Garfinckel's officials said yesterday that the designation of the retailer's downtown department store as a historic landmark this week will not interfere with the company's plan to sell the building for renovation and to lease back its retail space.
"I don't think it would prevent us from doing anything that we would want to do," said Joseph Santarlasci, a consultant to the company.
Citing the Depression-era building's architectural style and prominent place in the history of the Washington retail industry, the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board on Wednesday voted unanimously to add the nine-story building, at the corner of 14th and F streets NW, to the list of local landmarks.
As a result of the decision, the building cannot be demolished and its exterior may not be changed without the review board's approval.
The board also has recommended that the city nominate the building for the National Register of Historic Places, which could qualify it for a 20 percent investment tax credit.
In a letter to the review board this week, a lawyer for Garfinckel's said the company endorsed the proposal to make its flagship store a landmark, even though the retailer plans changes that could require approval by board.
The plans include adding an underground parking garage and converting part of the building to office space with a separate entrance, the lawyer wrote. Garfinckel's currently uses portions of the building as company offices and storage space.
Santarlasci said Raleigh Stores Corp., which bought the Garfinckel's chain last year, will likely choose a buyer for the building within the next two months. Half a dozen American and foreign firms are seriously considering the property, Santarlasci said, and all of the potential buyers understood that the historic designation was expected.
One of Raleigh's sale conditions is that Garfinckel's receive an 80-year lease on the retail portion of the building, with an option to renew, Santarlasci said. He emphasized that Raleigh's management wanted to keep the store on the site where Julius Garfinckel began selling fine furs and clothing in 1905.
The city government and the D.C. Downtown Partnership had joined the D.C. Preservation League's effort to win landmark status for the building partly because they feared Garfinckel's might leave and weaken the downtown retail district.
Officials said they believed it would be more difficult for developers to abandon the building's retail function if it were named a landmark.
The Garfinckel's store, built in 1929 and 1930, combines art deco style and classical features. It "represents the culmination of late 19th-, early 20th-century department store design," preservation officials wrote in a report to the review board.
About 16,000 Washington buildings, including Woodward and Lothrop's main building downtown, carry the landmark designation, according to Stephen Raiche, chief of the District government's Historic Preservation Division.