Tag Archives: history

Local

Arguing the sand from under their homes

The strongest criticism to American University’s East Campus project has come from some neighbors in the adjacent Westover Place private community. Their case against the plan, however, is eroded by a development fight thirty-six years ago, where their own homes were the development threatening to spoil Northwest’s character.

Just as some residents are fighting the potential of AU’s campus expansion, so too did an earlier generation fight the development of the parcels that abut the five-acre parking lot that AU wants to turn into a leafy complex of low-rise residential buildings.

A substantial amount of opposition has arisen in Westover Place, a gated complex of rowhouses between Massachusetts Avenue and Foxhall Road. They have been the most vocal and ANC 3D meetings, insisted that AU build its buildings next to other people’s homes, and it was the meeting point of this summer’s traffic protest.

But in 1977, it was the threat of Westover Place that was vexing locals. According to a September 25th, 1977 Washington Post article: “And to the north of this, adjacent to the 5-acre university parking lot, Kettler Brothers Inc., the giant development company that built Montgomery Village, has already cleared more than eight acres where 149 town houses will be constructed. Houses in this development, Westover Place, will sell from about $135,000.”

In the article, entitled “Bulldozers at the Estates,” Phil McCombs reports on arguments and characters not unlike the current fights over American University’s expansion and other developments in the area. Just as before, opponents are appealing to a right of first arrival, but the article lays bare the hypocrisy in living in a development while fighting a development because it will have the same effects your house did. The rowhouses of Westover Place and similar developments paved over Northwest’s last open spaces that seemed so essential to the “rural” character of piedmont Washington.

Similarly to the opposition to the 1960 Tenley Library and the 1941 Sears Roebuck, an enormous to-do was made over the development and yet both became established elements of the community. At that time, however, the changes seemed signified the end of something unique. McCombs quotes the ANC3 Commissioner Polly Shackelton bemoaning the change:

“Here you have these fine established residential neighborhoods, which will be impacted with increased density and traffic and all kinds of things that really could be very damaging,” she said. “I think in a way it’s too bad we don’t have a comprehensive plan.”

She said that development of the Rockefeller estate, for example, “will be devastating because Foxhall Road is already crowded. With 100 new houses there, I don’t know how we’ll deal with it.”

The problematic idea here is “establishment:” that because a neighborhood has reached any level of development, it should be maintained as it is. Are the current residents who now enjoy this property more justified than their neighbors who lived there in 1977, or estate owners who lived there in 1917?

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Architecture Local

Don’t Just Preserve History at Tenley Campus, Interpret It.

With a more creative approach to preservation, American University’s plan for its Tenley Campus could produce better urban design and a more compelling presentation of the site’s history.

Capital Hall and its lawn. Image: Wikipedia.

AU has agreed to preserve several structures on the site: the a former farmhouse called Dunblane House, Capital Hall the main building visible from Tenley Circle, and a Chapel. Together, these buildings form an axis that the Historic Preservation Office has insisted on preserving.

The Historic Preservation Office is right to emphasize this axis; it is probably the most interesting part of the site. The architects at SmithGroup have worked within these requirements to create a private quadrangle between the old house and Capital Hall, which looks good so far.

But AU has also decided to build on the footprints of the existing 1950s buildings and not construct anything that would obscure Capital Hall. The buildings are preserved, but no part of the campus will feel different from the others, even if they are in a slightly different style. The new buildings offer no key to understand on the site they inherit.

 

An abstracted amphitheater frames the Getty Villa. Image: The Consortium/Flickr

To understand what I mean by interpretation, take a look at Machado & Silvetti’s renovation of the Getty Villa. They combined the pragmatic need for an an entry stairway with architectural promenade that helps visitors understand the museum’s curatorial approach. Treating the 1970s replica of a roman villa as an object in a collection, stairs and pathways frame the building in a sequence that calls to mind an excavation. The stair gives visitors a lens with which to understand the building and clears their minds of the drive out to Malibu. read more »

Local

Church, politician hosting parties this weekend

Mary Cheh

This weekend, up north of Van Ness, you have two great opportunities to get food and meet people, one sponsored by Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, the other by the Capitol Memorial Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

On Saturday, Mary Cheh is having her campaign kick-off at Murch Elementary School in Tobago, from 2-4. The event promises of food paired with speeches on the playground, in temperate weather. Mary Cheh has been a very strong supporter of economic growth, pedestrian safety, and neighborhood livability in Ward 3. Outside of the neighborhood, she has also fought hard for the much-needed education reforms of Michelle Rhee, while also fighting against Mayor Fenty’s cronyism and arrogant executive style. Map out Murch ES.

