“If you didn’t know it, you’d think this new house is part of the original row of homes”

historic

“Dear PoPville,

There is a really great bit of infill happening next to the former Frazier’s funeral home at Rhode Island Ave and Florida Ave, NW. There was an empty lot on 4th st between old funeral home and two old row houses.

The developer has done a solid and filled in the lot with a new construction row home that is built to look like it is part of the original row on 4th st. It’s been great to watch this one go up. The masonry work and proportions have been done without any short cuts. If you didn’t know it, you’d think this new house is part of the original row of homes on 4th st. It’s looking like it will be a two unit building. Should be interesting to see how much it all goes for.

Checkout google street view from 4th st or S st to see this without the new construction.

There used to be a row house on this lot and it’s address was 1801 4th Street, NW. Here’s a link to a letter from DCRA to the developer regarding their plans to rebuild on the lot.”

39 Comment

  • So this house is absolutely great for new construction – the masonry alone must’ve cost a fortune. My slight nitpick has to do with what I recall as ever-so-slightly undersized windows in the front bay. I can’t see it in the provided photo, but I recall fixating on that when I walked by the other day. It’s very minor and likely unnoticeable to most, but it bugged me for some reason.

    • I think the size might be historically accurate, but what you might be picking up on is the (contrasting) coloring, which draws attention to just the immediate material surrounding the glass panes, and not the entire frame and casing. – great work though!

  • this proves that quality architecture can still be created today and that we shouldnt settle for half assed pops.

  • Couldn’t disagree more.

    In the architecture profession, we call this Historicism. It has a negative connotation, and promotes the idea that the architect is just ripping off something that’s already been done.

    The house is not of it’s time (another important attribute), and even the folks at DC HPO encourage contemporary buildings to look different from older buildings.

    This one is a loser…sorry.

    • I can see why, from an architectural standpoint, this is not interesting or novel. But from the perspective of a citizen and neighbor, this approach is vastly better than most of the garbage that constitutes new construction in the District these days. I would welcome high quality, interesting new architecture that is “of its time,” but that is just not what we get most of the time.

    • I’d be supportive of this perspective, if so much of the contemporary architecture in DC wasn’t so awful.

    • I tend to agree with you when a new neighborhood is being built (those newish brick townhouse homes in the ‘burbs trying to look old are just creepy) – but for infill housing in old city neighborhoods, I like this. From this one photo, this looks to be better done than most I’ve seen – they usually nod to row house architecture, but screw up royally in the things like height of each floor, window placement, and quality of bricks and masonry.

    • that’s ignorant…sorry.

      ledroit park is a historically protected neighborhood.

      • How is that ignorant?

        I’ve done plenty of buildings in historic districts, and I’ve gone before the HPRB 10+ times, and been reviewed at staff level numerous other times. I’ve never had an HPO officer say that a new building should look just like an old building. In fact, they always recommend that we don’t blur the line between old and new.

        If an existing building is currently on site, they won’t allow us to do much to it…but a blank slate needs to be of its’ time. Everyone in the profession agrees…even the most conservative preservationist.

        • Your POV is certainly not “ignorant” for those who know anything about this topic – you’re absolutely right in how you summarized the widely accepted stance on “historicism”. I too agree with this stance at a high-conceptual level, but I have very few qualms over this particular building. Does this deserve mention in Architecture Digest? No, probably not. But I think this works just fine in its given context. This isn’t anywhere close to being as egregiously ugly as those newer abominations on the SE side of Logan Circle (just to give one example). I doubt many people would even realize that it’s infill construction until sometime further down the line.

          • Scratch the “until further down the line” bit. Had another thought that I edited, but apparently not enough.

        • So what would have been your choice?

        • its only historicism if its blindly recreating or borrowing elements of the past. that’s not the case here. its a perfect reproduction of the neighboring houses, restoring almost perfectly what was on the lot before it was destroyed to make way for a driveway. it is stunning in its craft and attention to detail. my guess is that you’re disappointed you can’t bring the same quality to your own projects.

    • Architects have been doing that for centuries. And, I don’t see a problem with it!

