Apple Store's Windows Get Georgetown Board's Okay

The Apple store design approved by Georgetown's architectural review board.
The Apple store design approved by Georgetown's architectural review board. (Courtesy of U.S. Commission of Fine Arts)
By Paul Schwartzman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 6, 2009

Apple is on its way to Georgetown.

After ordering the computer company to revise its plans four previous times, an architectural review board embraced Apple's new design yesterday for a store it plans to open on Wisconsin Avenue.

Gone was the modern expanse of glass that defined the storefront in past renderings, which the Old Georgetown Board had complained was out of character with the neighborhood.

Instead, Apple's glass storefront is to be broken into panels, echoing the bay windows and entrances that dominate Georgetown. "This is beautifully executed," Stephen J. Vanze, chairman of the Old Georgetown Board, told Karl Backus, Apple's architect. "We're very pleased."

The board's resistance to Apple's previous submissions had won a measure of support from residents and preservationists, who are protective of Georgetown's designation as a historic district.

But it stirred vociferous opposition from bloggers and business owners eager for the company to open a store in the District. After the board ordered revisions last month, Neil O. Albert, the deputy mayor for planning and economic development, expressed frustration that it was delaying Apple's plans.

Yesterday, Albert praised the board's decision as a "validation that we can encourage new investment and ambitious urban design while at the same time preserve the historic character of one of our most treasured neighborhoods."

An Apple spokesman did not respond to a phone message and an e-mail seeking comment.

Apple needs to win the support of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, although it is unusual for the commission to overturn the Old Georgetown Board, which it oversees.

Apple has not established a timetable for when it would begin construction or open the store, at 1229 Wisconsin Ave. NW.

The company paid $13 million for the property in 2007, with plans to demolish a three-story building erected 24 years ago.

In September 2007, Apple presented its first plans to the board, which requested that the company alter its vision of the storefront, an expansive show window.

Apple returned twice more with more modern renderings, both of which the board criticized.

Apple brought new renderings to January's board meeting, but the panel of three architects once again complained about the unbroken expanse of glass that defined the storefront. Apple got the message.

In its revision, the company split the storefront into three sections divided by strips of metal and added transom windows. An illuminated Apple logo will hang above the entrance.

David Cox, a board member who had expressed frustration with Apple at January's meeting, told the company's representative that "the project has gotten a lot better."

Cox said he thought that Apple's previous appearances had helped it come up with a design that relates "to the fabric of Wisconsin Avenue."

After the meeting, Backus said creating a design in any historic district poses inevitable challenges. "Any of these historic districts have characteristics that need to be respected," he said. "And it's a matter of working with a board to determine what's appropriate."

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