DCRA Finds The Wonder Bread Factory in Shaw to be “Structurally Unsafe”

by Prince Of Petworth — March 15, 2011 at 10:22 pm 71 Comments

Last week I wrote about the DC Preservation League’s 40th Anniversary Party to be held April 21st at the Wonder Bread factory located at 641 S St, NW. Because the building has been vacant for so long I wondered how it could possibly be cleaned up in time for an April 21st party. Well unless I’m reading the DCPL’s invitation incorrectly, it seems like there is no way they are going to be able to have this party in the Wonder Bread Factory. I submitted a FOIA request to DCRA to see if I could learn a bit more about the property and found some very interesting (and quite frankly sad) information.

On March 14th Inspector James Parman wrote:

The building at the address above is structurally unsafe. The building has rotten flooring members on both the first and second floor levels. The roof structure has collapsed in some areas. At least one support beam for the roof support system has rotted and failed. The sub flooring throughout the building has heaved up to a height of approximately 12”. The building did not have any working lighting system at time of inspection. Due to theses items listed this structure is a dangerous site to be working in and this is the reason that the building was posted.

The owner of the building needs to due the following before the building can be deemed safe to work in. The owner needs to have an Engineer make a site visit to the site. The Engineer needs to write a report concerning the structural condition of the building. The report needs to address what correction need to be made to made to site safe to work in. The engineer needs to write a safely plan on how and where work can be done inside the building.
The report needs to be submitted to DCRA for review. No one is to remove the posted signs in till approval from the code official is given. This typed report reflects the items that where part of the written report that was given to the owners Rep. at the site. James F. Parman 3/14/2011

Through the FOIA request I was also able to get some photos taken at the inspection of the property:

I can’t say I’m totally surprised at the condition inside but (to me and my untrained eye) it seems like this project is quickly approaching the point of no return. Since we have lots of engineers and architects reading this blog – what is the point of no return here? Can the building be saved? Is there any chance that DCPL will be able to host a party here in a month?

More brutal photos of the inside after the jump.

  • Dan

    Look’s to me like it’s got real problem’s.

    • Rayful Edmond

      +1. My eyes were also bleeding from the poor grammar.

      • Leiriope

        No kidding. Atrocious grammar.

    • rooty tooty

      don’t judge a man in till you have walk a mile in his shoes.

      • Anonymous

        reading comprehension is critical.

        • Bonely Herpesce

          So are the commenter’s on this blog.

          • Anon

            +1 for a clever comment

  • tarisdaddy

    It can be saved, unlimited money, and labor will prevail. Who has that in this economy you say? You may be surprised, no i don’t have inside info, just saying. The question is has the placed been deemed historically or architecturally significant? If not it should be The facade is pretty cool, and the location is prime. I tend to think it’ll get done. DCRA is doing its job, so i doubt it can be done in a month and a half, that said i still think it’ll be saved, even if the ass end is ripped off and a new building is built around that facade. That’s what preservationist do.

    Funny thing I remember when a bike shop was in there a couple three years ago. Maybe the party will be held on the first floor with port-o- pots and extension cords to the building next store.

    • I will keep playing the numbers to try and save it.

  • tarisdaddy

    Grammer shammer, dude is there to make an inspection, and protect public safety, not write the great american novel, it’s probably his second or third language. He’s an engineer for the city not your 5th grade english teacher Jeez! I think his photos and captions are quite eloquent.

    Sorry I don’t mean to lower the standards of our beautiful language.

  • Davester

    Is anyone really surprised that Douglas Development wouldn’t let the building rot?

  • Chris

    tarisdaddy – it’s that same complacent attitude that leaves us in the dust in the global market. Moreover, these mistakes aren’t just careless, they’re fundamentally wrong which diminishes the credibility of his report (ie the “failed structural beam” he speaks of looks more like decorative tin adjacent to the beam.)

    Don’t get me wrong, this building is in terrible shape, but so were/are most of the houses in the area that have gone neglected for decades. This building can and will be saved. Quite frankly, it’s in “move-in condition” compared to the Howard Theater before they started work on it last year!

    • Tres

      Your inability to punctuate properly is indicative of the same complacent attitude that leaves us in the dust in the global market. Moreover, your mistakes diminish the credibility of your blog post, which will be read by thousands.

