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HPO Staff Report: 1922 Third St NW

HPO Staff Report: 1922 Third St NW

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Published by leftforledroit
This is the Historic Preservation Office staff report on the proposal for 1922 Third St NW, Washington, DC.
This is the Historic Preservation Office staff report on the proposal for 1922 Third St NW, Washington, DC.

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Published by: leftforledroit on Apr 29, 2010
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12/26/2013

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HISTORIC PRESERVATION REVIEW BOARDSTAFF REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
 
Property Address:
1922 3
rd
Street NW (X)
AgendaLandmark/District:
LeDroit Park Historic District ( )
Consent Calendar
(X)
Concept ReviewMeeting Date:
April 22, 2010 (X)
AlterationH.P.A. Number:
10-175 ( )
New ConstructionStaff Reviewer:
Brendan Meyer ( )
Demolition
( )
Subdivision
Community Three Development, represented by architect/developer Grant Epstein, seeks conceptreview for a series of additions to the rear and side of a two-story freestanding house at 1922 3
rd
 Street NW in the LeDroit Park Historic District. Community Three Development is the contractpurchaser for the property.
Property Description and Context
The subject property includes a brick Gothic revival house and a matching free-standing brick carriage of the same style. The house sits close to the north edge of the property leaving thesouth half of the lot an open green space. Although used as a rooming house for decades, andmaintenance has been lacking at times, important original ornament (verge boards, cross-bracedgables, dormers and patterned slate mansard roof) still survive. Both house and carriage housewere designed by architect James H. McGill as part of the original 1870s LeDroit Park development. Architectural renderings of both appear in the contemporary literature thatpromoted this early suburban development just outside the edge of then-Washington City (seeapplicant’s drawing set, page 9). The lot is notably one of the few original McGill-improved lotsto remain largely intact. No portion of it has been divided off for the creation of smaller buildinglots, and it still exhibits an open landscape with minimal intrusions of paving.LeDroit Park saw several successive—and sometimes overlapping—phases of development. Thefirst wave consisted of large, detached and semi-detached cottages and villas on large lots laidout by McGill much in the manner of nationally-known architect and landscape designer A.J.Downing. The vision for LeDroit Park was that of an exclusive suburban enclave of villasarranged in a park-like setting with an open ornamental landscape and the most modern types of road and sidewalk paving. Surviving examples from this period are concentrated on T and UStreets, between 4
th
and 6
th
Streets. By the 1890s, the original LeDroit Park developers gave uptheir exclusive rights and opened the area to development by others. What followed was fairlyrapid infill development of attached and semidetached rowhouses on much narrower lots. Theselots were created mostly from unimproved lots left over from the original development, butoccasionally owners of houses on large lots divided rowhouse lots off of their property. Most of the rowhouses of this second wave were completed by 1910; the rowhouses to the south and westof 1922 3
rd
Street are typical of this period. Both rows (one of four houses, the other of six) aresymmetrical as a group, with a discernable patterned arrangement of fenestration, arches, oriels,mansards, dormers and towers in the Romanesque Revival style.
 
The almost singular character exhibited by the LeDroit Park Historic District stems from theintersecting of these two distinct building phases. Although the rowhouses, and even lateracademic buildings of Howard University, imparted a measure of density not originallyenvisioned by LeDroit Park’s creators, the early detached houses to a large extent have managedto retain their most important feature:
space
. Whether or not the grounds remained open orbecame substantial gardens, the extent of space, and especially green space, around these housesis fundamental to their character and setting.
Proposal
The applicant proposes to restore the historic house (including replacement of the non-original frontporch with a replication of the original Gothic revival porch), and add a series of three additions.These include a two-story rear addition, a one-story hyphen side addition, and a two-story rowhousealong the south property line. While the applicant does not intend to subdivide the property, thevisual intent is to create a single primary structure that reads as two distinct properties. The carriagehouse would remain as an unattached secondary structure. The final product would be an 11-unitresidential structure (five units in the historic house, two in the rear addition, and four in therowhouse). A twelfth unit would be created later in the carriage house if approved by the Board of Zoning Adjustment.The rear addition would be a 2-story brick mass meant to continue the style of 1922 3
rd
and occupyan area that is currently paved over as a parking area. It would feature a roofline set slightly lowerthan the front portion of the historic house and would consist of mansards, a cross-braced gable, anddormers. The west elevation of the rear addition includes a full-width one-story porch. The plansindicate (Page 12) shows that the rear addition would be constructed with a minimum of demolitionto the original structure.The new rowhouse would take its cue from the four rowhouses to the south. At two stories, its flatfront façade would roughly match the height, fenestration, rhythms, floor levels and setback of theexisting row. The north elevation facing 1922 3
rd
would be articulated into a primary façadefeaturing two shallow, ground-to-cornice bays, cornice, and a nearly full-height ornamental chimney.The hyphen between the rear addition and new rowhouse is the least rendered of the three. It isshown as a one-story, flat roof structure that would be part of the ground floor unit in the rear of therowhouse. The east wall of the hyphen would be distantly visible from 3
rd
Street. At the foot of thiseast wall, the landscape would be dropped four feet below existing grade to form a sunken court thatwould extend to the hexagonal bay on the south side of the historic house.The landscape at the front of the lot will remain as open green space. The rear of the lot wouldcontinue use as a paved parking area, but be screened from U Street by a new, curved brick wall. Anew brick garden wall would create an exterior court at the inside corner of the carriage house,similar to the design seen in the original McGill drawings.
Zoning Issues
The extent to which this project may require zoning relief remains unclear. By the applicant’sinterpretation of the Zoning Regulations, the proposal is a by-right project (with the exception of thereuse of the carriage house as a residential use). However, the Development Review Division of theOffice of Planning has advised HPO that the current design would require substantial relief by theBoard of Zoning Adjustment. At issue is the number of units allowed in an existing pre-1958
 
