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"After careful consideration," the staff of the city's Historic Preservation Review Board has recommended that St. Paul's African Union Methodist Protestant Church at 4th and I, SE, be designated a District of Columbia landmark, and also that the application be forwarded to the National Park Service for listing in the US's National Register of Historic Places.
The staff recommendation report gives a lot of good history about the church, some of which I mentioned in last week's post on ANC 6D supporting the church's application. It was built in 1924, and was the first church designed by R.C. Archer, Jr., Washington's second licensed African American architect. The report also says that the church is significant "as the very modest place of worship of an early twentieth-century, working-class, African-American community in the industrial environment surrounding Washington's Navy Yard," and mentions that the building has survived not one but two "substantial community razing and redevelopment projects" (the original construction of the Cappers in the 1940s and 1950s, and their current demolition and redevelopment) and is now one of the few historic buildings left in the neighborhood.
It's the church's working-class roots that in some ways have made this historic designation possible, because their lack of funds has meant that very little renovation has been done to the building since it was constructed, leaving it with most of its original (i.e., historic) materials intact. But, if the church receives its historic designation, it will then be eligible for some grants to allow for historically accurate renovations that would be done with the guidance and approval of the Office of Planning.
The Historic Preservation Review Board will vote on this application at its meeting on Thursday (Nov. 18) at 9 am. You can see the application documents here (cellphone pics).
Comments (39)
 More About St. Paul's Church Home


David Garber says: (11/16/10 11:00 AM)
great to see more recognition for "humble history" in the neighborhood. If the Board is supportive of "the industrial environment surrounding Washington's Navy Yard", it might be time to work on a few more designations...

JD says: (11/16/10 11:20 AM)
Existing DC landmarks in the neighborhood:

WASA Main Pumping Station (pending)
Navy Yard Car Barn (aka the Blue Castle)
Main (Latrobe) Gate of the Navy Yard
Commandant's Office and Quarters A & B in the Navy Yard

Plus, the Navy Yard (west of 9th) is a historic district, and included in that are the historic buildings at the Yards, with the exception of the red brick one west of Third behind USDOT (not the Boilermaker's Shop, the other one west of it):


JD says: (11/16/10 11:25 AM)
Also: the Navy Yard Museum's web site has this history of the Navy Yard Historic District, written when it was nominated for the designation, which it received in 1973: link (And, I should read my own site: the Yards portions were added to the Navy Yard Historic District in January 2008)

Bruce says: (11/16/10 12:58 PM)
I think this great.

David Garber says: (11/16/10 1:45 PM)
thinking about the smokestack at NJ & K, Market Deli at 1st & L, and industrial building/current taxi repair shop at NJ & L.

C says: (11/16/10 2:20 PM)
compared to the other listed historic buildings, this church is a depressing eyesore, notwithstanding its interesting background - if winning this designation enables this little bricked building to reclaim its lost looks, terrific

JD says: (11/16/10 2:35 PM)
Interesting, David. A question on the smokestack: Where would you put the 400 units of mixed-income housing planned for the trash transfer site (that are already approved as part of the Capper Hope VI plan) if the smokestack were to be designated a landmark and prevented from being demolished?

And would keeping the smokestack then prevent the building of I Street from Second through to New Jersey? And would it perhaps also impact William C. Smith's plans for the block just to the north of the trash transfer station ( link ), which may need I Street built through and the trash transfer station demolished in order to proceed?

Carey says: (11/16/10 2:55 PM)
Why would anyone want to keep the smokestack, market deli, or taxi repair shop?

Scott says: (11/16/10 2:58 PM)
Yeah please don't make me regret my vote for you David. There's a difference between old and "historic".

Scott says: (11/16/10 2:59 PM)
Tongue-in-cheek, in case that didn't come across.

