years and because they were very private, they escaped significant scrutiny that could have impacted their social standing and careers. Their relationship endured during an era when LGBTQ lifestyles were not yet accepted by society at large.
The Slowe-Burrill House meets DC Inventory Criterion C at the local level for its association with the life and productive career of Lucy Slowe, an important African American educator who made significant contributions to the field of African American education within the District of Columbia.
If designated, the Slowe-Burrill House will join the Dr. Franklin E. Kameny House and the Furies Collective in the DC Inventory of Historic Sites for its association with the LGBTQ history in the District of Columbia.
The Recorder of Deeds Building, designed by the Office of the Municipal Architect under Nathan C. Wyeth, was one component of a municipal complex planned for the Judiciary Square area. Its “stripped classical” style, popularized by Paul Cret and Bertram Goodhue, echoes that of the District of Columbia Municipal Center one block east. A companion building, the DC Library Annex at 499 Pennsylvania Avenue NW (1940-1943), was demolished in 1982.
The smooth planes of the ROD Building’s facades are cut by a knife-edge vertical corner that aligns with the intersection of D and Sixth Streets. The building’s cornerstone faces D Street at this corner. The perfectly symmetrical facade on each street-face is divided horizontally by a pair of narrow, angled cornices between the first and second stories and topped by a more accentuated roofline cornice. The first floor is illuminated by a row of flush-mounted metal-framed single windows. The vertically-stacked second and third story windows are separated by grey enameled panels, and the entire window ensemble is inset in the facade, creating the impression that the vertical window bands are separated by flat-profiled limestone columns.
The decorations above the twin entrances at either end of the D Street façade repeat the cornices’ incised leaf design, while the legend “Recorder of Deeds” is inscribed below the second story cornice on the D Street façade. Each entrance has a pair of bronze doors with upper and lower glass panes.
The building includes basement vaults to hold original deeds. The first floor includes foyers at each entrance, a lobby that runs in parallel with D Street, and public rooms containing current records. Offices for the Recorder and other managers occupy the second floor, while the third floor housed copyists and other clerical staff. Several public rooms and the recorder’s office have faux fireplaces originally equipped with “electric fires.” The rooftop included a penthouse structure housing an employee cafeteria which is not visible from the street.
The interior is paneled in medium brown walnut. Its most notable feature is its extensive art program, especially the seven murals commissioned by the Treasury Department Section of Fine Art in 1943. These murals are painted on fabric and mounted on the building’s walls in the locations described in Attachment 1 of the landmark nomination. Other significant artworks include the 1936 series of portraits of prior recorders, William Edouard Scott’s oil painting titled “Groundbreaking” (1944), and Selma Burke’s sculptural relief “Four Freedoms” (1945).
A landmark nomination was filed in 2011 and was listed in the DC Inventory of Historic Places in December 2019.
As of 2020, the building’s roof has failed and water has infiltrated the building. DCPL is currently working with Councilmember Robert White’s office who has directed the Department of General Services to utilize earmarked funds to stabilize the building. A new roof is anticipated to be completed by June 2020.
The former Washington Animal Rescue League Shelter and Hospital is located at 71 O Street, NW, and is the pivotal structure representing the development of the animal welfare and humane movement in Washington. This women-founded organization constructed the first purpose-built animal shelter in the history of Washington. WARL’s animal hospital and shelter is the oldest surviving representative of a movement strong in early 20th century America and in Washington, DC to treat animals compassionately. The building is significant for history and architecture.
The building was constructed in 1932 and designed by architect and civil engineer Ralph W. Berry in the 20th-century revival style. The builder was Bahen & Wright.
Origins of the Humane Movement in Washington Laws banning cruelty to animals in the District of Columbia date from 1819. In 1870, the District’s first specific organization dedicated to dealing with this problem was created, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). The SPCA was renamed the Washington Humane Society (WHS) in 1885, focused solely on the treatment of animals both on the street and in other circumstances, but did not shelter animals. This task was left to the District pound.
