The Fine Arts Commission yesterday approved plans that call for demolition of the historic Rhodes Tavern, but also voted to urge Mayor Marion Barry to deny permits to tear down the 183-year-old building until District voters have a chance to vote on the issue in November.
The federal commission approved developer Oliver T. Carr's plans for the second phase of the massive Metropolitan Square office-retail complex, a plan that calls for removal of the tavern at 15th and F streets NW.
The approval frees Carr to obtain construction and demolition permits for the site between 14th and 15th, and F and G streets.
But in an unusual move, the commission "made a strong statement to the mayor urging that he hold up issuance of permits until the public has an opportunity to express itself," said commission secretary Charles Atherton. "It is not usually our role to make such statements," he added.
"I think it is victory, of some sort," said Joseph N. Grano Jr., president of the Citizens Committee to Save Historic Rhodes Tavern, one of several groups that have used lawsuits and petitions in a years-long effort to save the building.
The tavern is the oldest remaining commercial building in Washington and occupied several public and political roles in the city's early years. During the War of 1812, it was used by British military commanders who dined there while the nearby White House burned, and also served as the District's first city hall.
The November initiative, which is nonbinding, would make it the policy of the D.C. government to support, advocate and promote preservation of the tavern. Carr would still be legally permitted to demolish the tavern, but would be under great "moral pressure" to save the building, Grano said.
Neither Carr nor spokesmen for his firm were available for comment.
The commission vote to approve Carr's plans and to send the accompanying statement to Barry was 2 to 1, with commissioners Edward Stone Jr. and Sandra Meyers favoring the action and John Chase opposing. J. Carter Brown, the commission chairman, did not vote. The commission, created by Congress, advises the city on new construction near the city's downtown federal monuments.