Tag Archives: tenleytown library

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.

Local planning

Two Steps Forward and One Step Back

Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
This past week, Safeway revealed their plans to renovate the Safeway at 42nd and Ellicott Streets, along Wisconsin Avenue in the northern reaches of Tenleytown. What they propose (huge PDF) is a dramatic improvement over the bunker-like current building, and will enliven a dreary section of the neighborhood. However, the project includes no residential or commercial component on top of the new stores, despite its location roughly one-half mile from both the Tenleytown-AU and Friendship Heights Metro stations. Like the TD Banknorth building across Wisconsin Avenue, these patches in the urban fabric will better the community, but without more of a plan, they are just patches.

The new Safeway will activate 42nd Street, which is separated from Wisconsin Avenue by just a small triangular park. Instead of a forbidding blank wall, Safeway plans some outdoor seating for an in-store Starbucks. Residential Ellicott Street will get a landscaped park in front of the store’s substantial setback. The surface parking lot will become an enclosed one-story parking wing, and the loading dock will move to Davenport Street, adjacent to Georgetown Day School, screened from the street by a brick wall.

Courtesy the ARD (how nice of them) and Torti Gallas
Courtesy the ARD and Torti Gallas

Unfortunately, Safeway wanted to be expedient with the design and worked with one of the five neighborhood organizations that claims to represent the community, the Alliance for Rational Development. As their double-plus inaccurate name implies, ARD opposes most, if not all development of sites along Wisconsin and in Tenleytown. Their policies are transit-oriented-denialist, insisting that the area is optimally zoned and built up, and that any more growth will only have negative effects, primarily on the supply of parking.

Some of their concerns for any given project can seem legitimate when viewed without context, ignoring of the multiple benefits of well-designed areas with mixed uses. But Tenleytown’s zoning only allows for densities along a very narrow band on Wisconsin Avenue, closer in form to a suburban arterial than an interconnected city neighborhood. Many other lots, just a block or two from the Metro have no opportunities for development at any scale, because they are zoned as low-density in spite of their location at a major node in the city’s infrastructure network.

read more »

Local

North of Tilden: In the name of the Father, the Builder and Community Spirit

The Tenleytown area has been a hub of hubbub for the past two weeks, and more is to come. Four long awaited projects made great strides, however, opportunities are still being lost.

First the good news: The Tenleytown Library will break ground today, September 23rd at 10:30 AM, with Mayor Fenty and perhaps some protesters in attendance. The Economic Development office decided to spend $650K-1M to build stronger girders in the rear of the building, to permit future growth above and to the rear of the library. Across Wisconsin, the renovated and restored fields at Fort Reno Park will open on October 3rd. Another contentious site, the three athletic pitches look great. I can’t wait to see people enjoying the park and all its earthly delights again.

The new structure is on the left. Pray for a good contractor.
Top: Yuma Elevation, new structure at left. Bottom: Western elevation. (Image via DCMud)

Opus Dei revealed more details about their plan for the Yuma Study Center, a residential and educational facility behind St. Ann’s Catholic Church. Going before the HPRB, Moses of the Anacostia Nir Buras presented a handsome traditional home that would stand west of the Covenant of the Bon Secours building. Alvin Holm‘s design for the building is in a humbler strand of Classicism than the grandiose variety that Washington is known for, and that’s really good to see. As you can see, the new building would have nearly identical proportions and mass, but would use a more Chesapeake style and add a porch to indicate a residential character. However, I think the building would be better to stand on its own rather than be a redecorated twin. Still, positive.

And below, the ARD gives us Barabbas. read more »

Local planning

Stop the Mega Sears!

I mentioned earlier that I wanted to make an account of the many things Tenleytown residents have opposed over the years. For now, though, I’ll just to highlight one fight in particular, the oldest one that got any news coverage, and one that has some parallels to the current, pointless fight over the Macomb Street Giant.

