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Property Address: Landmark/District: 1922 3rd Street NW LeDroit Park Historic District ( X ) Agenda ( ) Consent Calendar (X) (X) ( ) ( ) ( ) Concept Review Alteration New Construction Demolition Subdivision
Meeting Date: H.P.A. Number: Staff Reviewer:
April 22, 2010 10-175 Brendan Meyer
Community Three Development, represented by architect/developer Grant Epstein, seeks concept review for a series of additions to the rear and side of a two-story freestanding house at 1922 3rd Street NW in the LeDroit Park Historic District. Community Three Development is the contract purchaser 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 the south half of the lot an open green space. Although used as a rooming house for decades, and maintenance has been lacking at times, important original ornament (verge boards, cross-braced gables, dormers and patterned slate mansard roof) still survive. Both house and carriage house were designed by architect James H. McGill as part of the original 1870s LeDroit Park development. Architectural renderings of both appear in the contemporary literature that promoted this early suburban development just outside the edge of then-Washington City (see applicant’s drawing set, page 9). The lot is notably one of the few original McGill-improved lots to remain largely intact. No portion of it has been divided off for the creation of smaller building lots, and it still exhibits an open landscape with minimal intrusions of paving.
LeDroit Park saw several successive—and sometimes overlapping—phases of development. The first wave consisted of large, detached and semi-detached cottages and villas on large lots laid out 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 villas arranged 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 U Streets, between 4th and 6th Streets. By the 1890s, the original LeDroit Park developers gave up their exclusive rights and opened the area to development by others. What followed was fairly rapid infill development of attached and semidetached rowhouses on much narrower lots. These lots were created mostly from unimproved lots left over from the original development, but occasionally 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 west of 1922 3rd Street are typical of this period. Both rows (one of four houses, the other of six) are symmetrical 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 the intersecting of these two distinct building phases. Although the rowhouses, and even later academic buildings of Howard University, imparted a measure of density not originally envisioned by LeDroit Park’s creators, the early detached houses to a large extent have managed to retain their most important feature: space. Whether or not the grounds remained open or became substantial gardens, the extent of space, and especially green space, around these houses is fundamental to their character and setting.
Proposal The applicant proposes to restore the historic house (including replacement of the non-original front porch 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 rowhouse along the south property line. While the applicant does not intend to subdivide the property, the visual intent is to create a single primary structure that reads as two distinct properties. The carriage house would remain as an unattached secondary structure. The final product would be an 11-unit residential structure (five units in the historic house, two in the rear addition, and four in the rowhouse). 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 3rd and occupy an area that is currently paved over as a parking area. It would feature a roofline set slightly lower than the front portion of the historic house and would consist of mansards, a cross-braced gable, and dormers. The west elevation of the rear addition includes a full-width one-story porch. The plans indicate (Page 12) shows that the rear addition would be constructed with a minimum of demolition to the original structure. The new rowhouse would take its cue from the four rowhouses to the south. At two stories, its flat front façade would roughly match the height, fenestration, rhythms, floor levels and setback of the existing row. The north elevation facing 1922 3rd would be articulated into a primary façade featuring 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 is shown as a one-story, flat roof structure that would be part of the ground floor unit in the rear of the rowhouse. The east wall of the hyphen would be distantly visible from 3rd Street. At the foot of this east wall, the landscape would be dropped four feet below existing grade to form a sunken court that would 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 would continue use as a paved parking area, but be screened from U Street by a new, curved brick wall. A new 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’s interpretation of the Zoning Regulations, the proposal is a by-right project (with the exception of the reuse of the carriage house as a residential use). However, the Development Review Division of the Office of Planning has advised HPO that the current design would require substantial relief by the Board 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 §§ 401.11 and 403.1). The HPO has not been able to obtain an opinion on the issue from the Zoning Administrator. While the Board’s sole consideration is whether the project is compatible with the property and historic district, the HPO is recommending that the HPRB not take final action on the concept 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 is that the project as designed would rest in the historic district as an agglomerative whole, likely to overwhelm the historic house and drastically reduce perhaps its most important historic characteristic: open space. The house is 29 feet wide by 58 feet deep but enjoys 38 feet of open space to its south and 74 feet of open space to its rear. This open space, as originally provided for the 1870s McGill house, is generous. So much so, that perhaps it could afford some accommodation for a single addition, or even subdivision as has been the case for many other original McGill houses in LeDroit Park. However, to give up most of both the side and rear yard to new construction appends the 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. The primary purpose of the hyphen is to join all parts into a single primary structure so that a fundamental zoning requirement can be satisfied (e.g. that a lot can only be occupied by a single primary structure). However, the hyphen results in the free-standing historic house becoming visually attached to the new rowhouse, with the open side yard converted to dead-end courts. The situation is made worse on the front side, where the court is sunk into the ground with a small retaining wall across its face, bringing this landscape intrusion that much closer to 3rd Street. The concept does not benefit from the vagueness with which the hyphen is rendered. While the drawings achieve a high quality of rendering, detail, and presentation, the hyphen appears camouflaged from scrutiny. For example, the perspective view from 3rd Street on page 6 masks the hyphen with shrubbery. The rear addition, with some revision, could result in a compatible addition. As designed, the rear addition unnecessarily evokes the architectural ornamentation and attenuated massing of the primary front block of the house. As such, it is on the verge of reorienting the emphasis of the house away from its east front. Rather, any new rear addition should adopt the simpler massing as already seen in the existing rear wing which has a simple gable roof and lower/wider proportions relative to the front block of the house. The proposed rear addition would benefit by substituting a simpler gable roof 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 appropriate for the rear of a free-standing house. The rowhouse addition makes a good case that the lot is large enough to comfortably include a new rowhouse 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 the current proposal. 1 Historically, rowhouse sidewalls at the end of a row are plain surfaces; typically large 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. The effect is an elevation that is clearly secondary, and distinctively different from the treatment of a freeNot just historic pattern, but recent as well. In 2009 HPRB approved subdivision of a McGill house and lot into three lots; one for the historic house, one for a new rowhouse, and one for a carriage-house like structure with no bearing on the primary street (1859 3rd Street NW, HPA #09-078).
standing house. The effect of the current design is a rowhouse massing with two primary elevations instead of one, and of greater consequence is that the north elevation opens a type of dialogue with the south elevation of 1922 3rd. Unfortunately, that dialogue is disjointed in that there seems to be no relationship between the facing projections. As a final consideration, the HPO believes this site to have inherent archaeological potential for historic and prehistoric resources. Located on a terrace overlooking upper Tiber Creek to the east, the site would have been advantageous to both prehistoric and historic occupations. The yard is relatively intact, and possibly has been filled to raise the ground to level. Little is known of the occupants of the original house, but it is possible deposits could be present that could shed light on the early settlement of Washington County. The applicant should be encouraged to coordinate any construction excavation with the HPO Archaeologist. Recommendation The HPO recommends that the Board direct the applicant to make the following revisions and return to the HPRB for further review when appropriate: 1. Eliminate the hyphen portion of the addition, retaining the historic house as freestanding and detached from the new rowhouse; 2. Revise the roof of the rear addition to a simpler gable roof form of plain ornament to match the existing rear wing; 3. Revise the north elevation of the rowhouse to a simpler masonry wall with a minimum of ornament. Narrowing the width of the rowhouse at the front portion (and potentially getting slightly wider at the rear with a bay or oriel projection) so that this house has a similar width to the adjoining rowhouses should be evaluated.
No portion of this recommendation shall be construed as approval or endorsement for any necessary zoning relief.