I was shown this photo by the nostalgeologists at Old Time DC:
Can you recognize where this was taken? Evidently, there was a track loop in the streetcar network just to the south of McLean Gardens, to allow the vehicles to turn around. It’s now the construction site for Cathedral Commons, and was the site of this Suntrust Bank during the intervening years.
The loop was there, at least until 1957, when aerial photo on the left was taken. On the left is October 12th, 2012. If modest developments like Cathedral Commons are successful enough, perhaps we will see streetcars on Wisconsin Avenue when we look down in 2023.
The Historic Preservation Office has released their recommendations for the Tenley Campus ahead of this Thursday, the 27th’s, HPRB hearing. In an unusual decision, they have advised the HPRB to approve the current design, and also to declare the entire campus as a historic district. The Tenleytown Historical Society’s nomination did not ask for an all-encompassing district, but rather a single landmark designation for the entire campus. Their reasoning:
Guidance provided by the National Register suggests that campuses should generally be considered districts, although there are smaller campuses that consist of little more than a central building or two and surrounding space. In the present instance, a district better accommodates the different origins and ages of the major contributing elements of Immaculata, in a manner similar to the often varied neighborhood historic districts.
I find this reasoning plausible at face value. It’s also not unprecedented. Gallaudet’s campus is a historic district, and Georgetown University may be. The details are more complicated, however. Gallaudet’s district covers much more territory and more historic buildings. Other, similarly sized properties that are not schools have been named landmarks. Indeed, the district only includes three-and-a-half buildings:
The historic district should be designated with the following three buildings considered to contribute to its historic character: the original Immaculata Seminary, i.e., [the 1904] Capital Hall, including its 1921 rear wing; the 1921 Chapel; and Dunblane. The three 1955 buildings should be considered non-contributing, as beyond the campus’s period of significance and representing a phase of school expansion distinctly different architecturally and functionally from the founding era. The 1921 garage should also be considered non-contributing because an addition has considerably altered it and diminished its integrity, nearly doubling its size and closing its original vehicular openings. The sense of clustering campus buildings surrounded by and enclosing landscape, as well as the site’s traditional orientation of, and relationship between, buildings should also be maintained and preserved
Dunblane has been renovated multiple times and burned once. It is unrecognizable from whatever form it may have had. I am fine with leaving a form or mark on the campus, but there is no reason to preserve the building itself if the equally altered garage can go.
I do not necessarily understand why they chose this designation. I have some conjectures:
It is the result of negotiations between AU and the other parties. A district designation would most likely preserve the rear green space in perpetuity, but give some design flexibility to AU.
This gives the HPRB more latitude in deciding what happens to the property.
It is easier to justify a district designation than a full landmark designation, given the historic resources.
I do not know the minds of the HPO, but I hope that the reasons for the designation are closely interrogated before the HPRB makes a decision.
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.
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.
As many people have now realized, the current highway-based, auto-oriented Gaithersburg West sector plan will waste money on unsustainable, outdated forms of growth that will lead to more congestion and auto-centric developments. However, attention must be paid to the serious negative effects I-270 highway expansion will have on areas other than Montgomery County, particularly the District of Columbia. The foregone conclusions of the traffic studies say little about the effects of this decision elsewhere in the region.
The technology companies of Montgomery County have tremendously contributed to the economic growth of the greater Washington region, and more jobs and more vitality in the future are a boon. However, the design of any new developments must also have a positive effect on the rest of the region. Employing effective land use policies, encouraging compact development, and investing in efficient transportation will increase the benefits to the region in many other ways.
Vastly increasing the capacity of highway-scale roads throughout the region will likewise increase the number of automobile trips undertaken. Wider highways up the road will only encourage growth, which will bring calls for I-270 widening closer to the District, just as the highway lobby has pushed planners with good intentions to widen I-66. But that, in turn, will only make trips from further out easier, and so more individuals will opt to drive from further out, filling up the highway. Conversely, any resident of DC that finds a job in the corridor will have to commute from the city by car or move and still commute by car.
