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.

2006 Most Endangered Places

ST. Elizabeths Hospital – West Campus

(Government Hospital for the Insane)
2700 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, SE

Steward: General Services Administration

National Historic Landmark (1990)
National Register of Historic Places (1979)
DC Inventory of Historic Sites (2005)

The west campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital, a National Historic Landmark, is composed of more than 176 acres on a high plateau in Southeast Washington, overlooking the confluence of the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers. Considered to be the preeminent panoramic view of the capital city and northern Virginia, the site was chosen for its bucolic setting by Dorothea Dix and the first Superintendent Charles H. Nichols. The west campus consists of 61 buildings, the oldest and most magnificent of these being the Center Building, built in 1953 and designed by Thomas U. Walters. Specimen trees gathered from around the world over a century ago and planted to enhance the treatment of the patients grace the grounds.
The site is well known and prominent in the mental health field. St. Elizabeths was the first large scale government-run insane asylum, the result of Dorothea Dix’s persistent lobbying of Congress. The lack of government funding for maintenance, pressure to develop the property for use by the United States Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security, and the failure to plan for adaptive reuse of the buildings are the fundamental threats to this historic site.
Below is the position statement adopted by DCPL on the development of St Elizabeths by GSA:

  • St Elizabeths Hospital, a National Historic Landmark, must be adapted for a new use in order to be restored and preserved. An acceptable redevelopment plan should be reasonable in scale and compatible in design with the unique historic character of the site.
  • The current redevelopment proposal of 4.5 million high-security square feet of office space with additional space for parking is not compatible with the historic site. We encourage GSA to comply with the National Historic Preservation Act’s mandate to “undertake such planning and action as may be necessary to minimize harm.”
  • Redevelopment of St Elizabeths Hospital should bring meaningful benefits to the surrounding communities. The current proposal turns its back on adjacent neighborhoods, presenting forbidding security, and bringing significantly increased traffic.
  • Any scheme should include continued public access to the National Historic Landmark, including the Civil War cemetery and The Point, a spectacular overlook that visually connects St Elizabeths campus with the city’s monumental core.
  • Any impact to the buffer of green space at St Elizabeths must be considered within the larger scope of the L’Enfant Plan, which located the city in a natural topographic bowl and of which St Elizabeths is a prominent high point.
  • Redevelopment of St Elizabeths should be considered within the framework of a meaningful master plan that considers the site’s context and considerable historic, scenic, and natural assets rather than the current approach of fast-track planning for a pre-determined program.
  • After reviewing GSA’s Locations Alternative Analysis report, we conclude that GSA has not adequately evaluated alternative sites for meeting the programmatic needs of its tenants. We believe that viable alternative sites do exist and need to be thoroughly evaluated.

Armed Forces Retirement Home

(Soldiers Home)
Between North Capital Street, Rock Creek Church Road and Irving Street.

Steward: Armed Forces Retirement Home

National Register of Historic Places (1974)
DC Inventory of Historic Sites

In 1851 Senator Jefferson Davis advocated legislation that created the Soldiers’ Home. It provided benefits for “every soldier…who shall have served or may serve honestly and faithfully twenty years…and every soldier… whether regular or volunteer, who shall have suffered by reason of disease or wounds incurred in the service and in the line of his duty, rendering him incapable of further military service.”

The legislation also provided other funds to support the Home that were generated through fines levied by courts-martial and a voluntary 25 cent monthly pay deduction from enlisted personnel. After considering many parcels of land, the Home’s Board of Directors decided to buy the farm of George W. Riggs, founder of Riggs National Bank. That land purchase included the neighboring tract of Charles Scrivener, 58 acres called Mount Joliet. Riggs’ farm was about 198 acres, and the purchase was made for $58,111.75. The Riggs farmhouse was located along Rock Creek Church Road near where Upshur Street intersects today.

Just after the initial completion of buildings in 1857, General Winfield Scott invited the President and Secretary of War to make the “Asylum” their summer home. President Buchanan accepted and began summering at Anderson Cottage, the former Riggs farmhouse, during his term in office.
The Lincoln family spent long periods from June to November at Anderson Cottage. President Lincoln wrote the second draft of the Emancipation Proclamation while at the cottage, and in July 1864 Lincoln rode a mile from the cottage to Fort Stevens, on Georgia Avenue, to witness the attack by Confederate troops on Washington.

In 1872 the Soldiers’ Home purchased Harewood, the adjacent 191-acre country estate of William Corcoran, the former partner of George Riggs and founder of the Corcoran Gallery. Later purchases brought the total acreage of the Home to over 500 acres.
The Soldiers’ Home ran a dairy farm on the site of the Harewood estate, but that function ended in the 1950s when the land was given over to hospital construction and street extension. North Capitol Street was extended along the eastern side of the Home and Irving Street was extended across the south side.