      How many people do you think usually read his reports? 3 or 4?

      • Chris

        I accept the criticism, Tres, but must remind you that it’s not my job to post (unless there’s a check in the mail that I don’t know about). All kidding aside, If I didn’t have to work with them first hand, I don’t think I would be as concerned. However, this is a prime example of the continued nepotism and cronyism that flourishes at DCRA and it really holds this city back.

        • Anonymous

          Oh, BS. It has almost nothing to do with DCRA and everything to do with Marrion Barry and DC’s political class. DCRA doesn’t do anything that isn’t in the best interest of the City Council Chair.

    • NE DC

      No, the structural beam he references is definitely NOT just a failure of the decorative tin. This is a solid report.

      • TaylorStreetMan

        +1. The structural beam is the horizontal (or at least it *used to* be horizontal) piece that runs left-right in the photo. It’s clearly bent or broken, angling downward… ie, failed and NOT supporting the ceiling safely.

        Bad grammar (most definitely the trend to arbitrarily write plurals as possessives for some reason) is also one of my pet peeves, but to want to toss out this guy’s report because of it is just silly.

        You’ll be crowing about your grammar skills as the roof caves in on your head.

    • Anon

      Chris, its cute that you think you know more about structural engineering by looking at a few pictures than an actual structural engineer who examined the place in person. Especially cute since the ceiling beam (or joist if you prefer) is clearly at an angle and lacks support on one end. Criticize away, though! You, after all, are the expert.

  • Anonymous

    How many who read here can remember the lovely smell of fresh Wonder Bread when driving anywhere near there ?

  • MK

    I remember vividly. Whoever has let this building deteriorate like this should be shot dead. You could smell the bread blocks away. I remember jumping off of the streetcar and running to get the little mini loaves of bread made for kids. The bread would still be warm from the oven. The workers at the factory would slice open the top and the heat would steam out. Then they would smear it with butter which would immediately melt and run all down your hand and ruin your clothes. It was pure heaven.

    • amateuropinion

      lol +99

  • dcdiva

    @MK – what year was this? Sounds…like a perfectly delicious childhood memory. 🙂

    • amateuropinion

      You mean perfectly dubious childhood memory, right?

      • dubious – Really?

        Like grown adults could not have “solid” memories of the good ole days in DC?

        My mother use to reminiscence about swimming in the fountain out front of Union Station with her little brother or riding the train from Glen Echo to Chesapeake Beach.

        Fresh kiddy size breads sound wonderful to me.

        Life was different for them.

  • Lester

    Not that big a deal. To modernize, nearly all of this will need to be removed anyway. True, would have been better if it was saved, but a developer is going to replace any support structures in a building this old and needing repurposed (residential/commercial). I don’t remember the building just north of this location that the developer saved the wall of the old structure. It can and should be donw with Wonder. And the owner should be publicly flogged.

  • MK

    @dcdiva, well now you’re going to know what an old broad I am. This was all through the early to mid 1960’s.

    • Anonymous


      Please comment more often with your recollections.

  • Jeru

    @MK, thank you for sharing. There are so many decayed buildings that one can look at and tell they were once vibrant and significant. It’s great to hear a story from someone who experienced the building during its heyday.

    • Jen


  • Anonymous

    Demolition by neglect of a historic and attractive building for the purposes of less expensively tearing it down by a politically connected developer given handouts by the city government?

    Say it ain’t so.

    Marrion Barry’s legacy still shines today.

    • Bonely Herpesce

      Doug Jemal is an asshole for allowing this place to fall into such a level of disrepair. He’s got the District government eating from his hand, so he’s able to get away with anything he pleases.

  • steveg202

    Of primary importance to me is the engineer’s primary job -to determine the safety and remedy measures. To that I am no expert. To fault a guy on his grammar is, well, at best secondary and misses the point in my opinion. I would far prefer DCRA focus hiring the best best engineer that whose reports they can understand.

    As for the building, hope it gets saved as it looks cool and is clearly historical, with or without the designation. But more importantly would be to have the site functional and not vacant. DC is starting to return to its glory days and the more revenue the more money for critical city services. Vacancy serves nobody and becomes costly to review and protect from crime without any tax benefit to the city.

