A wrecking crew last week began demolishing Strong Residence, a lowcost hotel for women which had been an annex to the YWCA building at 17th and K streets NW, to make way for a commercial parking lot.
The parking lot eventually will be replaced by an office building to be built in 1981 on the site of the residence and the main YWCA building. Proceeds from the parking lot will be used to fund ongoing YWCA programs, according to Y spokesman Julia Cuniberti.
Cuniberti emphasized that the main YWCA building will remain in full operation until March 1981, when a new headquarters is expected to be completed at 9th and G streets NW. At that time, the 17th and K Street structure will be demolished for a commercial building to be constructed by developer John Akridge, she said.
The new YWCA building is to be built on the site of a parking lot currently operated by Dominic Antonelli's Parking Management Inc. (PMI), across from the Martin Luther King Library. In August, the YWCA entered into a complex real estate transaction in which the Y agreed to purchase the now-vacant Julius Lansburgh furniture store at 9th and F streets and then trade it, plus $484,000 in cash, to Antonelli in exchange for Antonelli's adjacent parking lot property, Y officials said.
Under the agreement, Antonelli, who plans to put another parking lot on the Lansburgh site, may also receive up to $48,000 from the Y in compensation for lost revenues, if he is delayed in demolishing the furniture store.
It is unclear whether Antonelli will be allowed to complete his plans for the site. Lansburgh's, built in the 1860s as a Masonic Temple in the French Renaissance style, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Under a new District law, the city, after hearings, can deny demolition permits for such landmarks.
The Aaron and Lillie Strauss Foundation, which owns Lansburgh's until the Y-Antonelli transaction comes to settlement Jan. 23, has applied for a permit to demolish the building. The application will be considered by the Joint Committee on Landmarks, a federal-city review board, Jan. 18. The committee recommendation will then go to Mayor Marion Barry, who will make the final decision.
Opposition to the demolition of Lansburgh's is expected to be stiff. The House of Representatives has passed a resolution urging city officials to retain the building, possibly as a home for a planned city museum. The Committee of 100 for the Federal City and the Columbia Historical Society have also announced their opposition to the demolition of Lansburgh's.
"That building has to be saved -- it's that important," said Perry Fisher, executive director of the Columbia Historical Society. Fisher is heading an ad hoc citywide coalition that will oppose the demolition. Members of the coalition include representatives from the National Trust, the City Museum Project, Don't Tear It Down and the Capitol Hill Restoration Society.
YWCA officials said, however, their plan to build at the 9th and G site is not contingent on Antonelli's ability to demolish Lansburgh's.
According to YWCA Executive Director Mildred Savacool, the Y did not consider renovating Lansburgh's because "it's too small for the kind of facility we want."
Architect Chloethiel Woodard Smith has been chosen to prepare plans for the new YWCA facility. Cuniberti said the Y needs about 45,000 square feet for its use and is considering entering into a joint venture with a developer to build a larger building, part of which would be leased for office use.
Strong Residence, which is expected to be completely demolished by the end of this week, was opened in 1935 as a hotel for women. It closed Oct. 15 after operating with increasing deficits during the past seven years. Once a haven for young working women newly arrived in Washington, the residence, which had 107 beds, lost popularity in recent years, Cuniberti said, because "girls didn't want to live that way -- with the restrictions required for security."
The weekly rate for a room when the residence closed was $38; transients paid $17 a day.
The local YWCA organization also has been operating in the red for the past few years. In an effort to extricate itself from these financial straits, the organization last year agreed to sell the 17th and K street property, including Strong Residence, to developer John Akridge for $3.4 million. Under the contract, the YWCA does not have to go to settlement on the sale until 1981. The proposed sale was approved by the Y membership over the objections of a group who favored renovating the building, which was completed in 1928.
The parking lot to be located on the Strong Residence site is expected to be in operation within a month, YWCA officials said. The organization is currently accepting bids for the parking lot concession.