From its establishment in 1872, the pound took stray and unlicensed farm animals and dogs from the city streets and held them for three days, making them available for redemption by their owners or purchase by others, before euthanizing them. Aside from distressed owners who had to go to the pound and pay a small charge to get back their livestock or pets, records suggest that there were no major complaints during the 19th and early 20th centuries about the treatment of animals at the pound.
Nonetheless, activists increasingly felt the need for an effort to house and place abandoned animals that emphasized the welfare of the animals rather than their control, like the pound. WHS operated a shelter on 19th Street and Columbia Road, NW from 1897-1899 that took in cats and dogs. Unlike the pound, it did not take animals directly from the street but only those brought in by the public. Like the pound, those not reclaimed or purchased were put down. The endeavor soon ran into the same problems that would doom its immediate successors: the constant need of funds for even its barebones operation and the demand for its land from a growing city, in this case, planned widening of 19th Street.
The first decade and a half of the new century saw attempts to establish animal shelters by a variety of well-meaning but short-lived organizations, including a second WHS shelter, Mrs. Beckley’s Cat Shelter, the Friendly Hand Society, and the Society for Homeless Dogs. All of these groups took in animals and all succumbed to similar problems. An additional issue was neighborhood complaints about the noise of the animals; most were sited outside the District for this reason.
Origins of the Washington Animal Rescue League (WARL) The shelter movement in Washington lay dormant for a few years after the demise of these early efforts. The genesis of its more successful modern stage was a 1914 effort by two women to take the owners of mistreated horses to court, after which they were moved to concern themselves with the plight of cats, dogs, and horses across Washington.
One of these women was Matilde Goelet Gerry, who became the leading force in the renewed effort. She and her friends invited Anna Harris Smith, founder of Boston’s Animal Rescue League and crusader for the movement, to meet them informally and outline the possibilities. Smith served as the keynote speaker at the public organizing meeting of the new Washington Animal Rescue League held at the Woodward & Lothrop Department Store auditorium on March 31st, 1914. A second meeting the following month formally enrolled members and elected officers, and the organization adopted by-laws and incorporated in DC on April 14th of the same year. The goal of the initial resolutions was “that an animal hospital and shelter be established in Washington.”
Three assumptions initially guided WARL: a primary concern with horses. Gerry was a noted horsewoman. The earliest League record gives its purpose as “the proper disposition of decrepit and injured horses and other animals.” However, dogs and cats always provided the bulk of the League’s work; horses were already disappearing from Washington streets. The shift spared WARL from the dead-end that made WHS nearly irrelevant.
The second assumption was that the League would be largely an organization of women. The organizers specified a “mixed board of men and women to assure business-like management,” and were “especially anxious to have representative men as vice-presidents . . . to assure standing in the community.” Nonetheless, the by-laws always referred to the president as She. Men were generally represented among WARL officers, but the majority was always female, and there were years in which every officer and the entire Board of Directors were women.
Finally, the League was an effort of affluent and socially well-connected Washingtonians. This is clear from the lists of event organizers and attendees, of officers and members, of the prestigious venues of meetings and fundraisers. There are no mentions of middle and working-class people, nor a focus on any type of diversity, except for gender.
The primary object of the new League was the rescue of friendless horses, dogs, and cats from city streets, or – in the case of horses – from abusive owners, usually by purchase. The animals’ injuries were treated and then returned to their original owners, if suitable, or found a new home. WARL was clear from the beginning that unwanted or severely injured animals would be humanely put down. Initially, this was done with chloroform.
From its earliest years, the WARL shelter also operated a contractor medical clinic – initially open one hour every morning and geared toward horses, free for minor services and at “moderate charge . . . for medicines and for surgical operations.” A boarding service was also envisioned, as had been done by its predecessors. More ambitious plans considered at the March meeting included the purchase of “a horse ambulance and a dog ambulance,” an automobile, and “a special bicycle” (“for carrying injured cats”) and a rest home “for run-down horses.”