David Garber says: (11/16/10 3:21 PM)
ha. no worries, everyone. I just know that adaptive reuse can happen that would/could give the mostly-new neighborhood a twinge more flavor. For the smokestack, preserving just the stack, not the building, would not get in the way of reconnecting I Street. Also, due to its location at the middle of the block, it would be easily incorporated as an entrance feature or outdoor retail seating area to the buildings from K Street.

The Market Deli is probably the oldest existing building in the neighborhood (not counting Yards, Navy Yard, or Barracks row end). It represents the scale and design of this area before it was all torn down, and I think that history is worth remembering. Preserving one very small corner of that block will not stop the rest from being developed, and we would end up with a more eclectic and, I would argue, interesting neighborhood than if it is razed.

On the taxi building, it is a remnant, again, of what this neighborhood is growing out of. It isn't all that special, but imagine it being the base of a much taller building, with some awesome brew pub or gallery in it. This land is all going to be developed, and I don't see a reason to cast aside ideas for being creative with the resources that are here now. Once they are gone, they are gone forever. Check out what they are doing in NYC in a formerly industrial neighborhood: link I wouldn't want to see this building landmarked if it meant nobody could build on top of it.

Anyway, I suggest these things not because I am some "Save Everything!" person, but more to expand the conversation about what should and could be valued. It isn't really a question of if development will come. It will, even if some parts of the block are given special consideration.

DC says: (11/16/10 3:27 PM)
Agree with you Scott - seriously David - please don't make me regret my vote either and think a little more before making ridiculous comments such as making smoke stackstacks and the Market Deli building historic

Scott says: (11/16/10 3:45 PM)
Aren't there several legitimately cool historic buildings that are being redeveloped as part of the Yards? It's not so much that historic buildings aren't being used if they can best serve another purpose, it's that this was a poor run-down neighborhood with very few buildings worth saving.

Michael says: (11/16/10 4:39 PM)
Yeah, we need more mega-blocks instead!

mikescorpio says: (11/16/10 10:09 PM)
Hooray for St Paul's!
I understand where you're coming from, David. While I love this neighborhood, some of the new architecture seems so sterile. While I realize the economics wouldn't work out, it would have been nice if a few more of the existing buildings were saved and repurposed. Having said that, I would love to see the Market/Deli building saved and renovated, and turned into a nice sit down restaurant. The smoke stacks and transfer station, not so much.

ps: No regrets. '^)

Bob says: (11/17/10 8:45 AM)
David -

If you are serious about designating the smokestack, market deli, or taxi repair shop as historic landmarks then I'll regret voting for you and it will have been the last time I vote for you. This neighborhood needs common-sense attention to development and not head-in-the clouds hipster nonsense.


Adam says: (11/17/10 9:41 AM)
If I understand what David is saying as 'think before we just bulldoze everything', the more I think about it, I agree with him.

You can't simply tear everything down for the sake of "OMFG NEW!!!111!!!11". It's about thinking about how to re-develop something instead of simply having a hole in the ground.

Think about the LRB...was it in that poor of shape that it had to be torn down and we've be subject to a giant hole for the last few months? Was there no possible way to restore the building and get it up to code? Not saying it's historic, just that maybe it could have been rehabed instead of getting the wrecking ball.

B in DC says: (11/17/10 10:02 AM)
I agree with Adam and David that new development should think before simply tearing down old builidings. But, the way to encourage the adaptive reuse of old buildings is NOT through a historic designation. It's silly to think that the smokestack or the taxi place should be considered "historic." This type of thinking is what has caused the Capitol Hill Restoration Society to go off the deep end, trying to make historic all sorts of run-down buildings with no unique character (like their "shotgun house" debacle).

Scott KC says: (11/17/10 10:22 AM)
I think David is talking more about interesting adaptive re-use then restrictive preservation, but now that he is a politician he has to choose his words carefully! Certainly he should be able to express an opinion without having his political suport instantly and irevocably withdrawn. The market Deli site on 1st & L could be a very charming component of the neighborhood if creativley adapted. Similiarly the smokestack might have some landmark character if worked into a new design, in Los Angeles they have an arts district in an old brewery and they incorporated the edgy industrial buildings as part of the scheme.