    • I don’t understand what’s wrong with copying architecture that people like and that fits in the neighborhood. Architects seem to have a fetish for the new, and experimental designs are often wildly out of context. Neighbors have to live with what’s built, and if Architects can’t figure out new designs that people want to live next to that comovement the neighborhood, why not go with tried and true designs. Call it historicism or whatever, it’s a beautiful building, and I’d be proud to have that as my neighbor.

    • Architects always want to leave their mark with some new or cutting edge design but often times they leave crap behind. Buildings that are praised for being “cutting edge” or deviating from the boring DC standard. But people grow tired of the new when it gets old and then those structures are torn down in 20-30-40 years. We need more Historicism and less Suzane Reatig. Quality design and construction to last another 100 years.

    • HPO does not require replicating historic buildings because modern architects and builders don’t have the skill to pull it off. Not too mention the materials are generally not made anymore. But when the architects and builders exhibit that they have the skill to get it right (as the case here), and owners have the commitment, HPO and HPRB will not deny the attempt. The architect, Michael Vallen has no peer in DC when it comes to incorporating historic research and details into his designs. And getting them through zoning. Did you see what he had to to do to design his way through that keyhole?

    • not all architects agree w/ Cjohn, especially this one. sometimes being a great neighbor is better than being of our time. the trained eye will always be able to tell the date of construction. I say down with the secretary’s standards and the architectural establishment!

  • This is such a fun project. I wonder if the same developer fixed up the adjacent properties? They look very similar and have been remodeled recently, based on what the white house looks like in the photos in the zoning letter.

    • Same owner/architect restored the corner building. It used to have formstone on it. The lot of the rowhouse they rebuilt had been used as a parking lot for the corner building when it was used as a funeral home.

  • I wonder why they didn’t add a 4th floor

  • I wish they didn’t (have to) reduce the windows on the side of the home (and the slate roof depth)… the proposed side elevation from the letter looks so much nicer!

  • Wow, i really love this! That era of house is gorgeous and they did a great job with it. I would love to see interior photos too.

  • In Chicago, at least while I lived there, they often built new condos in the style of the neighborhood and I prefer it myself. Contemporary styles seem to look dated quickly IMO.

  • Now THAT is great historic preservation!

  • Also, if I’m reading this correctly, the two houses to the left are old, and only the one next to the alley, the one we see part of the side of, is new – is that right? In that case, since the three obviously read as a group (and I’m sure the three original houses did, too), this can be seen as restoring part of a building, not a free standing separate building – and re-filling out the row of three was the smartest thing to do here, in my opinion.

  • Lion of LeDroit

    I’m one of the neighbors in the “old” historic rowhomes next door. The developer did indeed do a fantastic job throughout the process: he was respectful, communicative, and spent a great deal of time consulting the specs on my own property in order to try and recreate the original property that sat at 1801 4th Street NW (which was torn down approx. a century ago in order to create a driveway for what used to be the funeral home on the corner; the same developer restored that property as well). He noted (to me, at least) that he doesn’t plan to sell, but rather intends to hold the property as a two-unit rental for the foreseeable future. The “historicism” argument (above), while perhaps applicable in other contexts (i.e., the Disneyfication of retail/restaurants and certain McMansion developments) seems somewhat academic to me; based on the feedback that I’ve gathered to date from friends, neighbors and passersby, I’d say the general public is overwhelmingly pleased by the earnest (non-Disney) attempt to accurately recreate a “historic” early 20th-century Victorian rowhome in the neighborhood. I would note that the architectural academy also once deemed “brutalism” to be a positive aesthetic development; I think the (almost) entirely negative public reaction over the years to that particular style of architecture speaks for itself. It would seem, to me at least, that the affinity for a particular architectural style that withstands the test of time (and many a passing fad) is the strongest argument for continuing to build (perhaps w certain modern elements and improvements, where practicable) at least some homes/retail according to that same style for the foreseeable future. The seemingly persistent demand for the turn-of-the-(last)-century Victorian architectural style certainly speaks to an aesthetic that has generally withstood the test of time, at least in the (well-healed) general public’s view. I also love “modern” homes/additions (esp juxtaposed against historic homes), but what other developers have (mostly) built ground up nearby in Shaw (where there are no historic protections) is truly abysmal from an aesthetic/quality standpoint. Bravo to the developer at 1801 4th Street NW for at least putting in the time/effort to build new construction with pride and quality of craftsmanship.