Restoration Diary: Inside Out (Gutted Building Alert!)

Posted on: March 6th, 2012 by David Garber 7 Comments

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.

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

7 Responses

  1. Morning Links: Over the Top - Housing Complex

    March 7, 2012

    [...] Gutted building porn. [PreservationNation] [...]

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    March 7, 2012

    [...] Gutted building porn. [PreservationNation] [...]

  3. Chris

    March 7, 2012

    I noticed separated piles of brick, concrete, and wood. Are the materials going to be reused on-site? Also, why can’t they keep the “stairway ghost”? They could even have the new stairway run with it or run 180 degrees against it.

  4. District Line Daily: “Book Of Mormon” At Kennedy Center, Space In The Reeves Center

    March 7, 2012

    [...] Gutted building porn. [PreservationNation] [...]

  5. W. White

    March 7, 2012

    What is the National Trust for Historic Preservation doing associating its good name to this worthless drivel. “[S]trip the plaster down the [sic] 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.” What David Garber is basically saying with that statement is that he is a preservationist who does not like anything old. Perhaps that is what a progressive preservationist is, someone who destroys everything historic about a building. If that is what a progressive preservationist is, than I am proud to be a traditionalist preservationist and here is my traditionalist counter-statement, “Repair the original plaster on masonry commercial buildings and use plaster and lath interior walls in residential buildings? Sounds good – I’ve done both those things several times! Add a complementing addition in the same style, with the same fenestration and materials as the old building? Absolutely! It maintains the building’s historic nature while contrasting neither with the historic building nor the historic neighborhood context.”

    I am afraid the National Trust has just lost one member. I will not donate my money to an organization that employs such an anti-preservationist blog writer to write about how he loves destroying the historic fabric and character of historic structures. I will not donate my money to such an organization, and I will encourage all the other National Trust members I personally know to follow my example.

  6. David Garber
    David Garber

    March 8, 2012

    @Chris,

    Yes, some of the materials will be reused on-site — some of the floor joists and columns, for example. Most of the masonry, however, is in piles waiting to be disposed/recycled elsewhere. I think plans call for the new staircase to go exactly where the old one was, so as far as I know the ghost stair look will be hidden again.

    -David

  7. National Trust for Historic Preservation

    March 8, 2012

    @W. White,

    As David notes at a few other points in his blog post, we’re not 100% thrilled with the restoration either. I think David summarizes our feelings well when he writes:

    “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.”

    So we certainly see where you’re coming from, and we’re sorry to lose your support for our mission to save America’s historic places. I hope you consider rejoining as our work expands and evolves.

    Best,
    Julia Rocchi, Managing Editor