A plan to tear down four landmark buildings and to incorporate three others into a new 102-unit apartment building on Washington Circle won tentative approval from the Joint Committee on Landmarks last week.
"This is a novel situation," said committee chairman Henry Brylawski. "We declared these buildings landmarks one week and we're letting people tear them down the next week."
On Aug. 16, the committee gave landmark status to 24 of the 31 buildings, mainly victorian rowhouses, on the block bounded by Washington Circle, Pennsylvania Avenue, 23rd, 24th, and L Streets NW.
The landmark application, for all of the buildings on the block, was filed by the Foggy Bottom Advisory Neighborhood Commission. Circle Associates, which planned to demolish seven buildings on Washington Circle for a high-rise condominium, took the ANC and the city to court, claiming that the landmark application had been filed merely to thwart the proposed highrise.
After several days in court, the developer and the ANC agreed that the developer would revise his plans to save some of the houses and to retain a low building height around the circle.
Architect Guy Martin, who presented the plans to the committee, said he integrated the low scale around the circle with the higher building behind.
"I didn't want it to look like a high building behind a low building," he said.
Martin's plans called for the Lewis Hotel School, a 1925 building at the corner of 23rd Street and Washington Circle, and three adjacent Victorian townhouses to be demolished. In their place, Martin proposed a red brick neo-Victorian structure with a rounded tower at the corner and 40-foot high townhouse-type buildings that would actually be duplex apartments.
The three existing Victorian rowhouses at 2311, 2313, and 2315 Washington Circle would be gutted and turned into duplex apartments. Behind the townhouses, Martin designed several towers, the highest of which are 90 feet.
The committee asked Martin to revise the position on the high-rise part of the building, suggesting that the towers might rise in uniform steps and be set back farther from Washington Circle. Final approval is expected when Martin submits revised plans.
In answer to questions, Martin said that the cost of retaining the three rowhouses now slated for demolition would make the project too expensive. He said that the houses to be demolished are less important architecturally than those he proposes to save.
Under the agreement between the developer and the ANC, Martin had to design the project so that the floor space and the cost would be almost the same as in the originally proposed high-rise building with no preservation.
Also, in accordance with the agreement, the ANC took no position on the compromise design.
The committee also gave tentative approval, despite reservations expressed by committee member Francis Lethbridge, to a neo-romanesque retail and office building to be constructed on what is now a parking lot at 1718 Connecticut Ave. N.W.
"We tried to do a building that makes everybody happy," said architect David Schwartz, who designed the proposed seven-story building with a red brick Romanesque front complete with clock tower and a white stucco rear in the international style popular fifty years ago.
The Dupont Circle Citizens Association, the Dupont Historic Preservation Committee, and Don't Tear It Down, Inc., supported the proposal. But Lethbridge, while calling the building "interesting and lively," said he was "deeply disturbed."
Despite these reservations, the committee gave tentative approval to the design, reserving final approval until after the developer wins permission from the city's public space committee to extend the building's bays onto the sidewalk.