If you’re more of a religious person, especially one that dislikes meat, alcohol, coffee, and evangelists, the Capitol Memorial Church has its annual vegetarian food festival. Because they hold services on Saturday, the event will be on Sunday, the 16th, from 1PM-4PM. According to the DCist article on theevent, the diversity and volume of food is enormous. The CMC professes to have parishioners from 40 countries providing an unlimited transnational smorgasbord for $10 Map out the CMC.

PLUS: The Tenleytown Historical Society, Cultural Tourism DC, and The “Tenleytown Neighbors Association” are hosting a walking tour of Tenleytown on the 22nd, from 10-12:15. Tenleytown’s history is pretty fascinating, and I regret that I can’t really cover it enough on this blog. You should register at no cost to attend.

Local

Tenleytown Déjà Vu

As part of a series on things opposed by Tenleytowners, let us discuss the Tenley-Friendship library. Here is a the basic story: a group of opponents, led by Janney parents, protested the loss of critical play space to build a library in Tenleytown and delayed the construction by a few years, until 1959.

Indeed, according to Judith Helm’s monumental history of the area, Tenleytown, D.C.: Country Village into City Neighborhood, when the DCPL began a modernization program for its libraries, they singled out Tenleytown’s inadequate branch. At the time, the Tenleytown library was in a former police substation that was small, dark, and old. But modernity beckoned with its sophisticated information storage technologies, like microfilm. So the downtown overlibrarians decreed from the quietest bowels of their Mt. Vernon Square reading-dome that a new building be built, and that it be built at Albemarle Street.

Their logic was relatively simple, and sounds strangely familiar. The land southwest of Wisconsin Avenue and Albemarle Street was city property with no extant buildings with public transit at its front door. It seemed perfect for the city to use. Unfortunately, in 1955, a playground had already long occupied what was to become the site of 2008’s PPP fight. Even now, the library and the school share the same plat of property (check out this map).

One of the reasons residents opposed the Sears so ferociously in 1940 was that the jungle gym and a few other bits of blacktop stood at the top of a hill right across the street, and perhaps parents feared kids wandering into the new traffic. Then, as now, neighbors worried about auto traffic clogging up the streets, in spite of the streetcars that ran on Wisconsin until 1960. The tactic of throwing the kitchen sink at the project even reared its head.

Some proposed a new library in Fort Reno Park. The park was, after all, close to Murch, Deal, and Wilson, and so better suited to serve all students. That’s amusing because moving the library to the park was tossed around every once in a while in 2009. Both times, this alternative never came to pass. NPS may or may not have wanted to build a parkway through that area. In general, the NPS was as aloof and non-cooperative, just as they can be today.

Then, after five years of folderal, the library opened and people began to forget about the controversy. And here we are again, in 1959.

At top, the third library under construction on April 17, 2010.

Reno Park Studies

Reno Park Update 100202: Old Names

I’m going to recap some of the analyses I did for Reno Park within the next week or so. After that, I will be getting into a historical analysis of the geography. For now, here is a broad map of historical names no longer used at the site. Names in red were designated organically or based on the farm tracts’ names, while names in blue were attempts to brand new developments.

historical names

Architecture Theory Writing

Forest Glen Seminary: An Unintentional Project

So, it’s been a while, right? Well sometimes you get stuck and you just have to back away from the block. If you’ve fortgotten the previous installments, they’re here, and here. One more will follow in about a week. Alright.

