Dear PoPville – Why Save this Facade?

1916 14th Street, NW

“Dear PoPville,

A few days ago you posted about the significant preservation effort that is built into the large development at 6th and K. I’m often pleased by the fact that many historic buildings and facades are preserved as a part of new developments, and amazed at the efforts they undertake. But sometimes, like in the case of The Louis building at 14th and U, I’m just left bewildered.

The extent of the “preservation” seems to be just the facade of an older single story building, and not all that interesting a facade at that. How/why does this happen? Is the developer given an incentive to keep such a “structure”? Surely they can re-recreate something like what the photo shows them to be preserving – it’s just a front with some trim… What’s the deal with these preservations?”

Ed. Note: This is the facade of the former El Paraiso restaurant which closed in July 2011. The surrounding buildings were demolished in May 2012.

29 Comment

  • Isn’t it for the DC tax credit?

    • Preserving a meh facade, one story high, 40 feet long, and crumbling – gets you a tax credit?

      • I don’t know about this case, but in other cities it can mean the difference between getting construction permits and getting renovation permits. Different process and price structure that makes it worth the extra cost of working around some element of the previous building.

  • Also, has anyone noticed that one of the support pillars (I think it’s the one next to what will be the entrance to the parking garage) has a severe lean to it? Really hope that it’s meant to be built that way. Every time I walk past the place, the pillar looks like it’s going to collapse onto itself.

    • This came up in an earlier discussion about another project (maybe on U St?). The engineers in the crowd convinced us that this is OK and doesn’t impact its load-bearing abilities.

      • It’s called a sloped column…basically it allows the column to clear some type of obstruction. They’re pretty standard in reinforced concrete construction, especially here in DC

  • My guess is it’s mostly if not entirely an aesthetic choice. If you look at the rendering it seems like this facade is the beginning of a setback between two taller facades.

    • If it’s aesthetic, I just don’t get it: hard to imagine that it would have been cheaper to preserve that junky bit of old building. Surely it’s going to get a near-total facelift before it’s done, leaving little of the original.

  • totally a ‘meh facade’ and in this case seemingly irrelevant but its’ preservation serves as a good proxy for developers looking to flip a block.

  • saf

    In some cases it’s for zoning purposes – preserving the existing building (kinda) allows things like lot coverage to follow older rules.

  • My dad works in construction, and after he saw the facade that they’re keeping at the old Chinese embassy on CT Ave, he told me that if the builder/developer keeps the facade, it qualifies as a renovation as opposed to a complete rebuild, which I guess has to do with the taxes that are paid on the structure while being built.

    • Yeah – Cameroon is doing the same thing in Georgetown at Wisc & Reservoir. It greatly eases the permit process.
      It might be a “meh facade” – but it adds a little bit of connection to the past so why not?

    • and that façade is ugly

  • mid city guy

    It has nothing to do with tax credits. HPRB ( HIstoric Preservation Review Board) considers any building older than 50 years to be a contributing structure, and therefore generally cannot be razed; at least without a mayors agent hearing. It essentially forces the developer and architect to design the new building to stay in context with the overall existing scale of the neighborhood.

    You can’t look at the posted photo in a vacuum. The enclosed rendering shows how they had to keep numerous structures on the site which drove the design to accommodate all of the historic facades and more or less steer the design of the new building to be more contextual.

    • I used to be a fan of this stuff, keep the facade and build around it with a nod to its precedent. After years of looking at one of the first of these at 21st and Penn, I just find it forced and kind of silly now -Sorry.

    • On U street, they kept entire row houses and the corner buildings. Great. Fine. Better aesthetics than what you get with most of these identical faux-old brick and glass buildings. But the facade on 14th street, the one I posted a photo of, is not in the same category as keeping whole buildings. It is a crumbling facade that will need a total facelift, leaving just some concrete pillars and beams from the original.

      I’m glad they didn’t build out a big box right to the curb, and if preserving the hunk of junk was the ticket to doing that, great – but it’s a funny world where someone either has to keep, or gets credit for keeping, a small piece of unremarkable architecture like that.

      also, if you think architectural renderings are any less of a misrepresentation than a photo of the *real* building from a given angle, then I’ve got a bridge I want to sell you…

      • Agree entirely. Saving this facade was a waste. Too bad there’s no sane review process to get rid of this kind of run-down and junky stuff.

      • If the criticism boils down to the aesthetics, then you should remember that that is entirely subjective. You see a plain boring facade, someone else may see something entirely different. It is the entire problem with the HPRB process. It leaves what is worth preserving up to an entitled few because honestly, how else would you do it?

  • Would it have been a “better” design if they hadn’t kept it? Not necessarily, so who cares? It was worked into the large design of an nearly block-long building. There really isn’t any mystery here.

  • Don’t care just give us Trader Joe’s

  • austindc

    Well, I’m no expert, but my brother’s cousin’s dog’s trainer’s ex-girlfriend once rode her bike past a place that sells hammers, and she said that sometimes you have to maintain part of an old building if it’s haunted because if you remove the haunted portion, the ghosts end up in the landfill, and who wants a haunted landfill. I’m not saying this facade is haunted, but it almost certainly is.

  • I miss El Paraiso. Such great chicharones! And cheap beer. There should be a ghosts of 14th street feature. We’ve lost some character and added some Georgetown (especially clientele). I know this is supposed to be for the better – just hard to accept.

  • Wow, so many debbie downers piping in here. The facade is being saved because it’s cheaper/easier to do so than to get rid of it (see: DC govt bureaucracy). It looks like $hit right now because they are in the middle of construction – it will look a million times better when completed. Don’t you folks have jobs that require some level of effort? With so many arm chair architects here, seems like that answer is a resounding “no”.

  • I like it. If they tore down the facade that half of the block would be all new and monotonous. It helps to break up the new construction at street level and gives nice design variety as you walk up the block. I think it will look great when done.

  • Unless you have a masters in architecture or architectural history, I don’t understand why one believes they are qualified to asses the architectural integrity or structural stability of a historic property. Without architectural preservation Georgetown, Savanna, New York and many other older cities would have been torn down and rebuilt in the 60s and 70s.
    Do some research:

    Educate yourself and leave important decisions of facade and beauty to trained professionals ( or at least someone who values DC history).

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