After the Air Force was separated from the U.S. Army in 1947, the Soldiers’ Home became the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home. Women were first admitted in 1954.

In 2004, AFRH sold a portion of their land between North Capitol, Michigan Avenue and Harewood Road. The property includes a gate house at the south end thought to be designed by James Renwick and iron and stonework fence original to the property.

Congress has tasked AFRH with becoming fiscally self sufficient, in doing so AFRH has enlisted the General Services Administration to prepare a draft master plan for the site which would incorporate intense mixed use development throughout with buildings as tall as 130 feet. This development would raise much needed funds to support the care of veterans at the Home. DCPL recognizes the needs of the Home to secure much needed financial security, but this plan at its current scale would be far more dense then the residential neighborhood surrounding it and would cause a significant loss of historic green space which frames the capitol city.

DCPL will continue to consult on the Section 106 process in an effort to advocate for compatible and responsible development of the site.

McMillan Reservoir Sand Filtration Site

Bounded by North Capitol Street, NW; Michigan Avenue, NW; First Street, NW, and Channing Street, NW.

Steward: National Capital Revitalization Corporation

DC Inventory of Historic Sites (1991)

The 1905 completion of the McMillan Reservoir Sand Filtration Site was a Washington public health milestone. Its innovative system of water purification, which relied on sand rather than chemicals, let to the elimination of typhoid epidemics and the reduction of many other communicable diseases in the city. The 25 acre site consists of regulator houses, sand bins, washers and underground sand filtration beds. A legacy of the City Beautiful Movement, the complex is an engineering wonder that served its original purpose until 1986.

In 1906 Secretary of War William Howard Taft designated the site part of the McMillan Reservoir Park, a memorial to Senator James McMillan (R-Michigan) for his work as chairman of the Senate Commission on the Improvement of the Park System and his efforts in shaping the development of the city at the turn of the 19th century.

Conceived of as a large permanent reserve of open green space for the benefit of citizens, the site’s design and construction was the collaboration of pre-eminent civil engineers, urban planners, artists and architects including engineer Allen Hazen, planner and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., sculptor Herbert Adams and architect Charles Platt.

Since its purchase by the District government in 1987, the site has severely deteriorated due to lack of maintenance and is now threatened by pressure for commercial and residential development. The property was selected by National Capital Revitalization Corporation (NCRC) in a land swap deal for Anacostia Riverfront property, necessary for the proposed baseball stadium. In advance of a Request for Proposals a development team submitted a scheme that includes 1,200 units of housing in buildings up to 10 stories, a 100,000 square foot shopping center, a 125-room hotel and conference center and underground parking. Limited open green space would remain.

DCPL welcomes limited development on this site, and encourages NCRC to work with preservationists, the city’s Office of Planning and Historic Preservation Office, and the interested community groups for a mixed use development that preserves the historic character of the site as well as open space for the community.

Walter Reed

6900 Georgia Avenue, NW

Steward: United States Army

Determined Eligible for the National Register

This 110 acre campus was named for Major Walter Reed (1851 – 1902), the famous U.S. Army medical doctor. The hospital opened its doors on May 1, 1909 to ten patients. Fourteen years later, General John J. Pershing signed the War Department order creating the Army Medical Center. In September 1951, the entire complex of 100 rose-brick Georgian buildings became known as the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in further tribute to this hero of medical science. The center was built due to the untiring efforts of Colonel William Cline Borden who was the initiator, planner and effective mover for the creation, location, and first Congressional support of the Medical Center; it is still referred to today as “Borden’s Dream.”

World War I saw the hospital’s capacity grow from 80 patient beds to 2,500 in a matter of months. During World War II, the Korea and Vietnam Wars, and the two Gulf Wars hundreds of thousands of soldiers were treated at Walter Reed. Today, the Walter Reed Army Medical Center continues to serve the military community from the Washington, D.C. area, and around the world, admitting 16,000 patients a year and houses the National Museum of Health and Medicine with odd specimens such as Gen. Daniel Sickles’ leg.

Announced for closing in 2005, through the Base Realignment and Closure endeavor, the services provided by the medical center will be moved to the Bethesda Naval Hospital 7 miles away.

