Dear PoP – What the Helen of Troy is This?

NoCap, originally uploaded by Prince of Petworth.

“Dear PoP,

I have lived in DC for almost nine years and I still don’t know what the cylinder structures are on the corner of N. Capitol and Michigan near WHC. I have wondered for so many years, I pass by them fairy regularly. I almost don’t want to know; I like the mystery. But I think it’s time I figure it out. I can’t seem to find the info anywhere and no one seems to know. I attached a photo while I was biking on my way to work. Sorry it’s not very good quality.
Can you help me?”

Sure, this is part of the McMillian filtration site. According to Wikipedia:

“To handle population growth and municipal sanitation needs, officials added the McMillan Reservoir Filtration Plant in 1905. This facility implemented an innovative water purification system relying on sand instead of chemicals to filter 75 million gallons (280 million liters) per day. It helped quell typhoid epidemics and other communicable diseases throughout the city.

In 1907 the reservoir and filtration plant were named in honor of Senator James McMillan of Michigan, who chaired the Senate Committee on the District of Columbia and supported development of the water supply facilities.

The old water treatment site was purchased by the District of Columbia from the federal government in 1987 for $9.3 million, and since has deteriorated due to lack of maintenance. The question of what to do with the property is up for debate.”

There are currently plans to redevelop this site but I’m not sure what the status of those plans are. I also heard they once found a dead body in one of those structures…

23 Comment

  • Excellent post–I get asked that question by a lot of my real estate client who drive by it, especially ones who are moving to Washington, DC.

  • As a side note, I heard one of the main reasons why this priem real estate spot hasnt been developed is that it has lots of environmental issues.

  • that place is totally captivating.

    heres some photos i took on a tour of this place a few years ago:

    heres some info on the development:

  • just j: the reason the area hasn’t been developed is far more complex than that. in a nutshell, it has to do with the fact that the land has been transferred between the feds and the district, and because many neighbors who live around the site (bloomingdale, edgewood, stronghold, park place) aren’t fans of what is currently being proposed.

    and, to the person who asked the question initially—if you biked down past the site every day, you should have just stopped and asked one of the friendly folk who live around the site what it is. one of us would have been more than happy to tell you all about it! 😉

  • Not true, Just J.

    Not only are there no environmental issues impeding development, but a developer has in fact been selected to develop the site. The developer selected by the city is called EYA. They are the same developers that built townhomes at 13th & V on the former Children’s Hospital property and near the Navy Yard @ 3rd/M SE. Most of their developments involved mixed use and mixed income developments.

    There is a website called nodrillingatmcmillan(dot)blogspot(dot)com which summarizes some of the proposals and information released to the public about the development plans.

  • The 20 concrete towers were used as bins and pump houses to filter drinking water. There are underground pipes that lead to the 12-foot concrete vaults.

    There are no environmental issues with the site.

  • The Morlocks will never stand for this.

  • And who do you think is pushing hardest for the controversial redevelopment plan? That’s right. The CHUDs. Mcmillan Resevoir redevelopment would cause the value of subterranean CHUD properties to skyrocket. It all comes down to real estate speculation from CHUD newcomers who want to cash in at the expense of longtime Morlock residents. Pleasant Plains has historically been a Morlock community and in the name of interspecies harmony, this plan should not go forward without proper community input. So long as there aren’t any bright lights because their eyes are really sensitive.

  • I think City Paper had a long article on the site. The big problem with it I think are the demolition costs. There are underground and massive cisterns made of brick that would require removal and trucking out of millions of old bricks and fill. The city and the feds have never been able to agree who should pay for that demo.

    Or I am dreaming…

    I did hop the fence and spend a day in the ‘forbidden zone’ long ago. Good times, but no aliens or secret missiles found.

  • Are they thinking of putting a metro station in there? What line would it be on?