WARL’s Shelters and Operations The League first opened a shelter in a few rooms over a stable at 20 Decatur Street NE on May 10th, 1914 with Mary E. Coursey as manager. Coursey had run a Boston shelter for fifteen years. She was joined by two assistants. In its first full month of operation, the shelter took in 365 cats, 19 dogs, and 2 horses. Sadly the dogs and cats were euthanized. Healthy horses were sent to new owners, the seriously ailing were euthanized.
WARL’s founders and at least some members of the public seemed to think the organization superior to the Pound, with its focus on control rather than compassion. Prominent supporters bolstered this confidence: Ms. West of the Washington Cat Club and Madame Bey, wife of the Turkish ambassador, were members, as was Edith Wilson, the first in a line of First Lady supporters. Prominent actor George Arliss championed participation by men but feared that “people wouldn’t listen to an actor off the stage.”
The number of animals brought to WARL quickly required a move to a larger facility on Ohio Avenue; in August 1915 alone the shelter took in 743 dogs and cats. The League increasingly adopted out animals, especially cats.
Horses were typically purchased from owners – in its first full year of operation 69 were bought. WARL’s early efforts included the provision of “a kind of carpet slipper” allowing horses to get traction on snow-covered streets, and encouraging MPD officers to report abused animals to the shelter. In general, the operation of the shelter remained WARL’s focus.
A visitor of 1915 wrote: “The system is remarkable . . . I was so impressed by the place that I feel every man, woman, and child should visit.” Nonetheless, a headline of two years later tells the usual story: “Residents of Ohio Avenue Opposed to Rescued Animals in Neighborhood.” Among other complaints in the residents’ petition to local government was that dead animals were not picked up promptly, resulting in a terrible smell. WARL’s continued growth and neighborhood opposition soon brought about a move to Maryland Avenue, where it remained for many years.
71 O Street NW Hospital and Shelter Finally in 1932 WARL made the momentous move to its first purpose-built shelter, the building at 71 O Street NW. The impetus for this project was an increasing need for space and facility, as well as the National Capital Park and Planning Commission plan to develop the District’s immediate southwest area as a government enclave. Sale of the Maryland Avenue property to the District government paid for most of the new property.
The community into which WARL moved – near Truxton Circle about a mile north of the Capitol – was a long-established area by 1932. Warehouses and workshops, especially garages and auto repair shops, increasingly crowded against the working-class residents. Neighboring Swampoodle, had already seen working-class residents displaced by light industry.
The League’s Real Estate and Building Committee first considered a site at South Capitol and D Streets SW, which was near its current shelter and the pound. However, a few congressmen objected to the hospital so close to their offices. The O Street site was the next choice. O Street protested too: neighbors hired a downtown law firm to protest the shelter as a non-conforming use in violation of zoning regulations. The Commissioners disagreed and permitted the animal hospital, but limited it to 40 animals.
Architect Ralph W. Berry The new shelter was about one block west of the League’s first, rented space on Decatur Street. Architect Ralph W. Berry received the contract to plan (in separate jobs) the street-facing shelter/office and, on the rear alley, a garage. Berry designed nearly 100 houses in the District and others in Montgomery County, Maryland, between 1923 and 1937, almost all brick or stone structures in the wealthy upper-northwest area. This was a rare non-residential building for him.
Berry and League officials visited shelters in New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New Orleans. The architect submitted his proposal to the federal Commission of Fine Arts for an advisory-only opinion, featuring an English façade of Potomac River gneiss over a brick structure. The Commission found the design “good” but felt that a stone structure was “more appropriate for a suburban type of building” and recommended its then-standard “Georgian brick building.” Berry ignored this advice. Bahen & Wright, a general contractor active in the eastern half of the city 1926-1940, was selected as the builder.
The project faced a few challenges, such as delay in the removal of the old warehouse, readjustment of plans, and permitting issues. When excavation began, water and bad soil necessitated a different foundation. The last added $6,260 in costs, bringing the project cost to about $26,000.
