When he came up with the idea of having the building designated a historic landmark, he didn’t know Bishop Clarence Groover Sr. or the parishioners, and he certainly didn’t know that the 150-member church had developed its own plans for the building it purchased 25 years ago.
Boese, who moved to the neighborhood five years ago from Arlington County, just knew from his research that the church building was constructed in 1919 as one of the city’s premier silent-movie theaters, the York. And that the original tin fascia that decorated the building’s facade had been replaced with foam and stucco.
“I would like for the building to be as historically accurate as possible,” said Boese, the secretary of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1A, which serves the neighborhoods of Parkview, Pleasant Plains and the northern half of Columbia Heights. With its high exterior arches, the building is a model of early 20th-century movie-house design, he says, and is one of the last original community buildings along Georgia. In March, Boese convinced a majority of his ANC colleagues to submit the application for historic designation to the D.C. Historic Preservation Board.
Although the application has since been placed on hold, Boese’s action has started a war between the commission and Groover and his flock. The church is prevented from doing additional renovation to the building without consent from the board.
“There is no historic value to this building,” Groover said during a sidewalk rally he held Thursday to protest the ANC’s action. The rally looked more like a curbside revival service complete with singing, people tapping on tambourines and several other ministers who spoke about how their congregations have been hampered by historic designations.
Behind Groover’s corner rally, the skyline was filled with new apartments, and young adults strolled on sidewalks lined with new storefronts. Groover, who is also the leader of a 21-church organization in the city, said he staged the protest because he thinks his church’s struggle is emblematic of a larger battle taking place in the District between longtime residents and new ones in gentrifying neighborhoods. At stake, he asserts, is the ability of churches to continue to exist in parts of the city.
Ward 2 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Mike Silverstein agreed. Growth can’t take place at the expense of the church, he said. Silverstein pointed out that Third Church of Christ Scientist at 16th and I streets NW and the World Mission Society Church of God at Seventh and A streets NE are also embroiled in struggles to improve their properties after they were designated historic. About 50 churches in the city have historic designations. The process for renovating or otherwise changing historic properties is often more time-consuming and expensive.