St. Elizabeths West Campus Walking Tour

Must Sign Up By Tomorrow, Tuesday, May 14!

St. Elizabeths West Campus Walking Tour
Saturday, May 18, 2013
10:00am-12:00pm

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

Space is limited and reservations are required.

Because of security issues walk-ons will not be permitted on the tour.

Click here to register.

Wonder Bread Building Becomes DC Landmark

At its November 17th hearing, the DC Historic Preservation Review Board voted unanimously to include Dorsch’s White Cross Bakery (also known as the Wonder Bread Factory), 641 S Street, NW, as an individual landmark in the DC Inventory of Historic Sites. The nomination was co-sponsored by DCPL and Douglas Development Corporation (the building’s owner).

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We Need Your Help!

The New Year is upon us and DCPL’s Education Committeeis gearing up to plan the 2012 program calendar. Conception and coordination of programs is vitally important to the organization’s mission, and is a great opportunity to be an important part of DCPL. Join the Education Committee as we sketch out the upcoming year’s tours, lectures and conference sessions. The success of such programs is in a large part due to people like you who give of their time, knowledge, and or skills. Join us at our January 2012 meeting and help educate DCPL’s members and the public on the benefits of historic preservation.

Please contact Amanda McDonald at amanda@dcpreservation.org for more information and meeting times.

A Look Back at 2011

In its 40th Anniversary year, the DC Preservation League (DCPL) has been as busy as ever!

We filed landmark nominations on several buildings including the Recorder of Deeds (515 D Street, NW), and the Old Naval Observatory/Potomac Annex (23rd and E Streets, NW). DCPL’s staff and board members presented testimony to DC Council on agency oversight and to the Historic Preservation Review Board on development projects throughout the city.  We also spearheaded advocacy efforts to ensure that plans for the re-use of the National Historic Landmark St. Elizabeths East Campus and improvements to the Great Hall at Union Station use sound preservation practices; both projects that will continue into 2012.

 

DC Preservation League brings Shaw neighborhood’s Wonder Bread Factory back to life

By jmullerwashingtonsyndicate on April 27, 2011, The Washington Syndicate.

>>>Read original article.

Last week the DC Preservation League celebrated their 40th Anniversary by throwing a lively party at the long dormant Wonder Bread Factory at 641 S Street NW in the Shaw neighborhood, a half block east of 7th Street and the Shaw-Howard University metro station.

Despite concerns the building would not be ready in time for the party and a city inspector declaring the property “structurally unsafe” last month, more than three hundred DCPL supporters joined leaders of the city’s development and preservationist communities to celebrate the former bakery. The building has been out of commission for the past 25 years according to the preservation league.

“It was pulled off with a lot of work by Douglas Development getting the space ready for the event. Four solid weeks of fixing a failed beam, holes in the flooring and water damage,” says Rebecca Miller, DCPL’s Executive Director.

“I thought they might be handing out hard hats,” said Audra, a new DCPL member who joined after seeing a recent ad on Groupon and plans to become more involved with the city’s preservation efforts after being in the city for nearly 15 years.

In recognition of Wonder Bread’s well-known “Builds Strong Bodies 12 Ways” slogan, throughout the first floor’s two main rooms the preservation league spray painted the walls with the 12 ways that historic preservation builds strong cities: strengthening economic development, advancing sustainability, promoting tourism and partnerships, reinforcing culture, building community, encouraging citizen engagement, increasing property values, providing a sense of place, producing local taxes and revenues, educating current and future generations and creating jobs.

“It’s important that everyone understands that preservation is more than just downtown. It’s across the entire city, and each neighborhood is unique,” says Miller.

Founded in 1971 as “Don’t Tear It Down,” DCPL hosts its annual gala in a dormant city building, warehouse, theater or other site ever year. There was open discussion and anticipation by gala goers that next year’s party will be thrown in Dupont Circle’s underground trolley station which in recent years has drawn the attention of local artists. “We haven’t even thought about next year’s party – ask me that in September,” said Miller.

 

History of the Wonder Bread Factory

The Wonder Bread Factory (White Cross Bakery) is a complex of seven industrial buildings completed between 1913 and 1936. Established by Peter Dorsch, the White Cross Bakery was purchased by the Continental Baking Company in 1936. The Continental Baking Company began purchasing bakeries in Washington in 1924. During Continental’s ownership of 641 S Street they produced Wonder Bread and Hostess Cakes.

