A historic house that once belonged to the first mayor of Georgetown was moved to a storage lot yesterday to await its triumphant return in 2001 as part of a luxury hotel.
A developer is transforming the South Street location of the house into a $150 million complex of residences, shops and a Ritz-Carlton hotel. Millennium Partners used the building's move as a symbolic groundbreaking for the real estate project bounded by Wisconsin Avenue and South, 31st and K streets NW. An old city incinerator, located in the middle of the block, also will be preserved and incorporated into the hotel.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) gleefully gave Jim Matyiko of Expert House Movers the verbal cue to direct the driver to begin the move.
"I don't get to drive it?" Williams asked Phil Aarons, a founding partner of Millennium Partners. "No? Well, then, start your engine."
Fourteen minutes later, the 80-ton white frame Brickyard Hill House, sitting atop the bed of an 18-wheeler, was backed into a private parking lot on the north side of South Street. The truck had to make a 40-degree turn to avoid hitting an office building on one side and brick row houses on the other. The house filled its parking spot.
Before the ceremony, Matyiko said his Virginia Beach company also is responsible for the just-completed move of the lighthouse at Cape Hatteras, N.C., that has received national television coverage.
Moving the house was a particularly difficult job, Matyiko said, because it is more than 200 years old and is constructed of wood and brick.
"That is very unusual construction," he said. "The brick was used as insulation between the walls, and that makes it all very fragile. Brick is more difficult to move than wood because wood has some give, but here we have both, and they are both very old."
The company also moved two smaller houses, one brick and one wood, from the development site to the same parking lot. They, too, will be incorporated into the project.
The Brickyard Hill House was built between 1775 and 1790, according to historian Emily Eig, president of Traceries Inc., who was hired by the developer to research the history of the building and the block. She said Robert Peter, a large landowner in Georgetown, had the house built as rental property on what was then known as Peter's Square. She said Peter, who lived on a nearby block, became the first mayor when Georgetown was incorporated in 1789.
Georgetown at that time was a shipping center, and the area south of M Street NW attracted residents who were employed at the port and in warehouses, Eig said.
In 1950, the Old Georgetown Historic District was established, including the block that is now to be developed. The block was probably best known in recent years for the Bayou nightclub, in the 3100 block of K Street NW. The club is now closed.
The incinerator, with its tall, red brick chimney, has dominated the block since the District government built it in 1932. Eig said Georgetown residents insisted the city construct an attractive building with nice landscaping. When completed, the art deco structure drew national attention for its architecture and efficient burning system. The cavernous building has been vacant since it closed in 1971.
Much of the block as well as the incinerator have long been neglected. Tall grass and dense bushes filled in empty spaces, and some of the buildings were run-down.
All of that will be replaced with 10,000 square feet of retail space, a 3,000-seat Loew's Theatres multiplex, 600 parking spaces, a 93-room Ritz-Carlton hotel and 30 luxury residences, according to promotional material.
Williams told the audience of about 50 people assembled for the 10 a.m. event that the new complex would bring in 352 permanent jobs, $3 million in taxes during construction and $8 million in annual taxes when finished.
"It's a good thing, as Martha Stewart would say," he said.