A D.C. Superior Court judge temporarily prohibited demolition yesterday of the beaux arts facades of the 68-year-old Albee-Keith's Theater building, a controversial landmark on 15th Street NW near the U.S. Treasury building.
As word of the order by Judge William E. Stewart Jr. reached a group of about 30 preservationists demonstrating outside the historic building a cheer went up along the small picket line near 15th and G Streets NW.
"We're happy-any way we can delay it," said Judith Sobol, executive director of Don't Tear It Down, the preservationist group that had sought the court order and staged yesterday's demonstration.
Judge Stewart announced his ruling, known as a consent order, after an agreement was reached between lawyers representing the preservationists and the Oliver T. Carr Co., a major development firm here that plans to build a $60 million complex, including offices, shops and possibly a hotel, on the site.
Under the consent order, the Carr Co. is barred from demolishing the building's marble and terra-cotta facades along both 15th street and G street before another court hearing takes place on May 4. The hearing next month was scheduled to consider the preservationist group's request for preliminary and permanent injunctions to bar demolition.
The judge's order, however will permit the Carr Co. to continue demolition of the interior and rear sections of the building. Such demolition work started last Friday, angering preservationists. One group sought a federal court order last Friday to stop the demolition work, but the request was denied.
So far, little demolition has occurred. A water tower and other sections near the roof in the rear of the building facing an alley, not part of the preservation effort, have been knocked down, Carr Co. officials said yesterday.
They said the demolition had caused at least one fire, but described it as minor. The new court order requires the developer to take precautions to prevent additional fires.
The developer's initial moves to tear down the now-vacan building and the preservationists' court challenges heightened concern among city officials and in Congress.
James O. Gibson, assistant city administrator for planning and development, met with Carr Co. president Oliver T. Car Jr. and with city planning aides yesterday in a stepped-up effort to settle the disupte. "We're just sorting this thing out," he said last night.
Rep. Morris K. Udall (D-Ariz.), House Interior Committee chairman, issued a statement urging developers to "stay" demolition until Congress acts on a bill he introduced earlier this month. The bill is designed to safeguard the Albee-Keith's Theater building and other nearby historic sites.
The proposed Carr Co. project has stirred months of often-complex debate. The discussions have centered partly on the developer's requests for city permission to erect a higher building than now allowed on the site and to close a T-shaped alley behind the building. The company also has sought government financial aid, partly to help pay costs of preserving historic landmarks.
The preservationist groups have demanded safeguards against the possible destruction of the Albee-Keith's Theater building and three other nearby landmarks-the National Metropolitian Bank Building, Rhodes Tavern and Ebbitt Grill. CAPTION: Picture, Demonstrators cheered yesterday when court order curbed demolition of theater. By Larry Morris-The Washington Post