Three landmark buildings in a block where a $40-million mall is planned cannot be razed for 180 days, while negotiations are under way to consider options other than demolishing the buildings, according to an order issued Friday by State Historic Preservation Officer Lorenzo Jacobs. The landmarks - the Albee Building, the Metropolitan Bank Building and the Rhodes Taverrn - are at 15th between F and G streets NW in the same block as Garfinckel's. Developer Oliver T. Carr plans a 600,000-square-foot retail office and hotel complex where the three buildings now stand.
"I welcome commencing the negotiation process as soon as possible," Carr said at a public hearing on the issue April 3. Carr has contracted to buy all of the buildings on the block except Garfinckel's, which will be linked to the new shopping mall. Carr has said that he is willing to save the facades of the Albee and Metropolitan Bank buildings, both Beaux Arts structures built in 1911, and to incorporate them into the new complex - if about $4.2 million can be raised to offset losses the developer has said he would suffer. But David Childs, architect for Carr's project, said "the Rhodes Tavern, although the oldest existing commercial structure in Washington, would be totally out of place in the context of one of Washington's exciting new commercial developments."
The U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, which reviews demolition applications for buildings adjacent to important federal installations such as the Treasury Building, has indicated tentative approval of Carr's plan to preserve the facades of the Albee and Metropolitan Bank buildings and to raze the tavern. But preservationists are expected to push hard during upcoming negotiations to have preservation of the tavern included in the plans.
"The Rhodes Tavern should be saved not only for its architectural significance but for its political significance to the history of Washington," said Karen Gordon, a representative of the Foggy Bottom-West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission.
Richard Squires, who rents an artist's studio on one of the upper floors of the tavern, suggested at the public hearing that the tavern be renovated and turned into a restaurant. The ground floor of the building houses a fruit store, a souvenir shop and a news-stand. Squires cited several examples where old and new buildings were made to work together - including the Lafavette Square buildings and the Pan American Building, which rises atop New York's Grand Central Station. He suggested that a new building might be cantilevered over the 40-foot-high tavern.
"The large building would be hovering over it like a fish about to swallow it," objected Childs. He suggested that the tavern, which has been substantially altered over the years and had a large section demolished in 1957, be moved to a new site where it would be in scale with the surrounding neighborhood.
The tavern, built about 1800, served as the British command post during the burning of the White House and the old Treasury Building in 1814.It also has been used as a polling place and was the original headquarters of the institution that later became the Riggs National Bank. The assassin of President James Garfield bought his gun in a shop in the building. From 1909 to 1914, the Nation Press Club had its headquarters there.
Carr said he will use the six-month delay to work with community residents and groups to raise the funds necessary to save the historic buildings - $17.9 million if all three buildings are preserved entirely and $4.2 million if only the facades of the Albee and Metropolitan Bank buildings are saved. These figures, according to Carr's project manager Clyde F. Newman III, represent losses from less efficient use of space, reduced rental area and higher operating costs if the buildings are preserved. Betts Abel, a consultant to the developer, said she already has begun to investigate ways to reduce the cost of partial or complete preservation.
According to Abel, some options include reducing the cost charged by the D.C. government for closing an alley on the block, obtaining D.C. property tax relief available to property owners who agree to preserve landmark structures, obtaining a tax deduction that might be available if the developer grants historic easement to a non-profit organization, obtaining a grant from the Interior Department available for renovation of historic buildings and obtaining additional funds from private investors such as Carr.