I was looking at the latest S.I.T.E. Architects design for Best Products -- a showroom built as a giant terrarium with trees and plants growing through it -- when I decided to write a memo to Sidney Lewis.
Chairman of the Board
Best Products Co.
Best Products has built the most innovative retail stores in America in the past 10 years, so how come all the Best showrooms in the Washington area are schlocky boxes?
You've built storefronts that crumble, whole stores uplifted as if by giant hands, stores so stunningly creative that people drive miles just to laugh at them, and shop.
Even Towson gets world-acclaimed architecture. Washington gets more boring brick and precast concrete.
S.I.T.E's been thinking about Washington, I know. They designed a great store for your son's clothing chain, The General Store. A really clever idea, a storefront covered in blocks of blue jeans. Just as you do when you wear jeans. When one pair is worn out, you put on another.
Washington could use a store like that. The protectors of Washington's lumpen limestone and phony federal-style facades would probably scream. Good.
What better place for postmodern architecture, ultrawacko whimsy or just plain dizzy design than the fussy federal city? If the T-square twiddlers at S.I.T.E. can't find a style to parody in Washington, send them back to the drawing boards.
The best site for a Best S.I.T.E. store would be downtown Washington. W. Bell & Co.'s store on L Street proves that catalogue showrooms can make it downtown. Somewhere in the rapidly reemerging old downtown you could find a place to make an architectural statement and a good profit, too.
As a fellow who once lived in this town liked to ask, Why not the best?
Telling other people how to run their business is a perfect pastime for August in Washington. It's more fun than eating peanuts, once you start . . .
J.W. Marriott Jr.
Why doesn't Marriott take over the Harambee House, or the Howard Inn as it's now called?
You're a staunch advocate of private enterprise, and the Harambee is classic proof that the government can't do everything.
All the millions the feds and the District have poured into the poor Harambee have done little to encourage minority participation in the lodging business. Marriott could do it.
The Harambee Marriott would be the first choice of many black travelers coming to Washington and one more Marriott to serve your thousands of loyal commercial customers.
Howard University owns the Harambee now, and that ought to fit perfectly into your corporate strategy of managing hotels owned by others. With a little help from Howard, the Harambee Marriott could train more minority management people than all the CETA programs and OJT courses the federal government ever sponsored.
There are several other slumbering giants around Washington that could be awakened by someone as sharp as Marriott.
You could bring back the Auto-Train, operate it as a combination hotel-on-wheels and amusement-park ride, and show Amtrak how to really run a railroad.
Or take Glen Echo Park, and turn around that one-horse amusement center before its wonderful carousel rots out as the roller coaster has. You've already studied the market for a theme park in this area and decided there's not room for another Great America here. But what about a little park? You showed how to do it this year with Playland in Rye, N.Y. Steal a few ideas from the Children's Television Workshop's electronic kiddieland in Pennsylvania, if you want; mix in a Roy Rogers restaurant, and replicate your dad and mom's original root beer stand.
The worst risk you'd run rejuvenating Glen Echo would be that Secretary of Interior Jim Watt would probably want you to run the whole national park system.
But start with Harambee.
The Rouse Co.
You've been making silk-stocking districts out of sow-eared city slums for nearly a decade now, and I've got another one for you.
Rouse has transformed the waterfronts of Boston and Baltimore and is trying New York's Fulton Fish Market. You're making "beautiful downtown Milwaukee" something more than a joke, and tackling the decrepit railroad station in St. Louis.
If train stations are replacing waterfronts as the frontier of redevelopment, how would you like to try ours?
Union Station needs a savior. Congress would probably give you the place to avoid the embarrassment of appropriating more money to patch it up. The tax credits passed for restoring historic structures could make a very attractive deal.
What a magnificent rathole Union Station could become in the hands of a creative developer like Rouse. Uncle Sam spent a bundle on the bicentennial visitor center there, but nobody visited. You could fill that shining shell with shops and tourist attractions and outdraw the Capitol and the White House.
Besides the station itself, there are railroad yards going to weed out back and airspace over the tracks that ought to be developed.
There's not a nicer barn in the country nor a better place to show your stuff. Like to try?