Proposed Development for Historic Franklin School Building will transform space “into exhibit space for contemporary art, sculpture, installations and performances”

13th and K Street, NW

From a press release:

“Mayor Vincent C. Gray today announced the selection of the team of Institute for Contemporary Expression and EastBanc Inc. (ICE-DC) to rehabilitate and reuse the historic Franklin School, located in Downtown D.C. in Ward 2. The proposed development will bring an exciting new cultural use unlike any other in the District to a building of great historic and architectural significance that has sat fallow for too long.

“Franklin School is a historic treasure, and we are excited to have a team that will preserve its character while also creating an innovative, cultural experience for the surrounding community and the District as a whole,” said Mayor Gray. “It will complement and enhance the District’s already vibrant cultural offerings.”

ICE-DC will restore the building’s exterior and original interior details, while transforming the rehabilitated building into exhibit space for contemporary art, sculpture, installations and performances. The proposed development also includes adult and student art education programs, a new restaurant and café, and an arts bookstore. Further, ICE-DC plans to work closely with the National Park Service (NPS) and the District to integrate art and to coordinate educational programs and events in the redesigned Franklin Square Park. The team demonstrates the skills and experience to successfully lead the rehabilitation and reuse of the Franklin School, and offers learning and training opportunities for District residents interested in contemporary art, curatorial practice and culinary art.

“With the completion of this selection process we are now a step closer to revitalizing Franklin School and giving it a new life,” said Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Victor L. Hoskins. “It will create new jobs and provide educational and mentoring programs as well as new retail amenities. It will also create a new destination and tourist attraction in synergy with Franklin Square Park.”

The Franklin School, located at 925 13th Street NW, is listed on the DC Inventory of Historic Sites and the National Register of Historic Places at the highest level of designation as a National Historic Landmark. Built in 1869, the Franklin School was the flagship school in a group of seven modern urban buildings constructed as the first to house a comprehensive system of free universal public education in the District. The building was the site of Alexander Graham Bell’s photo-phone experiments in 1876, housed the city’s first high school in 1880, and became the administrative headquarters of the District school system from 1928 until 1968. From 1969 until 1990, the building served as an Adult Education Center. Currently vacant, the District’s goal is to restore the building to showcase this unique structure and pay homage to its history.

The Request for Qualifications (RFQ) was issued by the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) in April of 2013. DMPED then issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) in July of 2013 to qualified teams who responded to the RFQ. Responses were received in October of 2013 and community presentations were made at the end of October. As part of the first steps of the disposition process, the District will commence negotiations with the selected team over the next several weeks.”

18 Comment

  • Wasn’t there an exterior restoration not too long ago? Why do they need to do it again so soon?

  • So happy this is getting put to use. Used to work right near there and wonder why no one had done anything with one of the prettiest/preserved buildings in DC. Glad to hear this news.

  • who will run the exhibit space? will it charge admission or how will it fund itself? or is this going to be another Lincoln Theater where it sits underused for years and DC pays to prop it up?

    • Or another DC History Museum that takes a landmark building, spends a fortune renovating it, then runs it into the ground when there’s no demand for the service provided? While I love the arts as much as the next bourgeois DC yuppie, I’d rather have seen a proposal with an actual business plan behind it rather than a hazy notion of cooking classes, art exhibits, and mentoring programs. That didn’t work out so well for the LivingSocial’s event space. Has anything changed to make the same concept in a city-owned building a self-supporting operation?

      • Agreed this will be a failure of epic proportions. In a city that has more museums then any other on the planet someone actually thinks this is a good plan. Additionally “performance space” is already abundant at the numerous facilities throughout the city and region. I like the idea of small business incubator space or turning it into a hotel.

        • Well, the big difference with this building is, it’s walking distance from thousands of downtown workers. I could definitely see lots of people taking lunchtime or after-work dates or make solo excursions to this place to break up the daily grind. Also, another pay museum – the National Gallery of Women in the Arts – is at 13th & H and has stayed open for years, so it can be done.

          • Women in the Arts has a world-class collection. From this press release it sounds like DC-ICE will be exhibit space for local contemporary artists. Doesn’t seem like that would be such a big draw when you can go any number of local galleries for free. And people taking lunchtime classes in this city? Again, didn’t LivingSocial already try that using a smaller and even more convenient (e.g., spitting distance to metro) space?

  • I am most thrilled that this magnificent building will be something that everybody can enjoy, and not some asinine luxury condos.

  • This is a beautiful building and I’m very glad that they are going through with a rehab to turn this into an art space. One thing I don’t quite understand, however, is who is going to pay for all of this. Is DC fronting the cost? Where will they get art of sufficient standing to fill this space? Will the Feds fund the programming? DC? Can’t imagine that a restaurant, cafe, and bookstore can generate enough revenue stream to fund even the basic upkeep.

  • nice to see a development that isn’t luxury condos or apartments.

  • It’s great that this building is being redeveloped and put to use. Anything is better then a vacant building. What I would really love to see is one of these historic buildings turned into a small business incubator, a location with reduced rents for tech start-ups or other designated business so that they can get off the ground and create a footprint in DC. The arts seem very well cared for in the District, but I worry that new businesses (that is, if you are not a condo developer or a restaurant/bar owner) are not getting the same attention.

  • I remember some type of proposal from many many years ago to turn this building into some type of health spa / gym / urban country club hybrid from some company that had done one of them in New York. They were going to add a pool somewhere – the NYC one had one on the roof, but I don’t know if that was structurally feasible for this building as a retrofit.

    While the idea of some yuppie club that costs $200-$300 a month to be a member of is somewhat unappealing to a lot of people, it is something that is economically viable. There’s enough people in DC who would pay the membership fees just to be part of an exclusive club. I don’t know that this idea will be able to afford the maintenance of the building alone, much less ever becoming profitable. Does anybody remember the idea for the fancy club or what the name of the NYC one was? Apparently the NYC one became immensely popular after being featured on Sex in the City.

    • Yes, during the Fenty admin this was the plan. I don’t remember the developer or the NYC location, but it was to be some kind of exclusive clubby spa place….sort of an urban country club or some such thing. Like you said, it would probably be successful and self-supporting given the number of law firms and other professional associations in and around Franklin square. This art/teaching/performing space seems just so harebrained, unless the city plans to waste taxpayer money to subsidize it.

  • tonyr

    Ideally this would function something like PS1. However PS1 is smaller, in New York and has MoMA’s not inconsideable funding behind it. So there’s that.

  • It could be great – as in Venice Biennale – Art Basel etc. It could be really good if they had space for the DC Fringe Festival – which will probably have to leave DC entirely because of rapacious developers (that don’t realize that people pay a premium to live in condo canyons downtown exactly because they are close to exciting downtown arts experiences.)

    Art – defined in the broadest sense – is the main attraction to living in a city. Even shows like Art-O-matic bring in lots of people. DC govt. is always a crapshoot of competence, but we can still hope!

  • Good thing they busted the homeless out of the Franklin School (in 2008) so it could sit vacant for years on its way to becoming a vital “performance space” for the city. As predicted, it really cleared the homeless out of Franklin Park, for a start. And yes, this is sarcasm.

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