Some Logan Circle newcomers say they were startled when a contemporary flat-roofed paint store started going up on a lot in the 1400 block of P Street NW, on the fringe of their neighborhood of 19th century row houses.
When the windowless, cinderblock outlet for Duron Paints and Wallcoverings was finished and freshly painted white with a bold trademark stripe across it, surprise turned to anger.
Last month, about 20 neighbors met in a nearby church to grumble about what they called the intrusion of suburban "ugliness" into their enclave. They petitioned the mayor's office and Ward 2 council member John A. Wilson (D), now running for D.C. Council chairman. They even threatened to boycott the new business if the owners would not agree to alter the store.
They wrote the owners asking them to brick it over or paint it a darker color, remove the multicolored stripe, provide windows on the 15th Street side and add more landscaping around the edge.
"It's a terribly ugly building," said Joe Sternlieb, the local advisory neighborhood commissioner who led the effort.
Duron executives said they were flabbergasted.
Three years ago, said spokesman Scott Wilson, the company presented its proposal to build on a vacant lot that had once housed some deteriorating commercial buildings, and community leaders approved the plan.
The company had shown the neighbors how the store would look, presented them with a color rendering of exactly what is there today, and taken them examples of the materials that would be used.
Community support was essential since they were asking the city to close an alley to provide for a larger store, company officials said.
The change of heart today is a reflection of the changing neighborhood, where new community leaders have emerged with new priorities, while previously approved projects take years to jump zoning and permit hurdles.
To win its approval, the local ANC originally asked Duron for only one thing: to improve the access to a minority-owned business behind the site.
Company officials said they did that. But now, new commissioners represent the gentrifying neighborhood, where newcomers have paid as much as $400,000 for their Victorian brownstones.
Jim Zais, Ward 2 coordinator for Mayor Marion Barry, said he is sympathetic to the neighbors, but it's too late to put any real pressure on Duron because the city already approved the needed alley closing.
"It's a real shame," he said. "I don't know anyone who thinks that that building belongs there . . . . I think that for a company that sells paint to so many people doing renovation in the city, I'm astounded that it would put up a building in such bad taste."
Last week, the two sides met on the sidewalk in front of the store and hammered out an unofficial truce.
With little legal muscle to press their demands, the residents pleaded with Duron executives to remove the colored stripe from the building and plant more trees and shrubs to soften the impact of the glaring exterior.
Duron officials agreed to consider the requests, but said they will need city approval to plant more shrubs since they have built right up to property line on several sides. They encouraged the citizens to take the matter to the city.
This week an urban anthropologist who lives in the area said the compromise will be better for the local streetscape than the whole package of residents' requests. The building "is not ugly. It's very functional," said Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, who lives one block away on 15th Street.
"Sometimes it's good to have a building in a different style. It gives character to a place. And it's kind of hypocritical to always immitate the style of the 19th century when we are living in the 20th," she said.