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Cover story: Old buildings ‘repurposed’ as unique housing
Question of the Day
Later projects like the one that saved Adolf Cluss’ Charles Sumner School, built in 1872 at 17th and M streets Northwest, included additional building, either on adjacent property or as an addition to the existing structure. The 1939 Greyhound Bus terminal, probably the best example of art moderne architecture in the city, was completely incorporated into the new office high-rise that surrounds it.
Meanwhile, Douglas Development LLC’s plans for the old Wonder Bread Factory complex on S Street Northwest includes 24,000 feet of office space and preservation of the light, airy feeling of the original building’s interior. (You won’t get to smell the bread baking, though.)
Downtown on G Street Northwest, the 1918 Mather Building is being revitalized to include visual and performing arts spaces, offices, affordable housing for local artists and market-rate condominiums. The old terra-cotta facade has been thoroughly restored in an effort to highlight one of the building’s defining elements, and the interior has been rehabilitated and reconfigured.
Like many buildings downtown, the Mather Building has had a checkered past. Erected as an office building, it later served as academic and studio space for Federal City College, a predecessor of the University of the District of Columbia. Mr. Morrison said when he first walked in, it was a mess.
“There was a bowling alley on the second floor, and projects left in kilns,” he said of the space, which had been used as an arts center but had been abandoned in the early 1990s.
Today, developers are more likely to try to work with all or part of the existing structure, in part because there is some capital in those old interiors.
“The alternative is razing and selling for development,” Mr. Morrison said. “Part of this is about valuing the cultural asset of architecture. It’s imperative that we look for uses for buildings that help create the future of the city.”
Of course, most cities have quite a few aging structures. While the District did not have the industrial base that New York, Philadelphia or Baltimore had, it still has quite a few spaces ready to be turned into loft apartments or retail meccas.
The Maples, on Capitol Hill, for example, was built in 1795-96 by William Lovering for a prominent land speculator. Subsequent owners included Francis Scott Key. Constantino Brumidi, painter of the Capitol frescoes, later decorated the ballroom with his own work.
To repurpose the building, which had spent years as the offices of a social services organization, Cunningham/Quills planned a “strategy of strategic insertions and deletions” that included removing some of the additions from the 1930s and later while reorienting the house as it originally had been planned.
Along the Georgetown waterfront, there are a number of adaptive reuses of industrial spaces that give more than a nod to the neighborhood’s industrial past.
Meanwhile, the small towns and countryside surrounding the District have felt their own versions of time and change, opening up possibilities for adaptive-reuse projects.
In Sykesville, Md., the 1883 railroad depot is now an upscale dining and music venue, Baldwin’s Station, and the anchor for a revitalization that extends to the historic town itself. In Brunswick, Md., gourmet coffee and bakery goods are served in what used to be an old church. And scattered throughout the towns and villages of Greater Washington are old schoolhouses, general stores and stagecoach inns that have been turned into private, comfortable, one-of-a-kind homes.
Then there are the barns. The fact is, the Greater Washington area is full of them, from 18th-century stone buildings to the more familiar red wooden barns and brown tobacco barns.
These days, many barns, with their old wood, solid construction and tangible links to the past are finding new life as residences, workshops and even commercial venues.
By Matt Kibbe
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