The Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation has aproved use of the old Lansburgh department store building at 8th and E streets NW by local artists who were threatened with eviction from downtown.
The decision Thursday night results from a proposal by the National Archives and Record Services, which occupies the top three floors of the building, to convert the vacant first floor and basement into an arts and humanities center until the structure is demolished in 1986.
"The idea was for us (the National Archives) to go into partnership with the arts groups and try to bring some life in that part of downtown," said Albert Meisel, assistant achivist for education programs.
The proposal allocates about 50,000 feet of space that is expected to be used as studios, galleries, stages and theatres. Among the groups who plan to move in are the Washington Projects for the Arts, the Museum of Temporary Art, DC Space, the Miya Gallery, Afro American Datadynamics, Studio Gallery and Washington Review (an arts publication).
Lansburgh's, once a full-line department store, went out of business five years ago. The first floor and basement are particularly conducive for arts groups "because it has lots of nooks and crannies," Meisel said.
Because the arts groups to relocate there are nonprofit, Meisel said, fund-raising activities will begin soon for renovation financing. Open house is set for a year from yesterday, Meisel said.
"We got phase two going now," said an enthusiastic Vernard Gray, director of the Miya Gallery, who was one of several persons instrumental in what the downtown artists called "the loft cause."
"We're all very optimistic," said Deborah Jensen, codirector of the Museum of Temporary Art. "We're very pleased with what has happened to date."
Along with the artists, the National Archives plans to bring in about six million photographs. Special exhibits on the history of Washington and the city's ethnic and racial groups also are planned as well as what Meisel called a "family history center."
"The whole idea is to revive downtown -- seven days a week and during the evenings," said Ed Milanoski, a spokesman for the PADC.
Eventually -- plans say by 1986 -- part, if not all, of the Lansburgh building will be torn down to make way for what PADC calls a "superblock" -- 750 housing units, stores and an Archives annex.
About 150 artists and arts groups moved into downtown about two years ago, taking advantage of cheap rents that characterized an area devastated by the riots of 1968.
Last year, many of the artists received eviction notices from the city and were scheduled to move by March. Several meetings and panel discussions were held about the place of the arts in a revitalized downtown.
"We're at an important planning phase where the artists will have to get involved with lawyers, financial managers and space designers for the future." said Gray of the Miya Gallery. "We have to make sure we don't just get handed anything, then have it taken away again. In other words, the cause must go on."