I've gotta say, I wasn't 100% prepared for what I saw the last time I went inside the future Lionel Lofts condos on 14th Street NW in Washington, DC. I like to think I'm as progressive a preservationist as it gets: strip the plaster down the the brick? Go for it - and hurry up! Add an uber-modern addition to the side of an old building? Of course! It'll highlight the old and bring a fresh look to the street. But there's a personality to older places, and I still feel something when part of that is lost.
Here at Lionel Lofts, there will be a fantastic exterior restoration, and - like we knew all along - a mostly new interior and rear addition. We're in the operating table stage now, which is why it feels a little more dramatic.
But seriously: THIS IS STILL EXCITING. I mean, check out all the debris and dust and concrete and bricks that are going away to make the space more clean and open and restaurant-friendly.
Exciting, yes. But that's not to say that when I walked into the Lofts building last week to check out the progress, I didn't have one of those "wow"/stomach sinks to the floor moments. Because I did. I mean, the floors were gone, and with them one of my favorite discoveries: the brick fireplaces on both of the upper levels. (But look! You can see the smoke trails running up the wall showing where the chimneys were.)
Remember what the first floor used to look like? This is a thousand percent different than what it looked like before.
Some of the interior elements will be preserved, even if most of the interior is already out the door. As you can see above, the doorways on the restaurant level will be preserved as they are. And below, some of the original joists will be reused in the new construction - likely in the restaurant.
I'm a sucker for architectural staircase ghosts. Plans call for a new staircase here, so this geometric view won't be around much longer.
Moving on down to the cellar... this space, formerly very dark and cobwebby and where-I-almost-stepped-on-a-rat-y, will now be part of the still-unannounced restaurant.
As you can see above, most of the solid concrete bench things (that we think might have had some cooling use when this was an ice cream shop..?) have been removed, but the skeletons remain. Workers below were working diligently to remove the last one.
If you look just to the right of the construction guys in the photo below, you can see a fluted iron Corinthian column helping to hold up what's left of the first floor.
Interestingly, there are only two of these (original?) columns left. The rest are either plain wood or brick. I was assured by the CAS Riegler development team that these were definitely staying in the building. Somewhere.
Work should start soon on the exterior. And if, super-preservationists that many of you are, you got a little queasy with this post, get ready to see the restoration of the front of the building. Right now it's basically a jumble of old signs, a lot of rust, and peeling paint, but the guys at SNEAD Construction told me that the same contractors who restored the c.1772 Maryland State House are the ones who will soon bring this facade back. Sounds like a competent group to me.
We went into this series knowing that the Lionel Lofts project wasn't a full-on building restoration. It's a pretty common old commercial building that's being gutted and turned into a restaurant and lofts. And as exciting and great as we know the end product will be, there's still a little pain in seeing the old elements disappear. Turns out sometimes preservation is bigger than making sure everything old sticks around 100% of the time.
David Garber is the blog editor at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. More information on this development project can be found on the Lionel Lofts website.