building in an R-4 zone, and how additions to such a building are interpreted (11 DCMR §§ 401.11and 403.1). The HPO has not been able to obtain an opinion on the issue from the ZoningAdministrator. While the Board’s sole consideration is whether the project is compatible with theproperty and historic district, the HPO is recommending that the HPRB not take final action on theconcept and that the project return for further review when this issue is more definitively resolved
Evaluation and Recommendation
While each component of the proposal could be looked at and evaluated individually, the reality isthat the project as designed would rest in the historic district as an agglomerative whole, likely tooverwhelm the historic house and drastically reduce perhaps its most important historiccharacteristic: open space. The house is 29 feet wide by 58 feet deep but enjoys 38 feet of openspace to its south and 74 feet of open space to its rear. This open space, as originally provided for the1870s McGill house, is generous. So much so, that perhaps it could afford some accommodation fora single addition, or even subdivision as has been the case for many other original McGill houses inLeDroit Park. However, to give up most of both the side and rear yard to new construction appendsthe previously free-standing house to the surrounding rowhouses, both literally and visually.The one-story hyphen portion of the addition is both the smallest and weakest link in the chain. Theprimary purpose of the hyphen is to join all parts into a single primary structure so that a fundamentalzoning requirement can be satisfied (e.g. that a lot can only be occupied by a single primarystructure). However, the hyphen results in the free-standing historic house becoming visuallyattached to the new rowhouse, with the open side yard converted to dead-end courts. The situation ismade worse on the front side, where the court is sunk into the ground with a small retaining wallacross its face, bringing this landscape intrusion that much closer to 3
rd
Street. The concept does notbenefit from the vagueness with which the hyphen is rendered. While the drawings achieve a highquality of rendering, detail, and presentation, the hyphen appears camouflaged from scrutiny. Forexample, the perspective view from 3
rd
Street on page 6 masks the hyphen with shrubbery.The rear addition, with some revision, could result in a compatible addition. As designed, the rearaddition unnecessarily evokes the architectural ornamentation and attenuated massing of the primaryfront block of the house. As such, it is on the verge of reorienting the emphasis of the house awayfrom its east front. Rather, any new rear addition should adopt the simpler massing as already seenin the existing rear wing which has a simple gable roof and lower/wider proportions relative to thefront block of the house. The proposed rear addition would benefit by substituting a simpler gableroof in place of its complicated mansard roofs, and eliminating the cross-braced gable in favor of plainer dormers and gable windows. This would result in a clearly secondary structure appropriatefor the rear of a free-standing house.The rowhouse addition makes a good case that the lot is large enough to comfortably include a newrowhouse while still affording the historic house ample open space. This is a historic pattern of development in LeDroit Park, but there is a significant difference between historic examples and thecurrent proposal.
1
Historically, rowhouse sidewalls at the end of a row are plain surfaces; typicallylarge areas of uninterrupted, unpainted masonry, with the occasional punched window opening.More rarely, a side elevation may have a one- or two-story oriel projecting from an upper floor. Theeffect is an elevation that is clearly secondary, and distinctively different from the treatment of a free-
 
1
Not just historic pattern, but recent as well. In 2009 HPRB approved subdivision of a McGill house and lot intothree lots; one for the historic house, one for a new rowhouse, and one for a carriage-house like structure with nobearing on the primary street (1859 3
rd
Street NW, HPA #09-078).

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