An Eyeful of Washington Eyesores

Sunday, December 21, 2008

We've always been complimentary to Washington in the Sunday Source, so we wanted to balance our adoration with a bit of criticism. We asked readers to nominate the ugliest buildings or landmarks in the D.C. area. Dozens of submissions poured in. We picked six, photographed them and tried to find out how and whence the hideousness came.

-- Alex Baldinger and Dan Zak

Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Bridge Connecting Washington and Virginia over the Potomac River on Interstate 66

Sandwiched between two beautiful examples of civil engineering, Arlington Memorial Bridge and Key Bridge, the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge, with its industrial steel-plate and rivet construction, always makes me cringe. My regular commute is to get on the G.W. Parkway at the Beltway and head south toward the bridges, and the gorgeous cityscape of Washington with the Lincoln Memorial is framed by the horrible visage of the Roosevelt Bridge.

-- Richard McWalters, 52, Sterling

The bridge's completion in 1964 was the product of a troubled childhood: Fourteen years of arguing, skepticism and despair on the part of planners and builders produced one ugly baby. Owned and maintained by the District, the Teddy Roosevelt Bridge is made of haunched steel-plate girders and has a decidedly utilitarian look (as was fashionable in '60s infrastructure). The comment from McWalters, who has a degree in industrial education, suggests planners should've gone with an earlier idea: Build the D.C.-Virginia connector as a tunnel, out of sight.

Glenn Dale Hospital Glenn Dale Road between Glenn Dale Boulevard and Annapolis Road

This group of buildings has been closed for years. They were never meant to be beautiful, and their horrible state of disrepair and unfortunate history make them a real blight.

-- Peggy Dorvitt, 51, Leesburg

The hospital, referred to as "Glenn Dale Golf Club" in its manicured prime, has spookified itself into a foreboding haunt over the past 25 years. It was vacated in 1982 after serving first as a tuberculosis sanitarium (from 1934 to 1960) and then as a home for the chronically ill. Now its crumbling Georgian- and Colonial Revival-style buildings languish on 216 acres of rolling hills in Prince George's County, attracting wild vines and serial trespassers. Nothing specific is planned for the site, which is owned by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.

National Association of Automobile Dealers 8400 Westpark Dr., McLean

The ugliest beyond-Soviet-era building. Pay close attention to the concrete cylinders that look like missile silos from the '40s and '50s.

-- Sergio Nino II, 54, Dale City

We assume that nuclear warheads are not, in fact, stored in the headquarters of the National Association of Automobile Dealers. But it looks as though they could be. Three rounded beige towers flank a giant shiny black box of a building. It's two distinct "aesthetic" concepts smushed together: Cold War paranoia vs. trim corporate suburbia. Who designed the building? What do employees think of it? We don't know. Representatives for the association didn't return our calls or e-mails. But we forgive them. Given the climate of the auto industry, they probably have bigger fish to fry than making excuses for their unsightly place of work.

Robert C. Weaver Federal Building, Department of Housing and Urban Development 451 Seventh St. SW

Is it a spaceship, space station or what? It is so gray, cold and impersonal -- in the worst way. And what is the purpose of those grassy disks? In my opinion, it doesn't fit in with the design of the federal buildings in the city and is a terrible eyesore.

-- Millicent J. Dew, 58, La Plata

Actually, it fit in just fine in 1962, when, apparently, large angular slabs of precast concrete connoted enterprise and vigor. Those are two of the philosophical pillars of the "Guiding Principles of Federal Architecture," a set of directives issued by the Kennedy administration that called for federal buildings to "reflect the dignity, enterprise, vigor and stability of the American National Government." HUD's headquarters were designed by Marcel Breuer and completed in 1968. As for those disks that look like flying saucers? They weren't added until 1990. Perhaps the building lacked dignity without them.

Lauinger Library, Georgetown University 37th and N streets NW

As you drive inbound across the Key Bridge and look to the left at the beautiful campus across the river, you can see the spires that are iconic to the university, but right in front of the Gothic Healy Hall sit those two atrocious towers of the library that are so out of place and taint the picture. What were they thinking?

-- Marc Hinson, 29, Falls Church

Let's say it's the late 1960s and you're Georgetown University. You want your new library "to harmonize with the other buildings facing the quad," like the stately and dignified Healy Hall, whose majestic spires are visible from across the city. But how? Here's an idea: Don't hire John Carl Warnecke to design a Brutalist reinterpretation of it, pairing Healy's cathedral of academia with a bludgeoned hulk of exposed concrete. Things aren't so hot on the building's interior, either, as a recent editorial in the campus paper, the Hoya, makes clear. "Changes must reflect the need for expanded study and meeting space, and for the development of a more inviting learning environment," the editorial states. "Lauinger must become a destination, not a mark of shame on our campus."

Ballston Center, Marymount University 1000 N. Glebe Rd., Arlington

Multicolored blue panels scream out to cars and passersby, "Tacky, tacky, tacky!" Did a bright blue building ever seem like a good idea? And to think: Marymount University actually paid someone for it. (They should ask for their money back.) This building was beaten with an ugly stick.

-- Garrett Peck, 40, Arlington

Have you ever seen a blue goose? Neither have we, but we can imagine that it would be a sleek, aerodynamic and probably darn cute bird. The Blue Goose, the actual official name of the structure that houses Marymount University's School of Business Administration, is none of those things. From its exterior panels to its shades, it matches the color of your grandpa's 1980 Oldsmobile Cutlass. Built in 1963 and purchased by Marymount in 1992, the Blue Goose sits at an intersection bordered by buildings that have been criticized in the past by architects. "When you put them all together, it can be really monotonous," Anthony Fusarelli, an urban designer with Arlington County, told The Post last year. In that regard, the Blue Goose certainly stands out, but in all the wrong ways.

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