Preservation Round-Up: Beyond the Monuments Edition

Posted on: June 27th, 2011 by David Garber

MLK Avenue in Historic Anacostia will soon see a block of abandoned buildings restored.

From the outside looking in, it's easy to think "Washington, DC" and have your mind immediately turn to glowing white marble monuments, Capitol Hill interns, power-plays made in smoke-filled private clubs, secret service-people holding one hand to their curly earpieces, and the mix of FBI t-shirt-wearing tourists and fast-walking urban professionals flooding in and out of the cavernous underground Metro system.

But there's so much more - as many of you well know - than just that. I won't pretend I don't have a bit of a DC bias. I live here, I work here, and I even hold elected office here. I love that DC is reinventing itself, pulling itself up from its bootstraps, and giving entire neighborhoods fresh coats of paint, new destinations, and a whir of excitement that has a refreshing air of positivity to it. Things are happening. The city is cool again.

Here's a spattering of preservation-related news from the Nation's Capital.

433 Massachusetts Avenue NW is getting a facelift (or facemask). (Photo: Core Group PC)

14th Street NW has almost completely reinvented itself in the last 10 years. What was once a thriving commercial corridor became an abandoned shell of itself after the 1968 riots after Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination. Although it wasn't bereft of life in the three decades following, it was better defined by check-cashing windows and auto-repair lots than the scene that's there now. One example of the transformation are the plans to turn a long-empty dry cleaners into a "super-French" Parc bistro. The building will be completely restored and remediated. The site is right at the heart of the Logan Circle neighborhood's re-emergence, and will join a slew of other local and national retailers that have opened on the street in the last decade.

On the other side of downtown, one little survivor (right) is finally getting a facelift. Sandwiched between two high-rises (for DC - which means about 14 floors), the 433 Massachusetts Avenue is the definition of a owner holdout gone, well, not so great for the owner. Back in 2003 the owner was offered upwards of $3 million for the property, but after holding out for a bigger payday, eventually sold it for much less. The building is now under construction to become a restaurant, and will get a modern-meets-preservation upgrade. What do you think of the plans?

Across the city in Historic Anacostia (Note: the following link is from my own personal neighborhood blog. Not trying to steal the show here, just passing on the news...), one very visibly neglected block in the neighborhood that once boasted Frederick Douglass as a resident is finally about to see some restoration and economic development. Called the "Big K" block for the liquor store that now sits on the corner, the stretch of Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE was purchased by the city last year and is now the subject of a neighborhood-based planning meetings to decide what will come next. As you can see in the image above, the block is home to two large Italianate single-family homes that will be completely restored as part of the block's redevelopment.

In the not-really-news-but-hey-it's-cool-anyway category, the blog New Columbia Heights detailed how the c. 1880 Warder Mansion moved locations in 1923. Here's the kicker - most of the moving was done, brick by brick, in the back of a Model T.

Now clearly this was just a small showing of what's going on across Washington, DC, but at least it shows that there's life off the mall that's worth checking out. And fortunately, a lot of that new life is taking place in old buildings. Win!

David Garber is a member of the Digital and New Media team at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Speaking of new uses for old buildings, he's just heading to a press event where the mayor is announcing seven new restaurant leases in the historic Yards neighborhood of DC. Ciao!

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General, News Round-Ups