A group of Adams Morgan residents has proposed designating a triangular-shaped area of century-old rowhouses and Beaux Arts apartment buildings, once known as Washington Heights, as a historic district.
The designation would protect historically significant buildings against demolition or defacement and would preserve one of the earliest areas of city expansion beyond Washington's original boundary at Florida Avenue NW.
It also would make it more difficult for owners to make exterior changes to their properties and would increase city scrutiny of requests for building permits.
The proposal will be discussed for the first time publicly at a meeting scheduled for 7:30 p.m. next Thursday at Goodwill Baptist Church, 1862 Kalorama Rd. NW. The meeting was called by the 1C Advisory Neighborhood Commission, which represents Adams Morgan.
The Washington Heights neighborhood, so-called in the late 1900s as residents began moving north of Florida Avenue, is bounded on the north by Columbia Road NW; on the east by 18th Street NW; on the south by Florida Avenue NW; and on the west by Connecticut Avenue NW. It is considered to be one of Adams Morgan's four original 19th-century neighborhoods, which also included Meridian Hill, Kalorama Heights and Lanier Heights, according to "Washington at Home, an Illustrated History of Neighborhoods in the Nation's Capital."
Today, an estimated 2,800 people live within the proposed Washington Heights historic district -- all of the residents in single-member 1C01 and about a quarter to a third of those living in single-member 1C03. Adams Morgan ANC Chairman Alan Roth, whose district lies entirely within the proposed historic district, said he has no position on the proposal at this point. However, the ANC will eventually vote on whether it supports the historic district designation, he said.
"There are pros and cons to this; there are benefits and burdens to it," he said. "I want us going into it with our eyes open, recognizing there are potential consequences of obtaining the [designation], and there also are potential consequences of doing nothing. I want the neighbors themselves to do that balancing."
The district would have to be approved by the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board after the proponents completed an extensive historical and architectural survey of all the property within the proposed district.
The study would be conducted in the National Archives. D.C. Historical Society records also would be reviewed to see whether any individuals of note ever lived there. That process would take at least a year, according to architectural historians who have worked on similar projects.
The proposed boundaries might change also, depending on whether all the buildings meet various historic criteria, including whether a building has most or all of its original facade intact or whether a building is more than 50 years old.
If the area were designated a historic district, the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board would review building permits affecting the exterior appearance of all property within the district. Under the D.C. Construction Code, a permit is also required for minor repairs affecting historic property, including items such as masonry pointing, stucco repair and replacement of windows, roofing, siding, sidewalks and driveways.
The proposed Washington Heights district, which would abut Adams Morgan's other historic district, Kalorama Triangle, is being promoted by residents Ann Hughes Hargrove and her husband, Lawrence Hargrove, and other members of the Kalorama Citizens Association.
Hughes Hargrove is a retired New York City planner who lived in Adams Morgan in the early 1960s and returned to the neighborhood in the early 1980s. She is chairwoman of the Committee of 100 on the Federal City, a group created in 1923 to oversee community development within the District.
She also was active in working to create the Kalorama Triangle Historic District in the 1980s, and in helping to save the facade of the Arts and Crafts building at 18th Street and Columbia Road NW that now houses a McDonald's.
"There are pros and cons to all of this," she said, "If you want to demolish a building or if you want to do something to the front of it which radically changes it, you might be in trouble."
She said that virtually all building and renovation is already regulated by the city's stringent zoning and planning rules. "If you want to build something on your house, your real problem is going to be with zoning," she said.