Washington developer Dominic F. Antonelli Jr. has gone to court to try to knock down the historic-landmark designation of the Demonet building at Connecticut Avenue and M Street NW as a prelude to knocking down the building itself.
Antonelli, who founded Parking Management Inc. and who has been a major force in changing the face of downtown Washington, asked the U.S. Court of Appeals to set aside a decision last autumn by the Joint Committee on Landmarks of the National Capital making the building's landmark status official and protecting it from demolition.
No hearing has been set so far on the challenge to the joint committee.
The dispute over the building, which the joint committee called "an exuberant example of the rich architecture which characterized post-Civil War Washington," began last July. The Dupont Circle Citizens Association filed an application to have the building declared a landmark, and a hearing followed in August.
The building is owned by A&G Limited Partnership, managed by Antonelli.
Antonelli plans to use the site to build a highrise office building with some retail space at street level and has begun demolition of the buildings behind the Demonet.
The joint committee, an adjunct to the National Capital Planning Commission with both city and federal representatives, agreed that the building had historic landmark value. The committee designated the building a Category III landmark, which requires a developer to go through cumbersome processes in what may ultimately be an unsuccessful attempt to win permission for demolition.
The committee, however, turned down a request to nominate the building to the National Register of Historic Places, noting that it has no major historical significance and "does not possess high artistic value."
In his suit against the joint committee, Antonelli asked the court to review the decision and the manner in which it was made and to consider setting it aside. Among other things, Antonelli, represented by Linowes & Blocher law firm, claimed the joint committee is constituted illegally, that it failed to give proper notice of its actions and that it failed to conduct its proceedings as required.
The building, one of the last remaining Victorian-style rowhouses on lower Connecticut Avenue, according to the joint committee, was built in 1880 by John Sherman Jr., a local builder.The decision designating the building a landmark pointed to the building's "unusual octagonal, ribbed dome strongly reminiscent of the dome on Florence Cathedral, its elaborate late-Victorian brickwork, its neoclassical decorative elements and other eclectic details."
"We consider it a major landmark, a lone survivor on that lower part of Connecticut Avenue dating from a period when Connecticut was a private, residential area," said Charles Robertson of the Dupont Circle Historic Preservation Committee.
"Even though it's somewhat smaller in scale than some buildings around it, we think it holds its own," said Robertson.