  • Starving Arch

    From the photos, there is no way this building is being used by the April date. The building is salvageable, but it will take time and money to save it.

    It is a great structure, and it should be restored.

  • farragutst

    Seriously, how did the DCPL figure they could have an event here? Was it a random decision – “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool to have an event in that old building??” Or was it because Douglas is a sponsor and said “We’ll let you use that cool old building for free. We can clean it up nicely!!”
    I don’t get it.

    • AP


  • Q-Street

    It’s a shame this building wasn’t maintained, but replacing the interior structural elements is really not a big deal.

    I don’t know why posters are worried about the building being beyond repair.

    • mphs

      Exactly. In fact, while the historic details are worth preserving, it would likely have needed some structural replacement work when it was renovated, even if Jemal had maintained it. It was never going to come back as a bakery, so it would probably need a gut renovation, with new floors and ceilings, to be made into luxury lofts.

      • Anonymous

        Or in the meantime, had he maintained the building, it could have been used to host unknown numbers of art shows that everyone coos over.

        Instead they did nothing so they could dispose of it as they wished.

        • mphs


          Feel better?

        • Q-Street

          The current owner has only had it since 1997. This building didn’t fall apart in 14 years. It has clearly been in need of a major overhaul for decades.

          That’s not a matter of spending $10k-$20k to ‘maintain’ it. It’s a matter of spending mid six figures to overhaul it.

          When does reality come into the picture for you people? Ever?

      • Chris

        Thank you!

  • DR

    I am reposting my comments from last week regarding the Wonder Bread Factory. I feel even stronger after having read POP’s blog entry today:

    10 March 2011 10:23 AM | DR Said:

    Perhaps they’ll move the drunks off the front steps to make way for guests. The Jemals certainly have a lot of chutzpah hosting an event at the Wonder Bread factory. Their neglect of the building for nearly a decade has been a thumb in the eye (and a kick in the groin) to Shaw residents. The crumbling building is so much more than just an eyesore; it presents a safety hazard and attracts rats, drug dealing and vagrants. The Jemals have sat on this property as Shaw has developed around it. (Even the O Street Market is going to get developed before the Wonder Bread factory.) The Jemals should be ashamed of themselves, and I would encourage people to boycott this event in protest.

    10 March 2011 2:29 PM | DR Said:

    The Jemals have actually done a huge amount of positive work for this city. (I am mostly willing to look past their bribing a DC city official — the official pled guilty to accepting bribes from the Jemals in 2004 — being delinquent on taxes owed the city, and falsifying loan documents by their own admission.) We owe them and Abe Pollin our gratitude for revitalizing Chinatown. My beef with the Jemals is specific to the Wonder Bread factory, a building they have left to decay and rot, and which has become an open, oozing sore in Shaw.

    • Anon

      We OWE developers our praise, thanks, and gratitude? Since when?

      They entered into a business arrangement to make money. They dont deserve gratitude, they got the pay day they were looking for. They are trying to make the same cash by sitting on vacants throughout the city and hoping that with as little overhead as possible they will turn a profit. When they turn that profit, make no changes, and sell dilapidated, dangerous, eyesores – do we thank them too?

      Not to mention, as you said, they are also involved with public corruption.

      Sounds like a stand up bunch of folks that we should award with the keys to city hall.

      • Anonymous

        Pure cynicism and hate.

        With your attitude what would ever get done ?

        Just what have you done in our city beside deride those that actually do something, Anon 9:57 AM ?

        • Anonymous

          its not like graciousness is a common trait. some people are very uncomfortable being thankful.

          • Ben

            Douglas Development is sitting on 5 million square feet of vacant property (while not paying their tax bill, depriving the city of much-needed revenue). It is Jemal’s M.O. to purchase properties and sit on them until the market is at its peak, at which time they’re either leased or sold. It’s not uncommon for a Jemal property to sit vacant for a decade or more.

            That’s fine for Jemal’s bottom line, but it’s unclear to me why I should be thankful and gracious that he behaves this way. He’s behaving like most businesses behave: motivated entirely by self-interest. It just so happens that Jemal’s line of work is the development of buildings that contribute to the urban landscape that we inhabit, as opposed to trading in financial derivatives or some other such thing. I see no reason why we city residents owe Jemal any greater debt of gratitude than, say, Lockheed-Martin or Marriott.