According to Streets of Washington, “The oldest section of the building was built in 1913 as an expansion to an existing bakery run by Peter M. Dorsch (1878-1959) at 1811 7th Street NW. Dorsch had previously worked at bakeries with his younger brothers at various locations in D.C., including K Street in Southwest, Virginia Avenue, and Georgetown, before settling on the upper 7th Street site for his own business. Born in D.C., he was the son of a Bavarian immigrant, Michael Dorsch, who had come to Washington in the 1870s and sold imported German foods before opening a restaurant on 7th Street.”

Douglas Development Corporation, headed by the city’s reigning, yet sometimes controversial, teflon developmentmaverick and tycoon Douglas Jemal since 1985, currently owns the property. A search of the city’s property records show the property was purchased in October 1997. It is currently assessed by the city at $6,810,580. According to the evening’s program the property “is currently being marketed for adaptive reuse” which according to numerous people I spoke with and a report last fall in the City Paper indicate condos are coming, but there seems to be no immediate timeline or plans.

The long awaited development of the northwest corner of 7th & S Street is now finally ongoing with Progression Place which plans offices, flats, and shops. Construction teams have been working steadily since December and have now nearly dug out and secured the foundation. When this project begins to take tenants it would only logically strengthen the desire and ability to secure financing on the Wonder Bread Factory site for similar uses as Progression Place or strictly residential units with commercial on the first floor.

Memories of the Wonder Bread Factory

“When I would take the street car to Griffith Stadium as a child from my NE neighborhood you knew you were getting close when you began to smell the bread and the bakeries. You could close your eyes and know when you were within three blocks,” said Dr. Sandy Berk, distinguished by his white shirt and jacket adorned with the same small tri-color circles that mark a loaf of Wonder Bread.

“DC wasn’t known as being an industrial city. This building is an example of one of the few early 20th century examples in the middle of a residential neighborhood,” said Howard Berger, a former DCPL trustee and current architectural historian.

“This is a really great and strong structure. You don’t see this type or cast iron work anymore,” said Wilford Williams, a member of the large security team that protected the entrances of the factory and were asked by nearly everyone who passed by on the street what was going on inside.

“When it closed it was a sad event. A lot of people depended on them. Wonder Bread has always been a number one seller. It beats Sunbeam and giant brand. You know that Wonder Bread makes the best sandwich and their prices are reasonable,” said Williams.

At a table Eric Wingerter, 6th & S Street NW, and Martin Multon (the 39th citizen recently arrested by the Capitol Police), 5th & P Street NW, spoke about their memories years ago of being excited when a restaurant would open on 14th Street NW. They agreed the neighborhood continues to lack a variety of food options and would like to see a restaurant included in future development plans.

“It’s great to be here and have it alive. For too many years this has been a landmark in the neighborhood for the wrong reasons,” said Wingerter.

GSA Preserves Historic Integrity of Saint Elizabeths according to DC Preservation League

By jmullerwashingtonsyndicate on January 3, 2011, The Washington Syndicate.

>>>Read original article.

Napolitano joined by GSA’s Acting Administrator, Representative Norton, Senator Lieberman (I-Connecticut), Mayor Fenty, and Councilmember Barry broke ground on the largest Washington metro area construction project since the building of the Pentagon during World War II.

In December of 2009 I took the same tour which was then comparatively quiet with little noticeable activity on the west campus. However, on this more recent tour there was a constant flow of dump trucks coming and going to the current construction of the US Coast Guard Headquarters, part of Phase 1A, scheduled for completion in 2013.

Additionally, areas of the west campus were fenced off that were not last year, providing sensory evidence that the development of Saint Elizabeths has truly begun.

“The tours began through a partnership with DCPL and the GSA in an effort to provide public outreach on the significance of this National Historic Landmark,” says Rebecca Miller, Executive Director of DCPL.

Since the middle of 2008, a few thousand have attended the tours which are on a seasonal break and will resume in the spring, according to Miller.

According to GSA press spokesman, Michael McGill, a permanent public access program is part of a larger interpretive plan for the west campus that is still under development. The public access program would allow for public tours once DHS has completed their move which is scheduled for 2016.

“While locating a cabinet-level federal agency and 14,000 federal employees east of the Anacostia River, GSA will not only provide new office space, but will also be able to put 51 historic buildings back into service and maintain St. Elizabeths unique campus setting,” says McGill

Among the most famous of the 51 historic buildings being put back into use is the Center Building, designed in accordance with the Kirkbride Plan, a mid-19th century system of mental asylum design, by Thomas U. Walter, best known as the lead architect for the US Capitol’s expansion beginning in 1851 which added the north and south wings, and the cast-iron dome which has come to define the city’s skyline.

