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D.C. Recorder of Deeds moving but fate of murals unclear

The seven murals in the Recorder of Deeds depict prominent African Americans and their historical contributions. The building also chronicles black leadership.
The seven murals in the Recorder of Deeds depict prominent African Americans and their historical contributions. The building also chronicles black leadership. (Joel Richardson/the Washington Post)

In May, the office will move to the former Waterside Mall, from a 15,000-square-foot space to about 8,700 square feet, said city spokesman Sean Madigan. The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and the Office of the Chief Financial Officer will also move to the office in a few weeks, he said. All the books at the Recorder of Deeds will be moved to the D.C. Archives. The office is in the process of making all its records digital.

There are no immediate plans for the old building, Madigan said.

"Our desire all along is to make sure that we keep the integrity of the building the best that we can," he said.

Officials are open to suggestions about the building's future, Madigan said, but there will be some restrictions as to its use because of its age and layout.

"It needs substantial work to bring it up to a level that a modern office user would want," he said.

The building is not a landmark but is granted certain protections because it is within the Pennsylvania Avenue historic district, said Rebecca Miller, executive director of the D.C. Preservation League. The league listed the office in a category of art deco municipal buildings considered to be the "most endangered" in 2000. Miller said her organization would review any proposals about the future use of the space.

One historian is prepared to fight the District if its plans don't include preservation.

Alexander M. Padro, co-chairman of the board of trustees of the Historical Society of Washington, D.C., said he would file a landmark application if the building isn't properly renovated.

"That will be pretty much a deal-killer for any developer," he said.

It would not be the first time Padro has helped shut a developer out of the building.

In 2001, the city entertained an unsolicited proposal by developers to sell the building to expand the nearby office of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Andrew T. Brophy, vice president of District-based Raymond C. Brophy Inc., said his development company planned to restore the lobby and add stories. But Padro said those changes would have desecrated the historic site. The project was ultimately dropped.

Because of the historical significance of the site, Brophy said, the Recorder of Deeds building would be a difficult project for any developer.

"I wish that nine years ago things had gone different," Brophy said. "It could have been really interesting."


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