By Tuesday, all that was left of two 19th century Capitol Hill houses was a pile of rubble and a door leading to nowhere. And all that was left of a lastditch effort by neighbors to save the houses were some signs along Maryland Avenue NE reading "It should never have happened," and "We love our neighborhood."
The demolished houses at 226 and 230 Maryland Ave. NE and four other Victorian homes on the block were the subject of six months of negotiations between neighborhood and groups and Management and Development Associates, which plans to build a condominium complex on the site.
When the negotiations, ordered by the District's state historic preservation officer, ended in March, the developer had agreed to incorporate three of the houses into the new complex. Though the company indicated at that time that it would probably not be feasible to save the two now-demolished houses and another at 224 Maryland Ave., some the neighbors, including John and Linda Topping of 220 Maryland Ave., didn't give up hope.
"It looked as if the neighborhood had been raped," said Linda Topping, who tried without success to get the police to stop the demolition and later went to court to request a temporary restraining order. When these efforts failed, the Toppings urged City Council member Nadine Winter to introduce emergency legislation to halt the demolition. They dropped this effort after aides to council member John Wilson told them such legislation might cloud the prospects for permanent anti-demolition laws Wilson plans to introduce.
"We've leaned over backwards to accommodate the neighborhood," said Bernard Gewirz, president of Management and Development Associates. "We said we were going to tear down those houses and to keep three others. We also made concessions to the neighborhoods on the design of the complex. We intend to honor those commitments. They should cooperate with us as we've cooperated with them."
In the court hearing on the request for a temporary restraining order, John Topping told the judge that neighbors had heard the developer planned to renege on commitments made to the neighborhood.
Richard Wolf, president of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society, said his organization was not involved in the latest flurry of activity.
"We've participated in the negotiations with the developer during the 180-day delay period," said Wolf. "The agreement we reached included the developer's right to tear down certain structures. We're disappointed that the developer didn't save these buildings, but that wasn't part of the agreement. There were promises made during the negotiations about the density, scale and design of the new complex, and we expect the developer to abide by those promises."
John Topping said that he, too, would now concentrate his efforts on "holding their feet to the fire on what they build here. We didn't like their tactics - the savage way they came in here with bulldozers. The community is going to see that they dot every i and cross every t."
One of the demolished buildings was the former studio of sculptor Adelaide Johnson, who created the statuary group of feminist leaders in the U.S.