“The preservation efforts at St Elizabeths have been tremendous,” says Miller. “GSA recognizes the importance of the campus and has spent a great deal of time and money evaluating all elements of the campus including the buildings through Historic Structures Reports, a Cultural Landscape Report and archaeological investigations.”

For example, Hitchcock Hall, constructed in 1908 as a theater for patient therapy, will be given new life as a conference center and grand theatre auditorium.

“I think that preservation efforts at St. Elizabeths are the most important such work currently underway in DC, because the site has such a long and unique history. Many of its special characteristics are irreplaceable,” said Stephen McLaughlin, a Registered Landscape Architect, on his first visit to the campus.

Hearing about the tour through the DC Preservation League, McLaughlin was one of many tour goers with a camera in hand. “The building that was most impressive was Hitchcock Hall, because of the sculptural carvings or castings that adorn the exterior.”

“From the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s perspective, the most important aspect of St. Elizabeths is that the entire 350 acres – both the east and west campus is a National Historic Landmark, one of approximately 2500 sites in the country. This is the highest designation that the United States has – it puts St. Elizabeths on par with Mount Vernon and Monticello,” says Margaret Welch, of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and member of the touring group. “Compared to Mount Vernon, St. Elizabeth is almost an unknown, and the National Trust really appreciates that the DC Preservation League sponsors these series of tours, as it gives visibility to this very special place.”

A must-see is the St. Elizabeths Hospital Civil War Cemetery. According to a plaque on site it was founded “during the Civil War for wounded soldiers that died on the St. Elizabeths Campus during and after the Civil War. The small cemetery houses the remains of some 300 Civil War dead, both Confederate and Union, Black and White. When the foliage of the local forest subsides in the winter, the cemetery is visible from a considerable distance, since the white headstones are placed in the form of a cross.”

Established by Congress in 1852, with the legislation written by pioneering mental-health reformer Dorothea Dix, the Government Hospital for the Insane admitted its first patient on January 15, 1855, one-hundred and fifty-five years ago.

Intending to “provide the most humane care and enlightened treatment” for the insane, the hospital accepted patients from the Army and Navy as well as black and white residents of the city.

“Lush, landscaped grounds were an integral part of campus planning at St. Elizabeths throughout its history. Dix selected the hospital’s commanding location, with its panoramic views of Washington, because the serene setting was believed critical to patients’ recovery, according to theories of moral therapy. Numerous efforts over time to improve the natural environment that patients encountered resulted in a wealth of gardens, expansive lawns, fountains, ponds, and graded walks,” according to a 2005 article in Washington History.

At the outset of the Civil War city residents made up nearly 60 percent of the hospitals admissions. Due to the hospital’s location and open space, it was used as a military post and general hospital to treat to the war wounded. By 1865 admissions grew by more than 500 percent with military patients making up more than 85 percent of new admissions.

After 1946, the patient population began to decline as alternative treatments and new attitudes towards mental-health care reduced the need for large public hospitals. Furthermore, although World War II brought in the largest swell of patients, by the end of the war Congress had ended the long association between the hospital and the armed forces in favor of treatment at the nation’s expanding system of veterans hospitals.

By 2002, the west campus had been vacated and patient services were consolidated to the east campus.

“Situated on a bluff overlooking the convergence of the Anacostia and Potomac rivers, the hospital became known as ‘St. Elizabeths’ – often appearing in print as just ‘St Elizabeth’- after the old colonial land grant on which it was built. Congress officially renamed the institution in 1916, codifying the characteristic plural spelling the remains today. No matter what it was called, from the very beginning the institution was a model of innovative hospital design and construction,” according to Washington History.

GSA will hold a public hearing on its Draft Environmental Impact Statement on January 13th from 6pm to 8pm at Matthews Memorial Baptist Church at 2616 MLK Avenue.

For more the latest information on GSA’s development of St. Es go HERE.

This site has documents, timelines, public meeting schedules and other information that is beneficial to the general public and any citizen watchdog who wants to monitor GSA’s continued and gradual work followed by DHS and other agencies such as FEMA re-location to the current slow and cramped MLK Avenue, formerly Nichols Avenue after the first superintendent Charles H. Nichols.

Tear It Down! Save It!

By Larry Van Dyne, Published March 1, 2009, Washingtonian.

“Preservationists have gained the upper hand in protecting historic buildings. Now the question is whether examples of modern architecture—such as these three buildings—deserve the same respect as the great buildings of the past.”

>>>Read original article.