A historic Georgetown building, with connections to George Washington and the origins of the District of Columbia, cracked while being renovated, forcing the closure of part of M Street NW last night as workers began to take down part of the structure at least temporarily.
Authorities said a crack was spotted about 5 p.m. in the east wall of 3350 M St. NW, a vacant three-story building that was built around 1787 and known as the Forrest-Marbury House in recognition of two early occupants.
The house is close to the District approach to Key Bridge, and police closed the nearby section of M Street, normally one of the busiest thoroughfares in the city. Bridge traffic was diverted around the site.
The building was being restored as part of a project to develop office and condominium space at the site, according to John Bellingham, president of a construction company doing the work.
Sandra Fowler, a spokeswoman for the developers, the Forrest-Marbury House Associates Limited Partnership, said late last night that bricks near the crack were being removed to permit the structure to stabilize.
Afterward, she said, the bricks will be replaced.
In addition to its age, the building was noted among students of the early history of Washington as the site of a 1791 meeting at which George Washington was believed to have discussed with local landowners the assembly of property for what would become the District of Columbia. The Forrest who gave his name to the house was Gen. Uriah Forrest, a Revolutionary War soldier and statesman who sold the structure to William Marbury.
Marbury also lent his name to the landmark building, but he is more famous for bringing the lawsuit known as Marbury v. Madison, which was decided by the Supreme Court in an 1803 ruling that is a landmark of American constitutional law. The suit was filed in connection with Marbury's effort to win reappointment to his post as justice of the peace. It established the right of the court to declare an act of Congress to be unconstitutional.
According to a 1958 reference book, "Historic Houses of George-Town and Washington City," the Marbury family remained in the house at least through the start of the Civil War. When they left, according to the book, the house "began the downward course that has finally brought it to its present gaunt and forlorn aspect."
The nightclub Desperado's, which had occupied the building for six years, closed in September 1982. Since the 1950s, the structure had been occupied by a variety of clubs and restaurants. Before Desperado's, it had been home to Apple Pie, and before that, Casablanca. Still earlier it was Smoky's, which followed Groovy's, which in the mid-1960s was described as the city's first cinematheque.
At the time Desperado's closed, a newspapaper report called the building one of the oldest structures still in use in Washington, and said its more than two centuries of wear and tear showed in "slow cracks and rough bricks."