Housing Complex

As Expected, Mayor’s Agent OKs Cleveland Park Firehouse Renovations

Back in January, the Historic Preservation Review Board ruled that the doors of the Cleveland Park Firehouse—which has been closed since fall of 2010, awaiting renovations—were too historic to be changed for the 21st century's wider fire trucks. Much gnashing of teeth about putting historicity over neighborhood safety ensued.

As I noted, though, the board was basically acting within its purview as a body that's supposed to obey the letter of the preservation law. The next level of appeal, the Mayor's Agent, is the one who can consider mitigating circumstances like economic hardship, the requirements of an especially awesome project, and public safety. This one passed muster easily on the grounds of "special merit," waiting only about five weeks to get its decision.

This is also J. Peter Byrne's first ruling; several other cases are pending, including another firehouse in the Palisades.

  • DC Guy

    Any other decision would have been, silly.

  • http://dcjack.org Jack

    Perhaps one should ask why the District's historic preservation law is written in such a manner that the HPRB feels that it is legally compelled to issue such obviously absurd decisions.

  • Keith

    Even better question: Why did such an obvious decision take 5 freaking weeks???

  • Thayer-D

    The new doors look great. At least they didn't insist to make them "of our time".

  • Lance

    The better question, as I've heard the neighbors put it, 'Given they've known for many years that they were going to need wider doors for the new trucks that were on order, why didn't they address real problem and start planning for a whole new station with all the modern amenities that are needed for 21st century fire fighting?" I.e., this station is outmoded in many more ways than the narrow doors, and this temporary 'fix' --- which will result in the permanent destruction of a historic resource --- won't extend the life of this building as a fire house long enough to justify the trade off. It's like when it's time to replace your roof ... you can keep doing patches, but the longterm most effective solution is just to replace the roof. Ruining the doors on this historic building is just a 'patch'.

  • Jacques

    So Lance, rather than spend tens of thousands to replace the doors, they should have gone straight to a $10 million new station, for the sake of historic doors?

  • Jes sayin’

    They've been trying for years to widen the doors, and they've been stymied by HPRB, which landmarked the firehouses, set up the rules, and then argued that they had no choice but to follow the rules that they had written.

    The difference between the preservationists and those who are sane is that the nutcase preservationists view firehouses as "a historic resource." The rest of us - since the time we were three years old - have viewed firehouses as places where firefighters live, where they park and maintain their fire engines, and then go to fight fires.

  • DC Tax Payer

    Finally common sense won out.

  • Bert

    Probably the right decision under the circumstances, but if a modern firehouse is what is needed, neither the building nor the site on Connecticut Avenue are very suited for that. As I understand it, modern firehouse design nowdays is to have drive-in-drive-out acess from back to front. The modernized fire station in Tenleytown DC has this. The site in Cleveland Park is way to small, with only a tight alley behind the station that is unsuitable for big truck access. The result is, wider doors or not, trucks will still have to tie up Connecticut Ave. traffic flow while they back slowly into the CP fire station. The better solution would have been to sesll the CP fire station and repurpose it for something else, like retail space, restaurant, etc. Just a few blocks north, DC owns lots of land at UDC/Van Ness, where a large, modern fire station could be built with drive-in-drive-out access, no historic or design constraints, plenty of parking for fire fighters and a good location to continue to serve the existing firehouse's coverage area.

  • aaron foster

    The firehouse doors in the first picture are not the original style... just as most of the firehouses in the city back when they had horse drawn carriages (none of them were electronic or mechanical 100 years ago). The new firetrucks are wider and longer... With the current doors you have to pull your mirrors inward so you don't break them when backing in or leaving for an emergency. is the style of the door more important or functionality & emergency. I'll ask you this, hold a match up to your butt and see if that 5 seconds makes a difference. Lastly, why are the upstairs bathrooms, countertop, doors, etc of these firehouse accessible for wheelchairs? There are no elevators in 100yr old firehouses. Common sense isn't common.

  • Lance

    @Bert, Thanks for helping explain why it would have made so much more sense for the fire department just to build a new firehouse for that neighborhood. They're just 'patching' the problem with the widening of the doors ... Give it time and they'll have to building a whole new building ... leaving the mutilated historic firehouse behind in their wake of bad planning.

  • Thayer-D

    "Mutilated historic firehouse"??? This is how so many of the fine old european cities have survived.

  • Lance

    @Thayer-D, historic preservation in European cities is by far much stricter than here. To make just about any exterior change requires government sign-off. And often it's for entire cities. And that's how they've survived. Our commitment to historic preservation is weak compared to theirs.

  • Thayer-D

    Before Modernism, buildings where re-used or re-purposed all the time. The retail lining the old Palazzi in Rome and Florece for example. An extreme example would be the Medeaval City Hall in Rome that Michelangelo had to keep, so he remodeled/mutilated them into the Campidoglio. Things change and even evolve beautifully when an architect with an eye towards the whole is at work.

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