BillP says: (11/17/10 10:43 AM)
jeez people, don't make David Garber fearful to express his spontaneous opinions in this forum! i think most of you are taking his comments to their most extreme outcome.

i read his comments as saying that we should simply take a look at everything that currently exists before a wrecking ball arrives and eliminates that option. a mix of old structures with new buildings adds significant character and is great for the neighborhood, even if the old is deemed to be of "humble" origins. that being said, preservation of an old structure should always be contingent upon not presenting onerous restrictions or significant costs on the use of and development of adjacent sites. for the record, i am the most pro-business, pro-development person you know!

however, i would like to make sure we don't wake up one day and find ourselves living in dc's version of crystal city.

BillP says: (11/17/10 10:46 AM)
JD- i saw your tweet of my previous comment re st pauls and wondered if you received any information about the congregation, the pastor or anything else about the current use of the church since it always, ALWAYS looks empty (including each and every sunday morning)!

David Garber says: (11/17/10 10:49 AM)
Scott KC - you hit the nail on the head. Unfortunately in DC there is no middle ground between historic designation and no historic designation. In other cities there are "conservation districts" or other more lenient levels of preservation that allow for adaptive reuse of structures that might not have "history books" history but tell a story about the historic aesthetic of a neighborhood.

As I said before, I would not want any of these to be designated if it meant that it would restrict the development potential of the lots. That said, designation might not be the best route to take. However, if the discussion is never raised, everything Will be torn down, even if it could be worked into a new building in a cool or interesting way. I understand that everyone has their own ideas about what is worth saving and what looks good. (ever tried having the "what is art?" discussion? there is not one universal definition)

Many people raised the issue to me during my campaign that they did not want to see this neighborhood develop without any character - citing Crystal City as an example of what they do not want to see happen here. I believe that adaptive reuse of ordinary (but old) buildings can have an extraordinary affect on neighborhoods, but I won't pretend everyone feels the same way.

Hey, at least we're having a conversation, right? :)

JD says: (11/17/10 10:59 AM)
Interesting that this conversation is being had *after* 160-plus buildings were torn down. The neighborhood "character" ship sailed in about 2007, my friends.

JD says: (11/17/10 11:06 AM)
@BillP--no, haven't gotten any additional info. I know that cars do show up and people do worship on Sundays, but it was always a small congregation, made up mostly of people who lived in the Cappers, and a lot of those people have moved away and not returned to the neighborhood in its new incarnation.

BillP says: (11/17/10 11:07 AM)
lol at JD even though that is obviously a very true statement! unfortunately, none of us were actually here in 2007 (other than virtually via, of course)

BillP says: (11/17/10 11:10 AM)
of course, smokestacks and trash incinerators aren't always a deterrent to new development, people pay $2M plus for condos inside an old incinerator just a few miles from here...


Scott says: (11/17/10 11:14 AM)
Crystal City is terrible because there are no parks, barely any green spaces at all, much of the retail and many of the restaurants resides underground, and there is too much commercial and not enough residential development. I don't think any of those things are true in our neighborhood, either currently or as planned.

It's much more likely to look like the Ballston/Virginia Square area with more parks. Is that ideal? Of course not, but it's not like developers have tons of wonderful existing buildings to work with here. Most buildings were decrepit one-story structures whose footprints don't make sense in an urban environment.

Scott says: (11/17/10 11:16 AM)
Anytime you can make a Ritz look like a 1980s suburban office building, you gotta do it.

BillP says: (11/17/10 11:20 AM)
Or anytime you can turn a city trash incinerator into a ritz, you gotta do it. plus dozens of seven figure condos and movie theaters, bars and restaurants.

