HPA No. 1988-374 (In re. National Bank of Washington, Bowen Building)
- HPA Number: 1988-374
- Building Name: National Bank of Washington, Bowen Building
- Case Name: In re International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftsman [sic]
- Location of Property: 813 15th St. NW; 825 15th St. NW
- Date of Decision: August 5, 1988
- Type of Case/Type of Permit Sought: Partial Demolition
- Disposition: Granted
- Date of Case Summary: 11/26/2014
- Issue Area(s): Mayor’s Agent – Procedural, Consistent with the Purposes of the Act, Compatibility, Façade, Contributing Building; Special Merit – Exemplary Architecture
Summary of Decision:
International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftsman, (the “Applicant”) applied for a permit for partial demolition of two structures, located at 813 and 825 15th Street, N.W. (the “National Bank of Washington” and the “Bowen Building”), both of which were located in and contributed to the Fifteenth Street Financial Historic District. The Applicant planned to remove “recent architecturally inappropriate and historically insignificant alterations” and to add new construction to create one office building, while retaining “virtually all of the exterior fabric of the two buildings, in order to create a capstone at the northern terminus of the historic district. The proposed project would bridge the two buildings, raising the height of the “low-scale” National Bank of Washington that “ineffectively terminates an otherwise harmoniously composed block,” while slightly lowering the height of the Bowen Building, in an effort at uniformity.
The Mayor’s Agent found that the Applicant had “achieved a design of exemplary architecture which sympathetically relates to the existing buildings and properly anchors the prominent corner upon which the buildings are located and ultimately concluded that the proposed plan was “necessary in the public interest” because it was consistent with the purposes of the Act. Accordingly, the Mayor’s Agent granted the permit.
In addition, the Mayor’s Agent commended the “extensive program of mitigation that has been adopted in connection with the subject proposal,” specifically photographic documentation of the buildings, “exploratory demolition and recordation” of the structures, introduction of a salvage program to maintain the “significant architectural features of the buildings,” and a public education program “to disseminate the knowledge that is gained” through the previously-mentioned methods.
Mayor’s Agent – Procedural:
If a plan approved by the Mayor’s Agent requires “further refinements,” they also “must be reviewed and approved by the Historic Preservation Review Board and the Historic Preservation Division staff.” (Applicant made this request to ensure that “minor Board-approved changes would not require further public hearings before the Mayor’s Agent.)
The “staff report” of the Historic Preservation Review Board cited two previous projects heard before the Mayor’s Agent (The Bond Building—HPA 1984-255 and Almas Temple—HPA 1985-90 and 1986-732) as “precedential cases” to establish that “partial demolitions can be consistent with the purposes of the Act.” Therefore, these cases must have some precedential value.
Consistent with the Purposes of the Act:
The Mayor’s Agent believed that the proposed demolition was consistent with the purposes of the act in that the renovation would enhance the character of the historic district, specifically through creating a building of the proper size and vision to be compatible with and to anchor its historic district. The Mayor’s Agent also based her finding on “credible evidence presented by the Applicant describ[ing] a project which retains and enhances the existing buildings, contributes to the character of the historic district, and provides for adaptive reuse and restoration of the facades, as well as the recreation of the significant interior spaces. Therefore, the Mayor’s Agent deemed it necessary in the public interest. Though in the language of a project of special merit, the Mayor’s Agent stated that the proposed building was a “design of exemplary architecture which sympathetically relates to the existing buildings.” The renovation was deemed to encourage modern use in that the interior of the combined building would be “modern and efficient office space.”
The new portion “will unify the two buildings with a subdued roofscape,” which would minimize the effect of the new construction. However, this plan also called for removing prior-existing elements of these buildings in an effort to make the entire building more compatible to its role as an anchor of the historic district. Specifically, the new construction was to bring the size of the building to a proper height as compared to the “monumental” size of neighboring buildings. Additionally, they planned to “eliminate[e] the problems with the air conditioning [units sticking out of the windows], the unsightly roof structures and exposed party wall.” Many of these alterations were the result of “disfiguring” remodeling of the National Bank of Washington in 1956, and the new structure was intended to bring the aesthetic of the building closer to its 1919 roots. At the same time, the new construction was seen as compatible with the Bowen Building’s “tradition of sensitive additions and alterations [being made in order] to meet contemporary needs.
The Applicant’s plan “entails the retention of virtually all of the significant exterior fabric of the two buildings [and] the removal of recent architecturally inappropriate and historically insignificant alterations.” Thus, the facades of the buildings will be maintained and restored, “thus reinforcing their architectural character.”
Both the National Bank of Washington and the Bowen Building were deemed contributing buildings “in terms of architecture, scale and period of significance.” The Mayor’s Agent was concerned that the proposed plan would maintain and enhance these particular attributes.
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