FAST FOOD HAS ALWAYS BEEN A
controversial issue in Adams-Morgan. Back, way back, back before the dawn of time, or at least before the '80s, one of the few places in the neighborhood to snag a quick and greasy takeout burger was McDonald's, located in an unusual, Tudor-style building at the frenetic corner of 18th Street and Columbia Road.
In recent years, however, while other parts of those two boulevards sprouted a seemingly endless number of Ethiopian restaurants and sidewalk cafe's, the neighborhood crossroads moved into what many residents had feared -- the Styrofoamic Age. McDonald's was joined by a Long John Silver's seafood outlet (replacing the late and unlamented Al's Sub-preme). On the northeast corner, in the grand old Gartenhaus Furs building on Columbia Road, a Burger King appeared. And just several doors from that, a Popeye's Fried Chicken popped up.
A number of residents picketed the Burger King when it came to the corner. But others just scratched their heads and wondered if the Lords of the Fries knew something they didn't: How could one neighborhood support all that grease?
They were right to wonder. These days, the corner looks like Lonesome Gulch. Long John Silver's has folded up its fish sticks and quietly slipped away. Burger King, meanwhile, has retrenched to about half its former space. And not too long ago, McDonald's, after 17 years of serving up Big Macs, turned off the lights and soaped over the windows. Could it be McCurtains?
Not a chance. McDonald's is closing temporarily for a major restoration of the building's early-19th-century fac ade. This is the outcome of lengthy and successful negotiations between McDonald's Corp., which wanted to replace the current structure with a modern, larger one, and neighborhood activists, who insisted this architectural gem from the top-hatted '20s be preserved.
As it turns out, the building was designed in its Craftsman style by Waddy Wood (1869-1944), a Washington architect who was influential in the first half of this century. The Craftsman style, American cousin to the English Arts and Crafts movement of the late 1800s, was a reaction against industrialization. Its adherents relied on handcrafted materials -- half-timbered fac ades, mixed stone and stucco with Tudor windows.
Two other Waddy Wood houses survive in Adams-Morgan, but the McDonald's structure, according to architectural historian Ann Hughes Hargrove, is distinctive. Its unusual brickwork and exceptional design make it architecturally one of the most important buildings in the city.
The new old McDonald's, preserving this style, will reopen early next summer and feature two dining levels, instead of one, and a skylight. A McDonald's spokesman predicts that the building will be "as nice as any facility in the U.S." In the matter of McDonald's v. Adams- McMorgan, everyone seems satisfied.