Scott says: (11/17/10 11:32 AM)
Well, they spent over $190/square foot on that project, and the new DOT HQ was built for $155/square foot.

Was it worth it, to save a building that looks like a 1980s office building? Maybe. Personally, I find the DOT more attractive.

Buildings are worth saving, if they're attractive and suitable for another purpose. But I couldn't care less if ugly old buildings are torn down.

BillP says: (11/17/10 11:44 AM)
the Architectural Record found g-town incinerator to be "an elegant collection of buildings" but, to each their own, i guess.

i also find the DOT bldg more attractive (it's one of my favorite new buildings in DC). but comparing it to the g-town incinerator seems a bit apples-to-bowling-ballsish as DOT was a clean sheet of paper design on a flat greenfield. g-town incinerator faced the design challenges of incorporating existing trash incinerators and smokestacks, an adjacent elevated freeway, adjacent surface streets, drastic site elevation changes (by DC standards) and the Potomac river 100 feet away.

regardless, i don't want to trumpet g-town incinerator as the best thing ever built, it just serves as a good example of how 100 year old trash buildings with smokestacks can be developed into something interesting and beneficial to the neighborhood, which is more than a little relevant to the trash transfer site at NJ, I and K.

Bob says: (11/17/10 11:59 AM)
Ask the people who live on the side of Capitol Hill Towers facing the Capitol how interesting and attractive that smokestack looks. Then ask how many of them were told when they bought that there were plans to tear down the transfer site along with its "interesting" smokestack.

BillP says: (11/17/10 12:11 PM)
nobody's arguing for retaining the trash transfer site! the smokestack is an extremely simple, round brick tower. if it were to be smartly incorporated into the redesign of that site, i can't imagine anything objectionable about it. btw - i see it quite clearly from my roof deck at 3rd and I.

Bob says: (11/17/10 12:26 PM)
The smokestack is an eyesore that ruins an otherwise great view of the U.S. Capitol. And btw-your roofdeck is a lot further from it than the condos on the Capitol side of Capitol Hill Towers.

JD says: (11/17/10 12:47 PM)
A simple round brick tower with asbestos and all other manner of environmentally icky things in it. :-)

Given the position of the smokestack within the block, it'd be pretty hard to build a building with a mandated 322 units of market-rate, workforce-rate and public housing apartments with the required setbacks and height restrictions and whatnot and keep the smokestack, especially since it's the city paying to design and develop the block with public funds. (A little different than the Ritz having the money to do a cool renovation because they knew the exorbitant rates they could charge once the building was finished.) I'm not sure the city poobahs would love the optics of "spending a fortune on a design/losing affordable housing to keep an old smokestack."

On the flip side, even if that block were to remain undeveloped or low-scale developed, the 800 NJ/WC Smith block just to the north (1.1M sq ft, and they're trying to get Homeland Security to go in there) is going to obliterate any Capitol views from CHT anyway.

BillP says: (11/17/10 1:11 PM)
gee bob, i didn't know CHT residents facing north were guaranteed a view of the Capitol in perpetuity. please share that documentation with us, it must be fascinating.

fortunately for you, the legitimate points raised by JD will likely prevent it from remaining. however, your obvious self-interest has me rooting for as many large buildings as possible to be built along NJ avenue. let's go DHS!!!

B in DC says: (11/17/10 4:49 PM)

I apologize if I missed it, but I didn't realize that DHS was being courted for the 800NJ block. Any more details on that? Thanks.

JD says: (11/17/10 4:57 PM)
I've mentioned it in passing, because they're just one of the many developers in the hunt for the additional 1.3 m sq ft of space DHS is looking for. There was an article this week with a little more on it, which I admittedly didn't link to (yet), since it didn't really say all that much beyond "yes, they're courting DHS": link

D. Grad says: (11/17/10 5:14 PM)
You know what would be cool? A Wal-Mart with an old smokestack in the middle.

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