Opening and Use of 71 O Street, NW The shelter opened with an invitation-only ceremony on June 23rd, 1932. Visitors and reporters, were impressed, calling it, “The most modern and well-equipped facilities for the care and shelter of stray and sick beasts,” “thoroughly insulated and fireproofed,” and “safe, sanitary and comfortable accommodations.” With its 50 cages for dogs and a dozen cat cages, separate runs for each, veterinary clinic, two “comfortable” stalls for horses (in the garage), and an upstairs caretaker’s apartment, “the new building compares favorably with the best anywhere” – “a credit to the City and to the Directors.”
Cages bore the names of donors and a plaque in the main hall commemorated the 1917 donation of the earlier building by Martha Codman and Chester Snow, which later paid for the new one. League members made donations of shrubbery, the paved walk & office furniture.
Upon opening, the building already held 40 dogs and 12 cats. In its new quarters, the League increased its clinic service to three veterinarians. Through an agreement with the District government, city-owned horses that were retired in favor of trucks went to WARL, which placed healthy ones in nearby farms. At the same time, routine ambulance runs to take pets from homes dropped back from daily to four days a week, though the truck was available 24 hours a day for injured animals. Educational outreach grew in scope. The League’s work at O Street continued smoothly, with a larger staff, more professional operations and continued harmonious governance.
By the mid-1960s the facility clearly required updating. The District government was not supportive, announcing that it planned to take the property for a school playground. Although this threat receded, WARL began a five-year search for larger quarters, moving 71 Oglethorpe Street NW, at the very edge of the District, in 1977, where it still operates today.
Significance The Washington Animal Rescue League animal hospital and shelter is the pivotal structure representing the development of the animal welfare and humane movement in Washington. Earlier animal shelters opened by other organizations prior to 1910 were essentially shacks with wire-fenced pens, and all soon closed. The WARL gave a temporary home for any abandoned animal – principally dogs, cats, horses – brought to its premises; its work continues today. In 1932, having outgrown its last facility and facing eviction from the city government for road construction, WARL made the momentous decision to construct the first purpose-built animal shelter in the history of Washington, the present building on O Street. The new structure was praised as the acme of modern efficiency and comfort for the animal-tenants. It served as a model for WARL’s current building on Oglethorpe Street.
The women founded WARL animal hospital and shelter is the oldest surviving representative of a movement strong in early 20th century America and in Washington, DC to treat all animals with love and care, complementing the parallel work of the District pound. As a reminder of its central role in this civic and humanitarian effort by the citizens of Washington the building is significant for its history and its architecture.
The DC Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) designated the building a DC Landmark in December 2018 for meeting criteria for history and for architecture. Click here to read the HPRB decision.
ABOUT: The DC Preservation League (DCPL) is Washington, DC’s citywide nonprofit dedicated to the preservation, protection, and enhancement of the historic and built environment of our nation’s capital. Founded in 1971 as Don’t Tear It Down to save the Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue, DCPL has worked diligently to ensure that preservation remains an economic force for the city’s neighborhoods and historic downtown.
RESPONSIBILITIES With guidance from DCPL’s Executive Director, the Community Outreach and Grants Manager coordinates the development and implementation of the three main programmatic components: (1) core mission/advocacy (2) community outreach; and (3) the Preservation Initiatives Grant Program
CORE MISSION/ADVOCACY To meet the organization’s mission of protecting DC’s historic resources, the Community Outreach and Grants Manager will play an important role in DCPL’s advocacy efforts.
