HPA No. 1983-478 (In re. the Homer Building)
- HPA Number: 1983-478
- Case Name: Homer Bldg. - Application for Demolition, New Construction, 601 13th Street, NW
- Location of Property: 601 13th Street, NW, Square 289, Lot 48
- Date of Decision: June 29, 1984
- Type of Permit Sought: Demolition
- Disposition: Granted
- Date of Case Summary: July 6, 2007
Summary of Decision:
The 601 13th Street Associates (the “Applicant”)  sought a permit for partial demolition of an existing structure known as the Homer Building, located at 601 13th Street, NW (the “Homer Building”). Erected in 1913-14 and designed by Appleton Prentiss Clark, Jr., a prominent Washington architect of the early twentieth century, the five-story neo-classical City Beautiful style Homer Building was designated a Category II Landmark on the District of Columbia Inventory of Historic Places, and a Category III Landmark of the National Capital. The Applicant proposed to construct an office/retail building on the site by adding seven stories to the Homer Building (above the existing five), while retaining the three street façades (F, G, and 13th Streets) and restoring the entrance lobby of the Homer Building. The Mayor’s Agent granted the permit, concluding that the proposed project is of special merit because of its exemplary architecture, specific features of land planning, and social and economic benefit to the community. The Mayor’s Agent reasoned that demolition was a viable way in which to effectuate adaptive reuse of the structure and allow the continued use of the Homer Building.
Mayor’s Agent – Procedural:
• The Mayor’s Agent noted that there was no position stated by the affected Advisory Neighborhood Commission.
• The Mayor’s Agent stated that there was no opposition to the proposed application for demolition.
Consistent with the Purposes of the Act:
The Mayor’s Agent concluded that the project was consistent with the purposes of the Act and necessary in the public interest to allow the construction of a project of special merit.
Project of Special Merit – Exemplary Architecture:
The Mayor’s Agent found that the proposed project was an example of exemplary architecture, finding it to be “at ease with the design ambiance of the Homer Building.” The Mayor’s Agent noted that the design of the new building “evolves from that of the Landmark base and is an extension and completion of the original design, going far beyond … what is usually meant as a ‘compatible’ addition.” Additionally, the Mayor’s Agent found that the project would extend and complete the intent of the original design of the Homer Building, as the original specifications and base of the Homer Building were designed for a structure of at least eight or nine floors. The Mayor’s Agent further noted that the project would reinforce the architectural character of the landmark building “through a complex interplay of rhythm, proportion, and scale.” The Mayor’s Agent noted that part of the new building would be designed on a portion of the site to “appear to be a separate yet architecturally compatible and related building,” and characterized that concept as “sound and instrumental in maintaining the integrity of the Homer Building.” However, the decision does not elaborate on specific features of the new design that support the Mayor’s Agent’s conclusions, other than noting that the height is compatible with the original building’s intended design, and that the “handsome terra cotta decorative features” would be restored.
Project of Special Merit – Specific Features of Land Planning:
The Mayor’s Agent also concluded that the proposed project demonstrated “ideal” features of land planning. The Mayor’s Agent reasoned that although the incomplete building has been a significant element in the architectural fabric of the old downtown area, of particular significance is “the role the building will play in the ‘historic downtown’ earmarked by the City for concentrated redevelopment effort.” The Mayor’s Agent stated that “[t]he project will attract first class office and retail tenants which will contribute substantially to the revitalization of downtown” and that “[t]he planned below-grade parking facilities will also add an important amenity for the downtown area.”
Project of Special Merit – Social and Economic Benefits to the Community:
The Mayor’s Agent found that the proposed project had significant benefits to the community because it would contribute to the renewal and economic revitalization of the area by supporting retail uses, encouraging new office developments, and providing employment in an area near a central Metrorail Station. The Mayor’s Agent concluded by noting that “[t]he project represents a major infusion of private investment capital in the preservation of a historic landmark while at the same time providing for a productive, adaptive use.”
The Mayor’s Agent emphasized that the project would retain and enhance the three street facades (F, G, and 13th Streets), while removing the storefront additions that “do not contribute to the historic landmark and, in fact, detract from it.”
The Homer Building is the subject of a subsequent Mayor’s Agent Order, HPA No. 86-660, dated December 16, 1986. In the subsequent order, the Mayor’s Agent approved two design modifications: (1) improving the façade of the new portion of the building that faces F and G Streets; and (2) reconfiguring the entrance of the lobby and one of the atriums to improve circulation within the building. The Mayor’s Agent approved the design modifications, concluding that they do not change the findings and conclusions of the Mayor’s Agent in HPA No. 83-478.
Since this case was decided in 1984, and downtown Washington built up, there has been significant movement away from some of the preservation legal principles discussed herein. Downtown facade projects involving substantial demolition are no longer favored as “compatible” with the Act; special merit cases for downtown office buildings whether by means of exemplary architecture, special features of land planning, or community social and economic benefits are now extremely rare and difficult to secure. See, e.g. St. Patrick’s Church, HPA 99-219 et. seq. (1999); Webster School, HPA 00-462 (2001) inter alia.
 The Applicant was the long term lessee of the property. It applied for the demolition and new construction permits with the consent of the owner, S. Kann Sons Company.
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