Bob Matchette, a local archivist, aimed his camera yesterday at the William E. Miller Furniture building in Southeast Washington and snapped picture after picture -- just in case.
Although workers said that the vacant building, sitting like a big white cake within sight of the Capitol, was no longer likely to fall, its future remains shaky.
City building officials and construction workers had feared Friday that the 93-year-old structure at Eighth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE could collapse at any moment. As employes of the Columbia Construction Co. were renovating the building into offices, stores and restaurants, deep cracks were discovered in a supporting column and in the brick facing high on the north side.
The construction crews worked until almost dawn yesterday to put up four steel girders and a series of other supports.
At noon, construction foreman Steve Marteny declared the building "totally sound," although exactly why it cracked, beyond its age, has not been determined. What happens next, Marteny said, is up to engineers who will have to assess the building's structural damage.
Surrounding streets, which had been closed overnight, were reopened. And passers-by, while still occasionally pausing to look at the building from behind police barricades, did not stand and wait, as they did Friday night, to watch it tumble.
Matchette, who works for the National Archives, said he hopes that the building can be saved.
"A building of that age and quality deserves a chance to survive, rather than be knocked down for some faceless building," he said. "Everybody renovates old houses, but when a commercial tide leaves an area, we seem to lose too many of these old buildings."
In many ways the Miller building reflects its neighborhood in the Capitol Hill area: old, rundown and forgotten for a while, but now in a stage of transition. Vacant storefronts on Eighth Street alternate with renovated restaurants and trendy clothing stores.
The Saturday streets had a bazaar-like atmosphere. Couples pushed strollers along the street. A dozen idlers were hanging out in front of a hardware store. Street vendors sold incense and nylons. The nearby Capitol East Metro disgorged new crowds.
Frannie Colantuno, part-owner of a new sandwich shop on the same block as the Miller building, said she was happy that the excitement of the previous night had passed and things were back to normal.
"It seemed that if they collapsed, everybody else around here would be vibrating and shaking," she said. "These are really old buildings. Everybody took it seriously."