Serves as staff liaison for DCPL Landmarks Committee; coordinate with Executive Director and Committee Chair to prepare monthly agendas and report meeting outcomes, prepare and file landmark and historic district nominations, coordinate with the DC Historic Preservation Office on landmark nomination submissions; present information on landmark nominations to community groups and the Historic Preservation Review Board
Assists Executive Director with Section 106 Consulting Party responsibilities; provides meeting summaries and prepares comments as needed
Prepares testimony for DC Council, DC Historic Preservation Review Board, and other governmental agency hearings on historic preservation cases and policies affecting historic landmarks and districts
Raises awareness of advocacy issues through social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) and website posts
Manages graduate student fellow and hire and manage interns
COMMUNITY OUTREACH Cultivates and maintains productive and positive relationships with citizens, community groups, schools, and governmental agencies to identify needs, assists in planning educational programs, and answer questions about community/neighborhood preservation priorities and activities.
Works with Program Associate to plan and present educational programs designed to engage more citizens in preservation activities and to increase overall community support for preservation as a basic community value
Coordinates with Programs Associate to plan regular workshops to share information on preservation tools and incentives
Assists in preservation advocacy activities designed to spur the preservation of endangered historic structures and open spaces
Appears before neighborhood groups and Advisory Neighborhood Commissions to share information about historic preservation and seek engagement from new communities
Assists neighborhood groups with the preparation of DC Landmark nominations and other activities to raise awareness
Manages Historic Districts Coalition, an ad hoc group of existing neighborhood preservation organizations. Schedules meetings and provides technical assistance to make them more effective advocates and to increase the level of services they provide to their communities
Promotes DCPL’s programs to communities throughout the city and prepares content for monthly e-newsletter, and website.
PRESERVATION INITIATIVES GRANT PROGRAM Provides management and oversight for all aspects of grant programs offered by the DC Preservation League. Works as part of a team to ensure funding goals are in line with larger DCPL priorities. Facilitates the smooth operation of all grant application processing and manages tracking and reporting for all grant programs.
Assists in developing grant applications, guidelines, and reporting forms for new/future funding programs
Identifies requirements for grantee reporting and the development of reporting materials that will allow DCPL to track the impact of its funding over time. Compiles this information and determine the best way to highlight this impact for key constituents and the general public
Works with applicants to determine eligibility for specific funds and provides pre- and post-decision-making assistance to grant seekers as needed
Organizes and manages the grant selection committee to identify successful grant applications
Works with the DC Historic Preservation Office and other organizations to promote the Program and recruit a diverse selection of eligible applicants for each grant cycle
Serves as a primary point of contact for both grant seekers and grantees
Monitors all grant program finances and prepares progress reports for the Board of Trustees
Generates grant contracts and payment requests for funded projects
Ensures grantee compliance on funded projects.
Bachelor’s degree required. Master’s degree preferred. Knowledge of the historic preservation field encouraged
Minimum of two years’ experience in program development and implementation, with experience working in a community-based and multicultural setting
Minimum of two years of professional-level experience, including experience managing and coordinating projects. Familiarity with non-profit grant-making or similar processes preferred
Ability to navigate a wide range of relationships including government leaders, local business owners, and youth, as well as the ability to relate to culturally diverse populations
Experience managing budgets, grants, and grant report writing
Strong organizational skills and the ability to prioritize, multi-task efficiently and respond to a high volume of ongoing requests in a timely fashion
Ability to make independent decisions within a general decision-making framework
Excellent oral, verbal, and written communication skills
Ability to adapt and be flexible in a dynamic work environment
Proficiency with Microsoft Office Suite
Familiarity with Word Press, InDesign, and Photoshop desired.
The position is full-time (37.5 Hours/week). Evening and weekend work required.
Salary Commensurate with Experience. Benefits include 80/20 medical and dental insurance, 403B retirement plan, and a flexible work schedule.
Interested candidates should provide the following by COB Friday, December 20th:
Contact list with four professional references
A summary of your Community Outreach and Grant Administration Experience
Any supporting materials you deem appropriate.
Questions regarding the position description and/or application process may be directed to the Executive Director at rebecca[at]dcpreservation.org
The DC Preservation League is an equal opportunity employer and is seeking a diverse slate of candidates for consideration.
This position has been filled.
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