Housing Complex

HPRB Approves Spingarn Landmarking. Next: The Car Barn Fight

The Historic Preservation Review Board just unanimously approved the designation of Spingarn Senior High School at Benning Road and 26th Street NE as a historic landmark. But the central issue on everyone's mind wasn't addressed: what the landmarking will mean for the planned streetcar barn and training facility on the Spingarn campus.

Spingarn's landmarking is based primarily on two factors: its architectural style typical of the period when it opened (in 1952) and its place in the history of the black community—the school was initially a segregated black school in a middle-class black neighborhood. Every community witness testified in favor of landmarking.

But the landmark application was filed by the Kingman Park Civic Association in the midst of the controversy over the carbarn plans, raising questions about whether the nomination was actually intended to derail the District Department of Transportation plans (though the school has long been known to be a candidate for landmarking). The HPRB several times reminded witnesses that the issue at hand was the school and not the car barn, but that didn't stop a number of witnesses from speaking out against the barn plans.

An HPRB staff report found the car barn plans, in the context of the pending Spingarn nomination, to be "consistent with the purposes of the preservation act, subject to further design development, material selection, and refinement." Now that the school is designated for landmarking, the car barn will need to prove compatible with the rest of the historic site. Gretchen Pfaehler, who will soon take over as HPRB chair, promised that the car barn "will be a separate issue before us."

The planned closure of Spingarn for modernization and reopening as a tech school, announced on Nov. 13, is not expected to affect plans for the streetcar barn.

Rendering of the car barn from the Historic Preservation Review Board's review of the site

Comments

  1. #1

    50 years and it's historical...HPRB is a JOKE!

  2. #2

    This doesn't seem to fit into the Plan very well...

  3. #3

    Representative of 1952? Yikes. Now it's just a monument for DC's perpetual arrière-guard.

  4. #4

    Aside from the main topic of historic designation and how the car barn should/should not be considered in light of it, I was admiring the rendering when I realized the shadows are all wrong. As Benning Road runs roughly east-west at the intersection of 26th St NE, the shadows should be flipped. They seem to be situated to show the sun oriented north of the site, as if we were in the southern hemisphere. I'm sure the opposite shadows made the rendering look better for the streetcar and car barn, but it's still bothering me.

    As for the car barn itself, I don't have a strong opinion other than the hope to take a ride on the streetcar someday soon.

  5. #5

    It does seem like the only reason Spingarn was designated historic is because people have a problem with the car barn being there and not so much some nostalgia for the building and grounds.

    I'm leaning towards agreeing the car barn shouldn't be located on the grounds of Spingarn, but without many (if any) financially-realistic options, I'm worried we won't see a street car for years to come.

  6. #6

    While I am pleased with Spingarn's recently recognized historic preservation standing, those of us who attended Spingarn in the day of true litetaracy, have always known the historical meaning of Spingarn. Dr. Williams would not be pleased that people want to trample on his grounds. He would consider them Bs & Bs.

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