  • Anonymous

    Wonder Bread is still made today.

    Perhaps it could be brought back if the successors of Wonder Bread were accommodated.

    Enough of the loft condominiums, we need to be more creative in attracting a greater diversity of retail, commercial and light industrial use here in the inner city of our nation’s capital.

    And that means acceptance (for the silly, short sighted and class envious) of government concessions and temporary tax abatements. These risk takers and their privately applied private capital do well bring needed expansion of the private sector, the tax base, and good, creative, and sustaining non-residential urban use over the long term.

    We all need to think more in terms of the long term in order to bring long term quality of life to our city.

    • Anonymous

      Especially during these hard times and particularly in the private sector.

      Risk takers and private investment for the long term on non-residential land does more than any passing local politician or government program can ever do.

      • Anonymous

        It’s not risk taking when you don’t pay your taxes and you don’t develop the property.

        It’s called “Politically connected freebies”

  • Slumlord

    Looks like Douglas can’t be bothered to pay taxes on it either. This is a shame, it should be structurally repaired, and Douglas fined to hell for letting it rot.

    2009: due: $52,170.09 paid: $0.00
    2010: due: $148,281.78 paid: $0.00
    2011: due: $59,997.86 paid: $0.00
    Total outstanding: $260,449.73

    But wait, there’s more. Let’s look here to see if it’s listed as blighted:

    I can’t find it in the class 3, 4, or exempt lists. Wow.

    • Anonymous

      Not sure why it didn’t come up for tax auction all these years. Anyone normal’s house goes up for tax auction when they miss their 1/2 year payment.

      • shaq

        Look into how much he has donated to local pols through the years, and that should answer your question. Someone has to pay for those SUVs!

        • anon

          We taxpayers buy the SUV’s, the political contributions pay for the things they’re too ashamed to be caught in public with…

  • zcf

    wow. you got a response that fast from an FOIA request??

    • Lisa

      I said the same thing. More like an insider email from a DCRA employee than a FOIA request. The report was only issued two days ago. Not bad turnaround.

      I’m still waiting for a response to a request from 4 weeks ago…

  • amateuropinion

    In all likelihood, the facade can be saved. Honestly, I’m not overly enamored with it like everyone else seems to be. Loft-style condos anyone?

  • Anonymous

    It seems universal feeling about a bakery and the heavenly smell that it gives out. I remember growing up in East Africa there was a bakery around the corner from our house. First thing every morning we used to get individual sized rolls fresh from the oven with its crisp edges. I loved eating the fresh bread with hot tea/milk (chai) drink. That is all I needed. Loved it. That simple pleasure still brings smile to my face. I would love a bakery in U Street or Columbia heights. Please someone make it happen.

    • shaq

      I used to live near a bakery in Brooklyn, and at night, the bakers would leave the back door open – the smell was heavenly, but in the morning, I would rush to get a roll and realize it tasted like stale ass.

      I also began to realize that the backdoor was an invitation for mice and roaches. Yum!

      • Anonymous

        I live near a “bakery” on 11th St between Lamont and Park. This place fills the neighborhood with wonderful smells of baked cookies and cakes. They don’t sell the products there–it’s a baking and distribution facility. Turns out they sell low quality and bad tasting snacks (I think Latin inspired??) which are packaged on styrofoam meat containers. Alas, I still enjoy the smell. Just not the taste.

        • shaq

          “Alas, I still enjoy the smell. Just not the taste.”


  • The DC Preservation League has successfully held events in raw spaces over the past 40 years. In recent memory there was the Second National Bank of Washington, Tivoli, the Investment Building, the Tower Buiding, the True
    Reformer Building and Woodies downtown. All went on to be fully rehabilitated. You’ve just got to imagine the possibilities!

    The photos posted on this blog show the state of a building that has been vacant for decades and no one expects to hold a celebration in that is in a state of disrepair or would be unsafe for attendees.

    Contractors had begun work on the building and were subsequently shut-down by DCRA.

    I spoke with PoP this morning and told him that I’d keep him posted on the work being done on the building. So check back here or at DCPL’s site for updates on progress.

