CAPITOL HILL RESTORATION SOCIETY
P.O. BOX 15264 WASHINGTON DC 20003 202.543.0425
April 20, 2011
Ms. Catherine Buell
Chair, Historic Preservation Review Board
1100 Fourth Street, SW
Washington, DC 20024
Re: HPA #11-058; Hine School
Dear Ms. Buell:
The Capitol Hill Restoration Society (CHRS) is pleased to have this opportunity to offer its comments on the April proposal submitted by StantonEastbanc to the Historic Preservation Review Board. These plans were presented to the community at an April 5 meeting sponsored by CHRS. It was an opportunity for community members to not only see the latest revisions but also to ask questions and make comments. We were also able to distribute the Historic Preservation Guideline on New Construction in Historic Districts as well as information concerning the city’s requirements in the Terms of Agreement, the historic preservation process, summary of deadlines, and contact information. Residents have been encouraged to contact CHRS, their ANC representatives, and the Historic Preservation Review Board with their comments about the compatibility of the project with the Capitol Hill Historic District.
The development of the Hine School site is an unusual private-public undertaking for the Capitol Hill community, which usually deals only with a developer. In this case the city, through the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, has established a number of goals that it wants to achieve on this site which connects Eastern Market, Market Row, Barracks Row and the Pennsylvania Avenue commercial strip. Affordable and senior housing, office space, and retail space are all in the mix. The local merchants look forward to an expanded customer base and see the shared parking facility as crucial to their efforts. Residents on the Hill and throughout the city are considering the possibilities with an increase in the supply of one-floor living units that are now in short supply on the Hill. The project also offers space for the continuation of the weekend flea market, now a Capitol Hill tradition.
A fascinating part of the process of the redevelopment of the Hine site has been the opportunity to listen to people describing the Capitol Hill Historic District and what it means to them. “Human scale,” “tree-lined streets,” ‘not Ballston,” “urban village,” “wonderful diversity” and “historic values” were some of the descriptors used while others noted the preponderance of two- and three-story row houses, front garden spaces, views, and varying architectural styles. While there may not be universal agreement on specific concerns and comments, people were passionate defenders of the historic district and searched for the meaning of “compatibility.”
We draw your attention to the CHRS comments that follow, which are primarily the work of the Historic Preservation Committee and the Capitol Hill Restoration Society Board. They have been also been greatly informed by the comments of CHRS members and other Capitol Hill residents that we received.
Thank you for your consideration of these comments.
Elizabeth A. Purcell
COMMENTS FROM CAPITOL HILL RESTORATION SOCIETY, APRIL 2011
RE: HPA #11- 058; Hine School
The Hine School redevelopment is one of Capitol Hill’s most significant projects to be undertaken in recent years. It was the subject of a well-attended Capitol Hill Restoration Society special community meeting held April 5, 2011 to answer questions and make comments.
The architect has faced a formidable challenge in trying to meet the city’s terms, site restrictions, developer’s goals, and neighborhood resident and business priorities while establishing compatibility with the Capitol Hill Historic District. We commend the architect and development team for their continued interaction with community members and groups during the past year as they have attempted to balance competing interests and opinions.
The Capitol Hill Restoration Society has a number of comments and concerns about the Hine School project at this time:
1. Site Plan:
In general, we found that the site plan was consistent with the historic district, given the mix of uses and goals that the city hopes to achieve on this site, which is across the street from a large plaza and a Metro Station, and, at the northern end, across from Eastern Market, a local landmark and tourist attraction. Certainly one of the major preservation benefits of the site plan is the restoration of the 700 block of C Street to the L’Enfant grid. The closing of the street to enlarge the Hine School playground and the construction of an east-west alley in the 1950s has made travel across the Hill on C Street difficult for drivers and sometimes dangerous for pedestrians. Also as part of the plan, the developers propose to build a triangle-shaped plaza next to the 7th and C Streets intersection which would provide additional space for the flea market vendors on weekends. At first consideration the geometry of the plaza would seem to be inconsistent with the historic district, however the other end of this square on 7th Street is also cut at an angle because of the path of Pennsylvania Avenue. Therefore, we think the proposal is a reasonable solution, both in terms of compatibility and function, and will likely allow for a free flow of crowds during the weekend.
