- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 23, 2006

Federated Department Stores plans to close and sell the historic Hecht’s warehouse on New York Avenue in Northeast, D.C., next spring, eliminating 250 jobs at the distribution center.

Federated, the Cincinnati company that bought Hecht’s parent company in August, plans to help relocate the 250 employees who work in the facility at 1401 New York Ave. NE. The merchandise that went through the distribution center will be moved to facilities in Joppa, Md., Secaucus, N.J., and Stone Mountain, Ga.

The announcement opens up 758,000 square feet near a redeveloping area. Farther west on New York Avenue, the District’s Department of Planning is trying to spur economic growth near the new Metro stop at New York and Florida avenues Northeast and the future site of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives building there. The warehouse is one-quarter of a mile away from the eastern edge of the targeted area.

The nearby development makes the distribution center’s sale more likely than when it was a run-down, unsafe area.

“I’m not as worried about it as I would have been five years ago,” said Lauren Adkins, who was involved in preservation work at the Hecht’s facility as the former president of the Art Deco Society of Washington. “If I were an owner of that building, I would set my sights high on what the building could be sold for.”

“It’s certainly a desirable piece of real estate,” said Norman Jemal, vice president at the District’s Douglas Development Corp. “It’s a good opportunity for the neighborhood to evolve … the area has changed a lot.”

Douglas Development has a history of renovating old retail buildings, including the Woodward & Lothrop building on F Street Northwest, which now holds an H&M; store and office space, and the 700 block of Seventh Street Northwest, which now has restaurants and shops.

“Certainly, a warehouse and distribution facility isn’t the best use today,” Mr. Jemal said, adding that the company will look at the site as it does with all available real estate.

The Hecht’s building, which was constructed in 1937, has a rounded exterior of black, white and glass brick and is blazoned with the Hecht’s name on the New York Avenue side. It is recognized as one of the premier art-deco sites in the Washington area, where most buildings were constructed in the classical style, Ms. Adkins said.

“The building’s rounded corners and horizontal bands give it this surging vitality that you would not expect from a warehouse. It was designed to be a symbolic beacon of hope in the Great Depression,” said Richard Striner, a professor of American history at Washington College who co-authored “Washington Deco,” a book on Washington area art deco.

The warehouse is on the National Register of Historic Places, which means construction plans for the building would have to be approved by historic preservationists. The open space inside the building means it could be turned into loft housing or office space.

“In terms of people looking for actual loft development, it doesn’t get much better than that,” Ms. Adkins said.

The building was designed to be converted into a department store, Mr. Striner said. Now, that would require poking holes in the ground floor for display space, which preservationists would not be likely to approve, Ms. Adkins said.

The plant closing is the latest in a series of moves Federated has made to eliminate the Hecht’s name since it acquired May Department Stores Co. Earlier this month, the company announced plans to close Hecht’s Arlington headquarters, laying off nearly 600 employees. All Hecht’s stores are scheduled to be changed to the Macy’s name this fall.

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