A U.S. District Court judge yesterday ordered the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Commission to stop demolition begun yesterday morning on four buildings along Pennsylvania Avenue.
Judge Thomas A. Flannery issued the order temporarily stopping work on the buildings along the north side of the avenue between Eighth and Ninth streets NW pending a court hearing next month to determine if the commission action to raze the buildings was proper.
At a 40-minute hearing yesterday, lawyers for Don't Tear It Down, a historic preservation group, argued that the commission, a federal panel formed to coordinate redevelopment of Pennsylvania Avenue, had not followed appropriate procedures under the National Historic Preservation Act in ordering the building facades demolished.
The buildings, three of which were built in the middle and late 19th century, last housed a bank branch, a restaurant, a souvenir shop and an electronics store called German Hi-Fi. They are across from the National Archives.
The commission has plans to use the site as one of a series of parks it has been constructing along Pennsylvania Avenue, sometimes called America's main street.
James F. Rogers, an attorney for Don't Tear It Down, told Flannery that the demolition project was a "substantial change" in the 1974 plan approved for the area. Such a change, he argued, must be approved by Mayor Marion Barry, the Interior Department and Congress.
"There is no reason they have to start demolition now," Rogers said, because work is not expected to begin on the site until 1985.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Royce C. Lamberth, representing the development commission, said the commission had not violated any statutes and had acted within its powers. Lamberth argued that the demolition project was not a "substantial change" in the already approved plans.
Workers put up scaffolding yesterday to begin demolition and Lamberth said it was possible that "some facades are coming down at this very moment."
Lamberth said there had been vandalism last weekend in the boarded-up buildings and the old wooden structures presented a fire hazard to other buildings in the area. He argued that demolition work begun yesterday also may have weakened the structures, increasing the risk that some walls might collapse.
Flannery, who also has taken under advisement a request last week by citizens seeking to preserve the historic Rhodes Tavern, said Don't Tear It Down had presented "substantial legal questions" over the commission's actions.
He said he did not believe the commission would be substantially harmed by a delay until Sept. 12, when another judge could review the matter in more detail.
Flannery ordered Don't Tear It Down to post a $500 bond pending that hearing. When Lamberth pointed out that the judge's order would not take effect until the bond was posted, Flannery changed the bond to $1.
"I do not want that building torn down until Judge Louis F. Oberdorfer has a chance" to review the situation, Flannery told the commission's lawyers. "Stop all work."