One of the weak points of the plan is the presence of both a 20’-wide alley and the new C Street within 40’ of each other. (The original alley connected to C Street at the southern end rather than connecting at both ends of 7th and 8th streets as it now does. The north end of the alley is constricted and is not suitable for trucks to use.) Thus the North Building is hemmed in while its use is specifically described in the city’s terms:
• Its position between the 1950s east-west alley and the reopened C Street constricts its width to 40’, a narrow dimension for the intended purpose of providing 33 units of work-force and senior housing plus additional retail on the first floor.
• The use of the alley as the conduit for trucks delivering services and supplies to merchants and restaurants on the 200 block of 7th Street, further constricts the building (by cutting out 2’ of the first floor in the rear for a truck pull-in).
Green Space: One of the most important character-defining features of the Capitol Hill Historic District is the “green space” that lines the streets, establishing a garden border around virtually every block. That grassy border helped mitigate the impact of the 58’-tall Hine School (and its predecessors) that occupied Square 901 for 150 years. The open space of that school house legacy, deeply appreciated by all but most particularly by those who live nearby, will be exchanged for other public benefits, such as the public plaza for weekend vending and other festivities and the reopening of C Street as well as for an interior courtyard between the residential and office buildings. Some commemoration of the educational legacy of historic Wallach School and the other schools erected on this site should be seriously considered during the planning of the site landscaping.
Because of the presence of retail on the first floor of three sides (C, 7th and Pennsylvania/D) of the square, one of our concerns is that the “green border” could well disappear from the site. But it doesn’t have to be that way, as some retail establishments can coexist quite happily with “park” space, as is evident on the west side of Seventh and the south side of C Streets where the gardens of Marvelous Market and other shops are an integral and very welcome part of the streetscape. We urge that the developers and landscape architects look beyond the usual practice of hardscaping all of a public space in front of retail establishments. The new C Street, in addition to being a festive community meeting place for which paving is indeed necessary, is also a residential street. Both functions should be observed as the landscape plan develops. We urge that the site plan and landscape plan incorporate street trees and a sufficient number of garden spaces so that this character-defining feature of Capitol Hill is maintained on all of the site’s streets.
Residential Entrances on C Street:
By moving the entry doors of the C Street residence buildings from their original locations on Eighth and on Seventh Streets around to C Street, the developers have ensured that there will be foot traffic during the night and well as day – a benefit for both the retail owners and the residents. The presence of apartment entrances also signals to others that this is a residential street as well as a retail street, an important feature in establishing an identity. We appreciate the developer’s response to our suggestion.
2. Eighth Street Residential Building:
Some residents have argued that the only acceptable housing pattern for 8th Street would be to have two- and three-story row houses, with perhaps an occasional larger apartment building. That is, indeed, a customary housing pattern throughout Capitol Hill and has resulted in a historic district of approximately 8,000 buildings, of which perhaps 7,000 are row houses used as residences and the rest split between commercial buildings and apartment houses. The decision to concentrate the housing options on apartment units, rather than on row houses, addresses the lack of apartments and condominium units in the Capitol Hill housing stock mixture – a situation that has forced people who desire or need one-floor living to move away from the Hill. It is also responsive to considerable community input regarding the use of this site.
While the historic district has a number of apartment buildings that are 4, 5, or 6 stories tall, they are typically in a setting of three- and two-story row houses. For a number of reasons, we feel that this four-story apartment house can be considered compatible with the historic district:
• The four-story height is made less obvious by the repeated emphasis on three-story elements such as bays that project. By that repetition, those three-story elements read as the dominant feature of the row.
• The higher ground level at the northern end of the block allows for the introduction of “English basement” units and visually reduces the height of the row to 3-1/2 stories, a not uncommon building height throughout the historic district and seen on the houses around the southeast corner on the 800 block of D Street.
• Eighth Street is one of the wider residential streets (100’, property line to property line, which includes the roadway, 12’ sidewalk, and 18’ for park as compared to 90’ for Seventh Street and 80’ for C Street). This greater street width reduces the impact on neighbors living across the street.
The architect, recognizing both the city’s desire for apartments at this transit node and the popularity of the vernacular Capitol Hill row house, has delineated the apartment building into “row house” equivalents and in the past two months has improved their appearance in a number of significant ways, such as adding individual entry doors and steps to some apartments so that the buildings are properly grounded to the site and will read more nearly as row houses. The public space gardens will be individually designed, further enhancing the traditional appeal and diminishing the sense of a “monolithic” building that has troubled many. It is still early in the design process, but we urge that during the next phase particular attention be given to:
• Varying the roofline – A varied and “picturesque” roofline is one of the characteristics of the historic district. In an apartment building being serviced by one elevator bank, it is not possible to drop or add floors intermittently along a row (changing from a four-story building, to a three-story and back to four stories). However even relatively small changes (2’ – 5’) in the parapet wall can provide visual relief from the “flat-roof syndrome” that has afflicted this stretch since the beginning of the design process. Other more dramatic possibilities include using triangular roofs or pediments and pent roofs to provide a more emphatically picturesque roofline and a sense of greater height change.