But between the Beltway and downtown, where will these drivers go? The project assumes that people will basically commute from Clarksburg to Gaithersburg. Although many will commute within the corridor, history has shown that many will also continue on into DC, into the growing Central Business District. Some, perhaps, will park and ride the Metro or MARC in. But most will simply drive in, pouring cars into the city, onto Wisconsin Avenue, Connecticut Avenue, Beach Drive, Georgia Avenue, Sixteenth Street, River Road, and the Clara Barton Parkway.
The new drivers, passing through the neighborhoods of Northwest will themselves be more traffic, meaning more idling, more speeding, and more side-street cut-throughs. The idling and the stop-start traffic will not only make everyone’s commute harder – the new cars will compete with the excellent bus service in Northwest – the engines will release greenhouse gases and noxious pollutants into the air along the way. Moreover, all the new, frustrated drivers will add more than a few chances for injuries and collisions.
For all the fears that middle-height transit oriented development along corridors in northwest, the sprawlway will have much more severe and lasting consequences for Wards 3 and 4. Politicians and citizens alike need to support rational development, development of a reasonable density, designed for humans, and designed for transit accessibility. Only through TOD can one part of the region grow without adversely affecting the others. But more importantly officials need to coordinate with their peers in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia to and work together as a whole, the way the economy of the region does. Otherwise, no infrastructure project can be said to benefit the region, especially one with such an adverse impact as the Sprawlway.
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.
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.
The Zoning Commission has approved the Macomb-Wisconsin Giant project, after a difficult and involved process that began in 1619 1998. Jeff Davis posted on the Cleveland Park Listserv about it this morning:
Last night, the Zoning Commission voted unanimously (4 to 0) to approve the
Giant PUD Application. The zoning process was robust, transparent, and fair and it yielded a terrific overall result.
He’s right, the overall result is excellent urban planning and competent architecture that adds considerably more and better density to a major thoroughfare, while also managing to unite a mottled context of various building types and styles. The architects, Street-Works, have produced excellent cityscapes work in Shirlington, Reston, and Bethesda. Based on their prior experience, it’s safe to predict that the project will be a success. More than that, I predict that the already thriving area will become a new locality, a broad place that people will perceive intuitively as distinct from Cleveland Park and Cathedral Heights.
And that’s a good thing, because Wisconsin Avenue needs more of this healthy density. The example that this sets will be a lesson to Ward 3, demonstrating how a few stores and few more stories can create an enjoyable neighborhood center. Not only will the extreme non-failure of the site be ammunition for people who support smart growth, it will serve as a billboard for those who are not engaged in debates, that urbanism is possible in Northwest. But it will be some time before the buildings are built and the storefronts occupied, so until then, activists for urban neighborhoods will have to focus on two things.
Getting there. One of the criticisms of the new project stemmed from the limited mass transit options in the proposal, legitimate concerns that need to be addressed. WMATA needs to step up bus service and introduce an express line on Wisconsin, either to Georgetown or Woodley Park. Bus facilities such as bus bulbs need to be added to Wisconsin, even at the expense of roadway space. Likewise, DC ought to facilitate the placement of SmartBike facilities, bike racks, and carsharing spaces.
Connecting the surrounding neighborhoods. People must be able to walk to the new development. The current plans emphasize pedestrian traffic, but DDOT needs to improve the streetscape around Macomb, to lure neighborhood residents off of side streets. Without buffering from Wisconsin or new signals along Wisconsin, pedestrians lose the calmness that makes walking so appealing.
Those who fought hard to get the right kind of development should not give up the momentum they have now, and instead should fight for even better facilities. This includes opponents, who should still look to make the area as leafy as possible, and ensure that Giant sticks to its promises. Resident involvement is one of the most crucial parts of developing community, so although the fight over the Giant has been so acrimonious, it’s important to realize that it will happen, and anyone interested must remain involved in working to ensure good growth elsewhere in the neighborhood.