    Clean-up will resume shortly and we look forward to hosting a successful celebration on April 21st.

    Rebecca Miller
    Executive Director
    DC Preservation League

    • ess

      I like how this says “shut-down by DCRA” like DCRA wants the building to fall down or enjoys stopping workers from preserving/fixing buildings.

      Try “Contractors had begun work on the building but failed to pull the proper permits or otherwise follow DC law.”

      If DCPL is the impetus for getting the building fixed up a bit, that’s great. But they of all organizations shouldn’t pretend that what’s happened to the building over the past few decades is anything other than a shame.

      As for the tax rolls, everyone should be emailing the mayor, DCRA, and their council members about it. The form for reporting blighted property is http://www.dcra.dc.gov/DC/DCRA/Inspections/Housing+Code+Inspections/Register+or+Report+a+Vacant+Property/Register+or+Report+a+Vacant+Property but doing work that will make it habitable qualifies it for an exemption from the vacant property rate. With that said, the owners should still be paying SOME taxes on it. Putting it up for tax auction would encourage Jemal to actually pay the bill.

      • shaq

        Contact the mayor? Contact DCRA? Contact council members? HAHAHHA! That’s rich!

        Good one; you had me thinking we had effective politicians for a brief second.

        So, in the last three weeks, we’ve seen the following uncovered: $200K+ in unnecessary funds towards “fully-loaded” SUVs, $120K for “Sulu” Brown in a clearly redundant “job”, and a clear $250K in unpaid taxes. All of this clears more than 1% of the deficit, and nobody has really even tried to look for places to save money. At this rate, DC will have a balanced budget by year’s end!

        By the way, has anyone noticed that most of the recent corruption has come from local pols with colors for last names? Gray, Brown, Orange… who’s next? Mr. Pink?

        • bloom

          Agree. More primary colors.

          No more shades and secondaries bullhonkey.

      • Lisa

        I don’t get it? People are complaining because the building was blighted, but you are criticizing DCPL for stating that the work being done got shut down. If DCRA was so concerned with not allowing buildings to fall down, they should just drive around Shaw and start citing building owners left and right. There are a ton of buildings that are falling in on themselves and in way worse shape than this one. At least some work was getting done, permitted or not.

        I live on this block – and my neighbor said all they were doing was carting out trash and other crap. Last I checked you didn’t need permits to take your garbage out!

    • Thank you for posting information regarding this building.

      Our Inspectors visited the site on March 14 and placarded the building as being dangerous due to structural instability.

      The Inspector’s report found that no occupancy of the building can occur until a structural engineer’s report is submitted to DCRA. That report must document the condition of the entire building, as well as the property owner’s plans to correct building code violations. Until that report is submitted to DCRA, no activities can occur at the location.

      Additionally, I should note that no building permits of any sort have been issued to the property, so any construction work that was occurring (other than carting out debris) would have been done illegally.

      Our records also show no Certificate of Occupancy that would authorize the property to be used for receptions.

      The property has also been referred to our Vacant Property Unit, which will assess whether the property should be referred to the Board of Condemnation for further action.

      We have information regarding the vacant building registration requirements – as well as lists of the buildings classified as vacant or blighted for the first half of the 2011 Tax Year – available on our site: http://bit.ly/h0kVtx

      To report vacant buildings, please email us at [email protected] and send us the address of the vacant building.

      Thanks again to Prince of Petworth for these articles.

      Helder Gil

  • shaq

    Perfect fixer upper! Spacious floor-through, unobstructed by pesky support beams. Sunny and bright, endless rows of skylights. Beautiful blackout tarps can be rolled out when rain or sun requires, or just have your own personal waterfall! Bring your architect, your dreams, and your financial planner. Bidding starts at $5K/ft.

    • Anonymous

      You forgot “Old World Charm”

      • shaq

        Sorry – I just graduated from the University of DC… I’m sure Gray’s administration will help “push through” my broker’s license soon, so I can have more time to brush up on my broker buzz-words.

        Should we also mention that you can trace the heritage of the rodents back to the revolution? DAR Rat Roots!

  • ma

    well the party was on last night so does this mean it can be worked on and turned into artist studios? im ready when do we get to work

    goldleaf = Washington Art Center


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