• Varying the style references – During the past two months the architect has begun to refine the stylistic “types” that are being interpreted with a more contemporary use of materials, so the row is becoming much richer visually. The two units near the north end of the row with balconies on top of bays are particularly noteworthy in this regard. While the intent of the brick patterning is to provide a finishing edge to the building in the same way that the historic corbelled cornices did, many have noted the absence of deeply articulated “wood” cornices and trim (similar to traditional ones).
However, we want to emphasize that the partial fifth floor (on the courtyard side of the building) should not be visible from the street from any of the angles up and down 8th Street. The architect’s Sketchup model apparently indicates that it won’t be but that should be verified from the various angles. A five-story row house would not be compatible.
3. C Street:
The new C Street, buildings, and the plaza will become the backdrop for a new meeting place for Capitol Hill life. Given that both sides of C Street will be new construction, it is extremely important that the architectural heritage of Capitol Hill be readily apparent, even though it is being interpreted in a new century. We think that architecture with a stronger identification with its location across from Eastern Market and in the middle of two historic commercial blocks (east side of the 200 block of 7th; west side of the 300 block) is needed. Finding the proper balance between the contemporary (“of its own time,” as stated in the Secretary of Interior standards) and the historic (the sense of place of the Capitol Hill Historic District as it has evolved over time) will be key to compatibility. This should be addressed as the project is refined.
• North Building --
As noted in the comments above on the site plan, designing the North Building has involved dealing with some serious challenges (constricted dimension due to its position between C Street and the alley and limitations imposed by truck access). We also note that the North Building forms the southern side of its own square as well as the northern edge of the new community plaza. The four-story building is only separated from the residential homes by a 20’-wide alley. It is a transition piece to the historic residential neighborhood but it is in even closer proximity to its residential neighbors than the 8th Street residential building is to its neighbors across 8th Street. (The center section of the North Building is 47’ tall; by comparison the relatively new Butterfield House at 11th and Pennsylvania Avenue is approximately 50’ tall, on a much wider street.)
In all the perspectives, the building seems uncomfortably large for the location. For instance, the new elevations (A12) indicate that the shop windows on 7th Street are much taller than those in the building north of the alley. The architect indicated that this is at least partially due to the “cut out” on the alley façade for improved truck use in the alley as well as the rise in alley. Given the impact this improvement is having on the design and height of the North Building, we recommend a reassessment of this element. That largeness is also exacerbated by the fact that the center section of the North Building façade projects 4’ over the property line into public space along a straight line rather than being setback with the usual bays. Since such incursions into public space must have the approval of the Public Space Committee, we think this element needs restudying as well. It remains puzzling to us why, if the units at the ends of the building have been reduced in width by four feet, the center portion cannot also be reduced by the same 4’. Then the ground-floor retail could have true store-front bays rather than the modern large, flat store-front display windows. That would help visually and physically to set back the upper floors. The true bays would help to establish this building as a Capitol Hill building rather than as an educational/institutional building on a campus.
The end “building” facing Eighth Street and particularly the one facing Seventh Street are fairly successful in size, massing, and general architectural expression. If the center section were set on the property line, the bays on the 7th Street unit could be continued around the corner as they traditionally would have been. Even with the introduction of the apartment building entrance on C Street, the center section piece is still quite long, extremely flat, and does not represent a typical Capitol Hill rhythm, particularly for a commercial street. It might help to break the façade into two or more smaller units with more typical store front bays on the first floor. Breaking the façade into smaller units would also provide an opportunity for more play with the roofline which once again is very flat, as is the roof on the building on the other side of C Street. Recognizing the technical difficulties posed by the frame construction for this building, the committee was intrigued to hear about the architect’s proposed exploration of traditional materials, such as tile and slate, to be used on the façade.