  • To the untrained eye it may look like a water filtration plant but for those in the know, it is clearly a zombie breeding facility (hence the body found in there – the zombies have to eat). There is another zombie breeding facility on New York Avenue just south of the National Arboretum entrance. This one was built specifically for canine zombies (as seen by the numbered “kennels”) and has huts in the back for the humanoid dog-trainer zombies. I, for one, am wary of my tax dollars being spent on such a program because of the inherent risk to the community.

    Keep watching those zombie flicks people, because they are your first line of training in the ensuing zombie fueled madness that is sure to descend upon DC when the developers break ground. Good luck to you all and each and every man woman and child to themselves.

  • Thanks to PoP for answering my question!

    IMGoph – I will definitely ask one of the friendly neighborhood folks if I have a question when passing through – though I rarely see anyone walking around when I ride by. Prob b/c I am on Michigan Ave the entire time.

    I used to joke it was a troll colony, but I like the zombie idea too.

    The one’s at the National Arboretum are great too, I forgot about those.

  • Oh and thanks for sending close-up pics sean & saf. They’re great!

  • I’m probably dreaming, but I would hope any future development retains much of this site. It’s strange, mysterious, historic and green in a city where all new development, while necessary and welcome, is mostly boring, uninspired and virtually indistinguishable from other new development. Old, singular and unintentionally unique antiquity is what made many “rediscover” (although of course, many never left) cities in the late 1970’s and it’s sad to see these things disappear.

  • Geezer: Please take the time to read the information thoughtfully put forth by other contributors on PoP. Both the blog link and the CityPaper article point out that at the minimum a portion of the towers will be retained, because they are on the National Register of Historic Places and must be preserved. The area around these towers is to become park land.

    As Steve above said, the biggest issue is the underground vaults, which will cost an estimated $60 million to remove. (Not that trying to get financing for more apartment construction, in this economy, isn’t also a major hurdle).

  • I expressed my sadness to the head of the developer firm at the plans. My hope would be to turn the whole area into a park sort or a eastern version of Rock Creek Park. Running trails, soccer fields, picnic areas and so on. Would cause the surrounding property values to sky rocket of course. But no, they are going to fill it with a bunch of overpriced condos while claiming it to be mixed-income. Such a lie.

  • If they do end up building something there, I hope they keep a good chunk of it as parks. At least keep some of the “silos.”

    For a few historical photos, p. 176 at:

  • Why, why, why, do so many commentators refuse to read the comments that other people have thoughtfully laid out? There are several links to articles, renderings of various proposals, and explanations of the land use. And obviously quite a few posters haven’t even bothered to glance at this information.

    The silos are on the National Register of Historic Places and will be preserved. The area around them will be parkland. The latest proposal showed acres and acres of land set aside for parks.

    The latest plans showed several thousand ‘residential units’—which is NOT synonymous with ‘CONDO’! Some of the residential units were to be a nursing home. The rest were to be set aside as rentals. Before you get your renter-hatin’ on, this was just a proposal. In this market even a developer with a successful track record can’t get financing for any kind of residential development.

    The idea that all 25 acres would be turned into parkland was given up years ago when the district decided to turn over the land to a developer instead of giving it to the parks district. There is no developer anywhere in the world that develops parks, because they are a for-profit business and parks do not make profit.

    And I hope no one starts an ‘I heard there was going to be a Whole Foods’ rumor. The latest proposal includes retail space but is years away from getting participation or commitment from retail tenants. And no developer can ever guarantee a particular retailer will sign a lease. The lease signing happens after the developer has turned over the property to a management company.

  • @Apocraphyl – it is clear you know too much. I thought by allowing Matt Dunn to post pictures of my soulless zombie minions, their growing population would go unnoticed by the mindless masses. But you have force me to tip my hand. So now I must enter stage, running for WARD 4 COUNCIL MEMBER!

    Cringe in fear.

  • this would make a great location for balloon rides.

  • If we want it to become green space like rock creek park, which I think is a fabulous idea, we should stop cutting the grass and let nature take its course. It will be well-forested in fewer than 20 years.

Comments are closed.