A plethora of placards hangs on Dupont Circle's biggest bulletin board, but one -- a tattered, orange Board of Zoning Adjustment notice -- signals its demise.
The zoning board has eased the way for Agostino Buttinelli to construct a two-story retail building in place of the forlorn former Junkanoo restaurant at 1629 Connecticut Ave. NW, by dropping the requirement for four parking spaces.
With zoning board clearance, the plans now go to the city's Historic Preservation Review Board, which must approve both the demolition of the old structure and the design of the new.
On property that the city assesses at $1.15 million, two faux-grass awnings and a masked witch doctor have lingered since the once-popular West Indian-style club closed a decade ago. But while the doors have been boarded and bolted, the flat, salmon-colored front has attracted all sorts of decorations, including advertising fliers, graffiti advocating political reform, and even a spray-painted portrait of the late Chilean president Salvador Allende.
Before the club closed, it drew some notoriety: In 1974, Annabell Battistella, otherwise known as Fanne Fox, and then-Rep. Wilbur D. Mills (D-Ark.) dined and reportedly quarreled there hours before they were stopped by police for speeding along the Tidal Basin. Foxe, who jumped into the water in apparent panic, subsequently performed in a Boston burlesque house as "The Tidal Basin Bombshell."
Nowadays, the windowless Junkanoo's mystery and moribundity distinguish it in the bustling block of Connecticut Avenue between Q and R streets NW. And so despite Dupont Circle's unrelenting parking problem, renewal plans received hearty neighborhood support.
"Anything would be an improvement," said Vernon Palmer, spokesman for Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2-B, which voted unanimously to back the plan.
"A notorious neighborhood eyesore" was the description given by Guido Fenzi of the Dupont Circle Citizens Association, who urged the board to approve the application.
A dissenting voice came from Harriet Hubbard of the Residential Action Coalition, who encouraged the owners to revise their building plans by using the basement for parking. But owner Buttinelli and his architect, John Wiebenson, said they expected most of their trade to come from pedestrians and from the Dupont Circle Metro station less than a block away.
In 1983, Buttinelli received a variance in parking requirements for a four-story office/retail building on the site. But the board stipulated that the owners would have to lease five parking spaces in a commercial lot for use by its tenants.
The Junkanoo remained untouched. At the recent zoning board hearing, board Chairwoman Carrie Thornhill and member Pat Mathews asked Buttinelli about the prior exemption. He testified that he had abandoned the plan because he was unable to find a parking lease for more than two years.
In asking for the variance, Wiebenson and Buttinelli said the new plans called for a smaller building with no office space, and consequently less traffic and parking demand. Without the parking requirements, the space behind the building could accommodate deliveries, and thus prevent further congestion on Connecticut Avenue. The street is extremely narrow in that block because its center lanes run underground into the Dupont Circle tunnel.
The board accepted this reasoning, and voted quickly and unanimously to approve Buttinelli's proposal, with no requirement for off-site parking arrangements.
During the hearing, the board had noted the varying delivery needs of tenants in the area, contrasting the shelf life of bagels and shoes. Buttinelli said that the exact use of the space is not certain.
"I'd like to sit there and have a cup of coffee and watch the trees wave in the wind," Wiebenson said. "I think it's that kind of place."