Anything Worth Saving Here?: H St. Rowhouses Edition
The battle over the Third Church of Christ, Scientist is finally over. But the supply of ridiculous preservation stories in D.C. is eternal. Here is the first tale in what we hope will become a series about the fights some people choose to wage.
The Spot: "Meads Row" 1305, 1307, 1309, 1311 H Street NE.
The Fight: The owner of the yellow building with the garage wants to tear it down. He's paying too much in taxes, and no one will rent from him, according to his application. Meanwhile, neighborhood groups, the Capitol Hill Restoration Society and Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6A, want it designated a landmark in the D.C Inventory of Historic Sites.
They say the entire row is a jewel or, more specifically, a good example of people living on top of people—"two floors for residential use over the commercial ground floor" is aparently historically significant. Also the row was built by Charles C. Meads, "a local builder of note." The oldest buildings here date back to 1892.
Some background: The next door tenant, Salon 1307 manager Elwood Payne can recall a number of businesses in the old property: A grocery store, a ladies boutique, and an incense shop. Roughly three years ago, that last establishment, Baitul Khair, moved its Islamic tapes, books, traditional garb, and rainbow-colored oils to the next corner down. They are much happier in the 1200 block of H Street than the 1300 block. Why the intolerance? Weak walls and two break-ins at the old yellow rowhouse. The upstairs apartment was dilapidated, empty and open, and people "climbed up a tree in the back," then entered from the roof, says store manager Mel Akmel. "The best thing is to tear it down."
The recommendation: Staff Reviewer Tim Dennee says no, bad idea, to the historic designation—though he does acknowledge there's a cool sign that says "Conquers Pain" on the eastern wall of 1311. Still it is a mere "faded remnant" of something...What? Dennee does not divulge if he knows, which suggests that he doesn't and neither does anyone else.
Onto the rejection: For one thing, part of the row is already gone. One property was destroyed in 1939, and a grungy garage stands in its place. For another, well, this property isn't special, nor is the builder—or in preservationist-speak: "There is no reason to believe [the row] to be more compelling than what could be said of buildings across the street." Also: "It is too early to offer conclusions about Charles C. Meads’ relative significance, but safe to say that the nomination does not settle the matter."
The ruling: 5-3 voting to support the recommendation, meaning no designation. Owner: Proceed to the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) on your continued path to destruction.