Opponents of Wal-Mart opening a store on Georgia Avenue Northwest in the District employed an inventive last-minute strategy recently when they asked the city to designate a former streetcar storage barn as a
historical structure that ought to be preserved.
The brick Brightwood streetcar barn was built in 1909 to house cars from the city’s extensive streetcar system and is on the lot where Wal-Mart now plans to build its store.
Residents from the neighborhood who proposed designating the building as historic argued before the Historic Preservation Review Board Thursday afternoon that the building was one of only a few remaining bus barns in the city and that it still had original tresses and windows. One resident, Rebecca Mills, said the building could, “be restored to create an important sense of place in the neighborhood.”
One problem: From 1955 until just recently, the car barn has been used as a Chevy dealership.
Given the plastic-looking facade that the Chevy dealers slapped on the front of the car barn, passersby on Georgia Avenue could hardly have known there was any kind of important building within. Meanwhile, the building’s original structure suffered.
These details were not lost on the members of the board.
“This board does not like to see projects, historic projects which are significant, demolished,” said attorney and longtime board member Tersh Boasberg, but he added that in this case “there is simply too much loss of integrity” to the original structure.
“The high standard of integrity, today, is not there,” said board member and architect Joseph Eugene Taylor.
The board members voted unanimously to oppose the designation. Wal-Mart then issued a statement thanking the board for “overseeing a fair and impartial process and hearing as well as the Ward 4 residents who testified on the merits against a preservation designation.”
Work on the store will resume immediately.