After losing in administrative hearings and a court case and being ignored in a petition campaign, the Citizens Committee to Save Historic Rhodes Tavern now plans to seek a citywide referendum on whether downtown's oldest building should be preserved.

Joseph N. Grano Jr., the committee chairman who has led the crusade to save the forlorn, 183-year-old structure at 15th and F streets NW, filed the proposed text of an initiative measure yesterday with the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics.

If the wording is accepted, an action expected Aug. 4, the citizens committee plans to circulate petitions seeking more than 13,000 signatures needed to put the issue on the November 1983 school board election ballot. The committee previously gathered that number of signatures on an informal petition urging the Oliver T. Carr Co., owner of Rhodes Tavern, to save the structure.

Carr plans to move or demolish the building and incorporate its site into his adjacent Metropolitan Square office and retail project. The firm has let the building stand, however, as the campaign to save it has been waged.

Rhodes Tavern is Washington's original town hall, birthplace of the Riggs National Bank, longtime home of the National Press Club and more recently the site of a souvenir stand and fruit store.

The ballot measure would declare a municipal policy of saving Rhodes Tavern and would set up a seven-member board to seek ways to bring that about.

In a related action, Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C.) introduced in Congress a resolution that would urge all affected parties, including the city government and Carr, to save the structure.

The prior item mentioned the tavern as former home of the National Press Club. By coincidence, the club on Wednesday night shut down its Members Bar, which has been a landmark for thirsty newspapermen (that sexist word is chosen for precision) since President Coolidge dedicated the existing National Press Building a block down F Street, at 14th, in 1928.

The bar, remodeled into its recent form in 1949, was eventually opened to women in 1971, a fact underscored by the attendance at the sad final "happy hour" by Vivian Vahlberg, the club's first woman president. Felix Cotten, the club president in 1943, was there to hoist a final toast, and Drew Von Bergen, a more recent president, was drafted by UPI to write a nationally distributed obituary of the bar that quoted one reporter as saying it was his "basic training center for Washington journalism." Indeed!

The bar was closed to permit a $57 million, two-year renovation of the landmark building. An interim bar will be located elsewhere in the building.