Restoration Diary: Introducing the Lionel Lofts in Washington, DC

Posted on: January 3rd, 2012 by David Garber 9 Comments

As part of the blog's first Restoration Diary feature, I'll be tracking the progress at the Lionel Lofts adaptive reuse restoration project in Washington, DC's Logan Circle neighborhood. This specific development project, in which a timeworn and underutilized three-story main street commercial building (c. 1905) is being transformed by local development duo CAS Riegler into condos and restaurant space, was chosen because of its relatability for communities across the country, and, as fortune and strategy would have it, its close proximity to the National Trust HQ. Almost every historic town and city has buildings like this one, and I am excited to follow the construction process from start to finish.


Lionel Lofts is located on the fast-changing 14th Street, NW, and neighbors a mix of retailers, residences, and restaurants.

As you can see, the building isn't exactly a Roman ruin, but neither has it been loved in any real way for a while. Check out the 70s paneling and heavy window-grate security below. Worked for the Lionel Trains / Lock & Key shop that used the space before, but not so much for the chic urban restaurant (to be announced later) moving in.


The 1970s is not the decade that will be preserved as construction continues.

The building takes up the entire lot from sidewalk to alley. While the front half was the store and display area, the back half was used for storage and garage space, and - while clearly still needing a lot of work - already has the ceiling height and exposed raw elements that will be revealed on the entire first floor soon.


From the outside of the building I would have never guessed how gargantuan the first floor is.

Climb down the ladder-esque stairs to the basement and things get even more raw. As in, finding broken milk bottles from the early 1900s and rat-scurrying-up-to-me-while-taking-photos kind of raw. When the building is complete, the basement level will be an extension of the restaurant space. Do I smell a wine bar?


Those canisters date from the retail level's original tenant: an ice cream shop.

Upstairs, things take a turn for the even more dirty and rotten. As you can see, nary an original molding exists, and because of extensive water damage, all of the existing walls and joists will be completely replaced. As is the case with many restoration projects, sometimes it takes doing a little selective demolition (pulling up the red carpet, for example) to see what's hidden beneath.


Fortunately, the subjects of these pretty pictures of needy places will soon be replaced with something a little more clean and fresh.

The view out the back will change dramatically with a new addition going almost all the way back to the property line. I'll go over those plans in more detail later, but when the addition rises, this window will no longer exist.


Not only will this window be gone, but there will be no bars on any windows or doors when the project is complete. I'd consider that a win.

As you can see below, the building will feel much more fresh and alive when the restoration is complete. Because of its location within the Greater 14th Street Historic District, the front exterior and massing were required to be sensitive to the history and aesthetic of the building and neighborhood before being approved for construction.


The Lionel Lofts project was designed by PGN Architects and rendered by Capital Pixel.

I'll be following this project closely, and will post blogs with general construction updates as well as pull out more specific aspects of the process and building restoration to highlight. Get excited, people: this raggedy old building is getting a complete makeover, and you'll get to see the before, the after, and everything in between.

Check out the slideshow for more before pictures:

David Garber is the blog editor at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

General, Restoration

9 Responses

  1. Melanie

    January 3, 2012

    This will make for some interesting reading. Looking forward to following the transformation!

  2. dave

    January 3, 2012

    Very cool.

  3. MJ

    January 3, 2012

    Keep up the good work, Riegler!

  4. Joy Sears

    January 3, 2012

    This looks like an interesting rehabilitation project and I am sure it will be a boon to the neighborhood but the only thing being restored is going to be the facade. Indeed anything done on the interior will be an improvement from what is where currently. Eagerly awaiting updates as they come.

  5. Logan Lady

    January 4, 2012

    More housing for rich people. Fantastic.

  6. SL

    January 4, 2012

    Given the weight of social services, transportation and many other budgetary burdens, I’d like to know where Logan Lady believes the tax revenues come from that have kept this city afloat through the unprecedented recession? Furthermore, the people in these residences will eat at the restaurants nearby, and shop at the stores, continuing 14th Street’s transformation into a place that hires people while bringing into the District ever-greater tax revenues.

  7. robert wood

    January 4, 2012

    I’m with SL.as it relates to Lady Logan. Look at the cities where the rich HAVEN’T moved back in. Detroit, Cincinnatti, New Orleans,.Hows that working for you?

  8. robert wood

    January 4, 2012

    One more thing Lady Logan. Do you think it would be better if the “rich” stayed in the suburbs? Get off your occupy Wall Street mentality and learn about economics..

  9. W. White

    January 8, 2012

    Do not get me wrong, I like preserving old buildings and seeing them preserved, that is why I read this blog. However, this project simply indicates a simple truth: preservation is for the wealthy. It may not be limited to the 1%, but it is certainly limited to the top 10% or 20% at best. What stake do normal people have in the fact that this building will be turned into a wine bar with million dollar condos above. That is the ultimate problem with preservation. In this case, an architecturally and historically stunning building is being preserved, a worthy cause, but all I can do is shrug with indifference because I (like most Americans) am not a “wine bar” type of guy, and I (like most Americans) am not a million dollar loft type of guy. Detroit, Cincinnati, and New Orleans may be down on their luck and economically depressed, but I can find a burger (or po’boy in New Orleans) in their historic areas and living in those places is something everyone in the 99% can actually afford, not just something for the 1%.