• South Side of C (residential building) --
It has been difficult to get much of a sense of this building because of the limitations of the drawing in expressing such a complex interplay of forms. Balconies will certainly help to animate the façade and the street, but the entire composition seems quite severe and sharply angled and may be overpowering, particularly as it is now shown in a smooth light-colored material. We believe Eastern Market should remain the visual centerpiece of this intersection. As this new building would be three stories taller than the historic shops across 7th Street, it would be taller than what is typically considered a compatible relationship of one or two stories beyond the existing, so a reduction in height of one story is called for. As the building is restudied and refined, the choice of materials would play a significant role in whether the building is ultimately compatible. We look forward to seeing additional drawings to help understand this building and its potential impact better. The A11 sheet shows four buildings along the south side of C Street, including one over the garage entrance and one over the courtyard entrance. Since we did not receive the elevations in time for study, we will defer comments on architectural expression until the next review.
4. Seventh Street Buildings:
As presently proposed, the southern (Pennsylvania Avenue) end of Seventh Street would be flanked on the west by the four-story building (approximately 58’ tall ) that will soon stretch from the corner to the Montmartre restaurant building and, on the east, by a 6- to 7-story tall (90’ tall) new office building that will extend for a length of about 225’. The height of the building(s) is accentuated by the narrowness of the street (35’ for roadway, 10’ for sidewalk and 17.5’ for parking). We recommend that the height of the Office building be reduced so that this street remains compatible with the character of the historic district. It is important to remember that the height of both old and new Hine was 58’ at the cornice line and that would be an appropriate goal, particularly at the facade. Having three or four façade changes along the street helps break the massing into smaller components that are more compatible with the historic district. Since it is difficult to understand the building with only perspective drawings and we did not receive the elevations in time for study, we will defer comments on the architectural expression until the next time.
5. Pennsylvania Avenue Buildings:
At this point, we do not think the proposed Pennsylvania Avenue streetscape is successful. The buildings are not compatible additions to the Historic District, and the side-by-side massing of the two very large structures only emphasizes the problem. (The atrium disappears visually.) We would welcome a “signature building” but neither of these meet that criteria. We noted last month in comments to the developer the more appropriate massing of the 2009 RFP submission, with the center section of the block holding the tallest mass and the sides stepping down. The 2009 proposal also broke the Pennsylvania Avenue massing into four units, which is a more compatible rhythm and massing for buildings in the historic district. The February 2011 proposal was also more successful in establishing buildings of appropriate width. We are not sure why that concept was not pursued.
The large buildings in the Historic District along Pennsylvania Avenue have modulated facades using setbacks of one sort or another to break up the bulk of the building. A series of setbacks and rooflines softens the effect of the large block of the five-story Naval Lodge at Fourth and Pennsylvania that was built in the 1890s. Two of the buildings in the 600 block of Pennsylvania (both approximately the same height as the 58’-tall Hine School) use setbacks to achieve the same result as the more elaborate Naval Lodge building. We recommend that the massing of both of these proposed buildings be re-studied.
Office Building at Seventh Street corner –
With a façade that is 90’ tall (and a height at the interior of 106 feet), the proposed office building is over 30’ taller than the present Hine building and even taller than the dominant façade of the altered Kresge building across Seventh Street. Even for this location on a 160’-wide avenue and facing an open plaza, that building volume is simply too tall and large to blend gracefully with its Capitol Hill neighbors. A significant reduction in height is necessary to achieve compatibility.
The design of the office building employs a large amount of glass with a brick framing of rotated corbelled columns. It is very difficult to assess and understand how this complex design would relate to the historic district but it does appear that the basic module (i.e., the individual framed section) would be nearly as tall as some of Capitol Hill’s small alley houses. Instead of helping to reduce the apparent mass of this building, this design accentuates the large, almost industrial scale of the building. It is a building and design that is better suited for new offices in a historic warehouse or industrial area where the scale would be in keeping with nearby buildings.
Residential Building at Eighth, facing Pennsylvania –
The residential building at Eighth and facing Pennsylvania Avenue also fails to be convincing as a Capitol Hill building and still remains more evocative of one of the mid-century modern apartment buildings in Southwest. The study of “texture in plane” is interesting but the flatness is discordant with the character of the Capitol Hill Historic District. More dimensionality is needed for compatibility with Capitol Hill’s historic residential buildings. The February 2011 plans showed more of a Capitol Hill rhythm with several façade changes on the 8th Street side of this block. As noted in the general discussion of the Pennsylvania Avenue buildings, the February 2011 proposal and the 2009 RFP that showed the center of the block tallest with sides stepped down appear to be more compatible in massing and rhythm than this April submission.
Chair, Historic Preservation Committee
© Copyright 2001-2009, Capitol Hill Restoration Society (CHRS). All rights reserved. Last updated April 23, 2011. Website hosted by DC Access.