Most residents and visitors admire the sleek moderne building that now houses a Best Buy and a Container Store. It is a registered landmark, ably capped by a Shalom Baranes-designed condominium. Critics and writers have shown almost nothing but praise for the structure, including Roger Lewis.

tenleytown-mud

But in 1940, when Sears Roebuck first proposed the store, the neighborhood condemned the proposal and tried to stop Sears with all the weapons they had. Letters were written to Eleanor Roosevelt, lawsuits were filed, and many cried out for someone to think of the children. The primary concerns revolved around the Janney School, just as they have with the Library PPP and also in another dispute in 1991 about a homeless shelter. read more »

Local

North of Tilden: Old wounds

Tenleytown: Three threads of the ongoing Tenley/Janney controversy have converged in the past two weeks, plus a new arrival.

A well-scaled and elegant building for Tenleytown.

I. The city has declared that they will begin construction of the new Freelon-Group-designed library in September. However, out on the Tenleytown Listserv, discussion flared up when it became clear that the department of economic development was asking the architect to add structural columns that could support multistory residential. This practice is not uncommon, but it would be a wasteful expenditure if the Tenleytown Historical Society succeeds in landmarking the school, and adding to the structure becomes more difficult. Both properties sit on the same lot.
II. The HPRB has agreed to review a preservation application for the 1925 elementary school. Built by the city architect, Albert Harris, it’s a decent example of the stripped-down Beaux-arts Georgian style he developed for the rapid expansion of public facilities in the early 20th Century. Although it was the first of all the schools built in the area, I don’t see how the 84-year-old school merits perpetual legal protection, at least not at this point. Especially considering that the building is not in any danger of demolition or permanent alteration. Moreover, landmarking could seriously delay the much-needed renovation of the aging school needlessly.

III. The department of education is proceeding, however, with the development. They’ve hired Devrouax + Purnell to design a wing to the west of the current building. Part of the planning framework requires that DP respect the historical structures of the area. I have no doubt that they will. Their work in DC has been humane and sensitive, while also adding innovating modern elements. Freelon and DP’s buildings will be coups for the architecturally stagnated area, so it’s in the neighborhood’s interest to support their work.

IV: On the site of the former Oakcrest School at 4101 Yuma Street, a new religious center for women and girls will be opening this fall. The Yuma Study Center, a vaguely defined but Opus-Dei-affiliated religious institution will itself be renovating and expanding the old Bon Secours covenant. The current structure is dilapidated, so renovation will be welcome, once I can figure out exactly what the institution does.

Van Ness: This past weekend saw the second-ever farmers’ market on the plaza in front of UDC. The market is a twofer fer the residents of condograd across the street,  putting the large plaza to use and getting farm-fresh goods onto a public street.

Hawthorne: The Post covers the ongoing slapfest in the very northern neighborhood of Hawthorne, a small collection of 1950s houses that was built in the fashion of the times: without sidewalks. DC has been improving and adding sidewalks throughout the city, improving pedestrian safety and encouraging walking, however, some residents of the area northeast of Utah Avenue won’t have any of that filthy urban nonsense. They moved there because they wanted to be in DC without being in the city.

What, they stayed in DC for the schools? Or for the lack of voting rights?

The arguments against sidewalks sort of tumble out of opponent’s mouths, with all kinds of illogic. This is like country in the city, yes, and a ranch house makes your .2 acre lot a ranch. Nobody walks around here, uh, ever wonder why? We need curbs, not sidewalks, so pedestrians can’t get out of the way of cars? Lastly, the venerable, but that’s the way it’s always been! makes its appearance, proving opponents to be examples of a certain five-letter acronym. You can hear how literally incoherent their arguments are in this video.

On the other hand, there are almost as many proponents, since many residents do see the public obligation to make the streets safe and accessible for all modes of traffic. It’s heartening to see proponents of reasonable growth out and advocating their position. There’s not much of a worry that Hawthorne will become infected with the dread contagion of urbanism, since it’s pretty far from any sort of rapid transit and unsuitable for larger growth. It’s always going to be a side neighborhood, one whose character will not be negatively altered by allowing people to walk comfortably around their neighborhood.