back-from-condo

But from the enormous source material of the existing buildings, the Alexander Company took what opportunities it had and exploited them into a quiet celebration of the specific context. The original buildings, despite their conversion to a warren of private apartments and condominiums, have kept of their idiosyncrasies. In spite of sparkling new halogen lights and granite countertops, the apartments retain the unique elements that make the buildings meaningful to residents. read more »

Local

The Gizorans of Washington and Other Miscellany

I’ve been visiting the Historical Society of Washington and the Washingtoniana collection at MLK library. While I make more sense of my research, here is a pile of interesting things about Upper Northwest:

Famous people have been through the area. Oliver Wendell Holmes was stationed at Fort Reno and referred to the area as “Ten Alley Town.” Dolley Madison watched DC burn from Tenleytown and may have overnighted here. Edward Braddock and George Washington passed through in 1755 on their way to Fort Cumberland, and further east, military failure.

Wisconsin Avenue, from Georgetown to Tenleytown, has been a city street since 1809. But most of the streets were planned after 1897. Some of these schemes were grandiose. For example, in 1901, the city considered tunneling Rock Creek from Adams Morgan to the C&O Canal and building a “parkway” on top. One of the other tunneling proposals put Foundry Branch in a pipe and ran a road to be named Arizona Ave on top of it.

Idaho Ave was supposed to be a much grander thoroughfare before the 1960s, when they gave up on it. It would have intersected Connecticut at Yuma Street. There was supposed to be a circle at Idaho and Reno, north of Tilden. Most shamefully, they dropped a plan to build Hamilton Circle at Idaho and Mass Aves.

Fort Reno Park should have been more developed than it is now. In addition to a Fort Circle plan, the McMillan Commission planned for another parkway up Soapstone Valley and over to Dalecarlia. Until the 30s, Military Road was called Keokuk St. and Grant Road was called Military Road. There was also a Xenia St.

Much weirder stuff below the fold.

methodist-cem

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Reno Park Studies

Reno Park update 090712: Roads

baseroadmap

After some hard importing/copying work and on-the ground observation, I’ve finally assembled this map of all legally marked streets and alleys in DC. Next up, sidewalks, then buildings and property, and finally land use. I’ll start doing mashup comparisons of these maps for the walkshed and green space requirements. Plus, I think I came up with an particularly useful modern variation on the Nolli Plan, which should make any archi-map geek excited. Comparisons to topography under the fold.

roadsmapheight

Generally, it’s interesting to see how the grid and the avenues flattened the topography. If I do a historical map, then the comparison would be fascinating, but historical topography is not relevant to my goals. Also note the amount of parking on the avenues, and how alleys nicely eliminate driveways in front of houses. Finally, Tenleytown is at the pass over the ridge line that begins at AU and ends near Chevy Chase. The hills and valleys in the area almost necessitated that the Georgetown-Frederick Pike go through this area at this spot.

Architecture

Great Interview with Ada Louise Huxtable

Click Here (Sorry, no embedding)

Charlie Rose is one of the few people on TV who actually gives any attention to architecture. At the same time, he’s still a dilettante, so it’s interesting to see him gush over buildings while she cooly discharges years of wisdom. There’s some good chatter about Gehry and Mies, and why they’re much better than even their fans think.

Architecture Theory Writing

Forest Glen Seminary: One Thing Leads to Another

Part two of a four-part essay exploring context, typology, and interpretation. Comments encouraged.

fglinden

Against rich complexity of the old Seminary, the houses designed by EYA are then a real letdown. They carry the superficial veneer of “context” that is endemic to New Urbanist planning and its most visible error. To be clear, they are not abominations, but they are dull and only stylistically similar to the outré conglomeration across the street. The application of traditional elements here fulfills a requirement that new buildings  respect the architecture of the historic landmark. Okay, sure, sounds good, but the legislation is fairly scant in the details of execution. The easy option, a cynical abdication of artistic responsibility, is to copy the notions of form in hazy facsimile and slap it on off-the-shelf buildings. Even where the designs are competent, the lack of sensitivity results in tepid mediocrity. read more »