Eye on Preservation

Posted June 11, 2004 at 3:07pm

With several major rebuilding and rehabilitation efforts already in the works, the South Capitol Street corridor is set to become a main avenue for development in Washington in the next several years.

But one local group is concerned about whether this aging corridor into the city, which spans from the Anacostia River to G Street and from Second Street Southeast to Second Street Southwest, will lose some of its historic character in that massive redevelopment process.

Last week, the D.C. Preservation League, a citywide organization that promotes historic preservation, named the South Capitol Street corridor to its annual list of the city’s most endangered places. The organization has announced its list each year since 1996 in an effort to draw attention to D.C.’s “historically, culturally and architecturally significant places that may be threatened with ill-advised alteration or demolition through neglect or abandonment,” according to this year’s release.

While little of the architecture along the South Capitol Street corridor is unique, the preservation league’s announcement states that “the neighborhood as a whole represents a way of life that is seen in few places in the rest of the city. … The area includes a significant power station in art deco style, rows of ‘sanitary housing’ from the early 20th century, World War II-era worker housing, and industrial buildings, warehouses, and row houses (both brick and frame) from the 1870s to the 1920s. … Current redevelopment plans have few provisions for protecting the fragile historic buildings of this area and many have already been demolished. Only part of the area is slated for preservation.”

Hayden Wetzel, the head of the league’s South Capitol Street task force, said that while the city’s planning for this area has given some thought to historic preservation, more can be done.

“There are few architectural gems here, but if none of the buildings from the old neighborhood are kept, it’s just going to look like Rosslyn,” he said, referring to the section of Arlington, Va., across from the District that is marked by often-scorned and nondescript high-rise architecture. “We don’t want to stop or slow development, but we do want so see that some remnants of the old neighborhood are kept.

“Some people think that preservationists are always running around at the last minute standing in front of bulldozers, but one reason I like [the South Capitol preservation project] is because we’re coming in when the planning is still at the beginning.”

And according to Ellen McCarthy, the deputy director for development review, neighborhood planning and historic preservation for the D.C. Office of Planning, the city often takes cues on preservation from groups like the D.C. Preservation League. She said the city is open to working with such groups to prepare nominations for historic districts and historic landmarks through her office and the National Capitol Planning Commission’s own South Capitol task force.

“They are clearly on our radar and we’ve got a lot of research resources and individuals who have expertise on staff, so we will work very closely with groups who want to prepare a preservation designation,” McCarthy said. “Releasing that list of 10 is a great way every year to focus visibility and attention on those specific properties.”

Through the South Capitol Street task force, Wetzel is hoping to build a coalition of neighbors, community groups and preservation organizations to work with the city’s Office of Planning and make initial proposals to the city’s Historic Preservation Office in the next six months.

Fannie Mae Move?

Also in South Capitol area news, home mortgage giant Fannie Mae is moving ahead with plans to set up shop along the Southwest Waterfront in the Waterside Mall. According to spokesman Alfred King, the company has signed a nonbinding letter of intent with Waterfront Associates LLC, reflecting Fannie Mae’s agreement to pursue putting together a deal that would create a new office along the waterfront.

King said that many months of negotiations and due diligence work remain ahead before a lease is finalized. Its current offices are located in Upper Northwest D.C.

“Our decision to the Waterside Mall location reflects our long-standing commitment, through the D.C. Partnership Office and other corporate activities, to be a part of the District’s revitalization and to persuade others to view the city as attractive for investment,” Chuck Greener, Fannie Mae senior vice president, said in a statement.