Although, the site is not under immediate threat and will not be made available for redevelopment until 2011, the campus has been placed on the Most Endangered List to bring attention to the historic resources of the site and to encourage the Federal and District Governments to create a preservation plan for the buildings. This plan will assist officials in planning for the future so that we don’t encounter the same neglect or proposed overdevelopment that has plagued the other major campuses in DC, such as St. Elizabeths, Armed Forces Retirement Home and the McMillan Reservoir.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Library

901 G Street, NW

Steward: DC Government

Nominated to the DC Inventory of Historic Sites (2005)

The District of Columbia’s central public library, located in downtown Washington, DC, the Martin Luther King Memorial Library is an International-style steel and glass building designed by modern master Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in 1965-1966. Ground was broken on the building in 1969, one year after the death of the internationally acclaimed architect, and the building opened to the public in 1972. It is a four-story structure of black-painted steel with glass curtain walls and a characteristically Miesian ground floor loggia, created by cantilevered upper stories. The building uses several design devices employed by Mies in earlier buildings, including the recessed loggia, applied steel I-beams to emphasize the building’s structure, glass curtain walls, and an open and “flexible” floor plan.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library has stood as the only monument to Dr. King in the nation’s capital for the past 30 years. It holds special significance to the millions of Washingtonians who have come to the library over the past decades to participate in a wide variety of programs and activities, and is a center of community life in the District. The library, the only one ever designed by Mies, was constructed with a flexible interior plan and the capacity to add a fifth story when needed. These measures were taken to ensure the building could continue to serve its intended purpose for approximately 150 years. But because of three decades of lack of preventive maintenance and system upgrades, and despite a concept plan for an extensive renovation that would cost half as much as a new building, the District government’s plans for the library are uncertain.

In November 2005, DCPL, in partnership with the DC Historic Preservation Office and the Committee of 100 on the Federal City, nominated the Library as a DC Landmark. This affords the building protection from raze or alteration until a hearing is scheduled to determine its eligibility for inclusion on the DC Inventory of Historic Sites.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library highlights DCPL’s efforts to raise awareness about the historic significance of Washington’s Mid-Century Architecture. In January 2006, DCPL sponsored DC Modern, a two-day symposium attended by 200 preservationists, developers, architects, members of the HPRB and other interested members of the community. The symposium included educational sessions and tours that identified and examined the city’s mid-century building inventory and investigated issues of planning, design, and advances in material technology that defined this era of construction. DCPL will continue the DC Modern effort throughout the year to educate the developers, architects and the citizens of Washington of the importance of this era of architecture and why buildings like the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library can and should be maintained and rehabilitated with a compatible use.

DC Public Schools

As represnted by Slater, Armstrong and Langston
Between North Capital Street and 3rd Streets, NW

Steward: DC Public School System

The three schools clustered between North Capitol and 3rd Streets NW represent’s 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, converting 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.

Support in the local community and citywide for these buildings is strong and active. A number of neighbors and community groups take a strong interest in the condition and future of all three buildings, and Armstrong has an active alumni association.

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

DC World War I Memorial

West Potomac Park and the National Mall

Steward: National Park Service

Completed in 1931, the Peristyle Doric Temple is located on the National Mall in West Potomac Park in Washington, DC, built by residents to memorialize local heroes who served the nation in World War I. It was the first memorial on the Mall to list all DC residents who lost their lives in the war, regardless of their race, class, or gender. The memorial is forty feet in diameter and large enough to hold the 80-member U.S. Marine Corps Band.

The DC World War Memorial I is a gemstone in the crown of local Washington, DC memorial architecture and civic pride. In a city whose civic symbols are often overshadowed by the vast portfolio of architectural gems of the nation, the DC World War Memorial I stands as a tribute to DC’s vision, its loyalty and honor to the nation, and an expression of love for the DC men and women who served and died for their nation

Though the DC World War I Memorial continues to stand gracefully in a shady grove of trees, it has been neglected for decades. The memorial needs both public attention and physical attention. It has been thirty years since major work has been done on the memorial. DCPL commends the National Park Service for completing a structural evaluation of the memorial, but money for capital projects is tight and the NPS needs further advocacy to place this site at the top of their list for limited maintenance funds.

The neglect is due in part to the fact that its history had been forgotten by most, both by the federal government and local DC citizens. The memorial has no signage or explanation except for that carved in the white marble. Part of the problem was that until recently, it seemed unclear who was responsible for maintaining the structure—the local DC government or the federal government. The NPS felt it had responsibility for the grounds but not the structure. A National Park Service Cultural Resource Specialist examined the records and determined that the memorial is the responsibility of the NPS.

By placing the DC World War I Memorial on the Most Endangered Places List, DCPL hopes to organize efforts to alert others to the significance of this site. Minor upgrades to the site including lighting, landscaping and benches would improve the overall appeal of the monument while money is sought from the National Park Service and the DC Government to fund the restoration of the memorial to its historic grandeur.

By placing the Mall on the Most Endangered Places list, DCPL is alerting both the citizens of Washington and of the nation to the threat to this unique historic and cultural resource. The historic integrity of the Mall as envisioned by Pierre L’Enfant in 1791 and the McMillan Plan of 1901-1902 is threatened by continuing pressures from Congress and special interest groups to approve new memorials and museums on its dwindling open space and alter landmarks for security purposes. This is taking place as existing; lesser known memorials are not maintained.