- The Washington Times - Friday, May 13, 2005

The new Woolly Mammoth Theatre isn’t the only good performer on the block, which is finally coming alive after decades of planning. Extending along the east side of Seventh Street Northwest between D and E streets are recently completed condominiums and refurbished old buildings that reflect an architectural milestone in Penn Quarter’s mixed-use development. Philip Esocoff of Esocoff & Associates, a D.C. architect responsible for some of the best new apartment buildings on Massachusetts Avenue, has deftly interwoven the block’s 428 condominium units and 13 historic structures with mutual respect.

Such amalgams of new and old have long been used to revitalize Penn Quarter, but in architectural terms, they haven’t been entirely successful. One example is the fussy, pediment-topped Lansburgh apartment complex across the street, one of the first mixed-use experiments downtown.

In his condo complex, the Jefferson at Penn Quarter, Mr. Esocoff manages to avoid overpowering the preserved landmarks on the block by paying attention to history. His rhythmic brick facades of projecting bays and recessed balconies translate the proportions of the block’s smaller structures into a larger scale. Double-hung windows, framed by cast-stone lintels and sills, are set deep enough into the brick walls to convey the substantiality of load-bearing masonry.

However, there is no denying that the new 11-story structure is massive compared with its frontispiece of old buildings. Segments of the block are executed as a “facadomy,” that is, only the fronts of the historic structures are maintained, with new construction behind them — more Disney-like than true preservation. They include the reassembly of three facades originally located on Pennsylvania Avenue that had been dismantled decades ago and stored in Suitland. One of these fronts the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company.

To give the old structures some breathing room, Mr. Esocoff set the bulk of the new condo block a generous distance back from the street. Where the new building is pushed to the sidewalk on E Street, its brick shaft and limestone base harmonize with both the modern federal office building and historic structures to either side.

This is responsible background architecture that blends in but at the same time isn’t bland. Sprinkled throughout are the whimsical, decorative touches that have become Mr. Esocoff’s signature: sawtooth bays on the alley, ventilation shafts treated as “chimneys,” metal balconies, ornamental tiles and gates, rooftop trellises, and a corner that spools into a rounded tower. These flourishes are subordinated to an overall modern crispness that keeps the building from pandering to history.

With this residential complex and the new Woolly Mammoth Theatre, Penn Quarter finally has a mixed-use development with architecture as enticing as the activities it supports.

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