Something old and something new in Southwest

While back in DC recently, I took a look around Southwest DC. There’s much to see, but not much to say. So let me highlight two interesting projects. The first is Hense Brewer’s repainting of the Friendship Baptist Church building behind the old Randall School. I think it’s a pretty cool way to wait out a development project, at the least.

The Randall School itself has been intermittently poised to become a boutique something or another since 2006, when the Corcoran and Monument Realty bought it. Neither of those institutions is doing so well right now, but Telesis and the Rubell Foundation, a major contemporary art collection,  have plans to put an apartment-museum building behind the heritage buildings, with Bing Thom designing. We shall see, yes? The other is Capitol Park Plaza, a midcentury building, which has a surprisingly warm facade for the period.

No surprise to discover that this is one of the buildings in the area designed by Chloethiel Woodard Smith. A noted local architect who happened to be a woman at the time when that raised eyebrows, Smith was quite shrewd here, registering the slab form with details that let humans comfortably occupy austere forms. First, she used tiles to enclose private porches. These balconies are massed in vertical lines at either end and staggered in the middle. This detail diminishes the monotony and overwhelming scale of the building without losing the exhilaration of long lines. The balconies also allow the roof to extend over the building envelope, reducing leaks, while keeping a strong outer volumetric edge that expresses the modernist formal fixation of a flat, uniform edge.  The pure geometry of modernist architecture can be difficult or expensive to register in actual building, so in a compromise, Smith simply implies it.



National symbol faces foreclosure

Still wearing prison stripes.

Sort of. Although the buildings of the Watergate are owned separately, the buildings other than the office building will always be associated with the 1972 scandal, proving that journalists don’t understand mixed-use complexes and can’t see the masterpiece for the scandal.

Anyway, the hotel portion of the Watergate may be forced into forclosure. The mid-mod landmark, owned by Monument Realty, is crawling with plumbers again as it nears the end of its first major overhaul after 40 years. But Monument has been throwing cash at the building for two years now, hoping to upgrade the facilities, and it has now defaulted on a $70 million loan. The majority shareholder in the loan, PB Capital, wants the money back (understandably), but Monument can’t repay it. PB Capital previously foreclosed on the Esocoff & Associates-designed Dumont building late last year. Speculation persists about the reasons for PB’s pressure, but generally their ties to Lehman Brothers are to blame, since that company doesn’t exist anymore and creditors are demanding assets from wherever it can get them.

It’s unfortunate; PB Capital and Monument have both fueled large chunks of DC’s growth over the past few years and actually financed some good-quality buildings. It may not play out well, but if it does, then it’s time to start associating the Watergate with the countless affairs that have gone on here, or Condoleeza Rice’s separate condo for her piano.

Veazey Walgreens

veazy walgreens
Arbitrarily messy and unconsidered.

Seen here is the new Walgreens in Van Ness, at Veazey & Connecticut. A big improvement on the gas station that’s there, and an even bigger improvement over the previous plans. In terms of land use, the site would be better as a multistory building, and not as another chain convenience store, but it’s also limited by zoning.

Plantings and floorplan.
Plantings and floorplan.

Designed by Rust|Orling, I think the building is a really poor imitation of a mid-mod style, an eyesore in a place where we don’t need any more. R|O are otherwise a good firm with a keen ability to manifest architectural diversity, but it looks like modern architecture is not their strong suite.  They’re also restoring the art deco Walgreens in Cleveland Park and are the designers of Potomac Yards.

Construction has not begun, and these are working renderings.