Multi-million dollar high-rise development is starting to spread across Washington's recently dormant West End, between Washington Circle and Georgetown north of Pennsylvania Avenue.
New office buildings, apartment houses and hotels will soon go up where obsolete industrial plants small shops and other old buildings once stood.
The new construction promises profits for developers and businessmen, increased tax revenues for the city, new housing for the affluent and some continuing controversy over just how the area is being redeveloped.
"All the signs are there for a takeoff" says Oliver T. Carr Jr., the West End's leading developer and head of a development firm that has long played a major role in downtown Washington's growth. "Yes it has taken off."
At the western fringe of the West End, on 26th Street NW overlooking Georgetown, Carr has started clearing a site for a nine-story, U-shaped, $30 million complex of offices, condominium apartments, a swimming pool and shopping mall. Nearby at Pennsylvania Avenue and 25th Street NW, a lot has been cleared by another developer, Florenz R. Ourisman, for a new 10-story, $5.5 million Guest Quarters hotel.
At the West End's eastern edge, on New Hampshire Avenue NW just west of Washington's ever-widening sprawl of office buildings, Carr is sketching tentative plans for a triangular, $15 million office structure designed as probable nre headquarters for the long-established, 105-attorney law firm of Arnold and Porter.
On the same block, restaureteur and developer Ulysses G. (Blackie) Auger says he will soon build a 350-room, 10-story, $20 million hotel, partly situated atop his Blackie's House of Beef restaurant. One block away, Auger plans a $10 million apartment house. How are times in the West End? "Busting out all over," Auger says. "It's there."
Elsehwere in the West End, town house builders and renovators are also making their moves.
Three small, brick town are nearing completion on L. Street NW between 23rd and 24th Streets. Lawrence N.Brandt, whose company is building them, says all three have already been sold for $147,500 each. He paid $70,000 for the three lots last July. "If you look at the way things are going in the city, the West End is really the next coming area," Brandt says.
Near Washington Circle, the West End's southeastern tip, a cluster of red brick, Victorian rowhouses, some with turrets, is undergoing renovation. Marilyn Taylor, whose firm is restoring 10 of them, says almost all have now been sold, at prices ranging from $168,000 to $211,000. Her firm paid $68,000 apiece. Already, Taylor is eyeing other West End town houses to renovate, including nine for which she says she has put in a bid.
Yet this burst of building in thr West End - a now largely nondescript neighborhood surrounded by prosperous Georgetown, Foggy Bottom, Dupont Circle and downtown - has also brought with it contuniuing controvesies, bitter lawsuits, community opposition and and bewilderment among many poor and moderate-income residents who fear they will soon be forced from their homes.
"If you don't have money, you're going to have to go," says Lorenzo Barrett, a Washingnton Gas Light Co. technician, who lives with his wife and five of his seven children in a West End row house on L. Street that he partially renovated himself in 1963.He pays $160 a month in rent - as much he says, as he can afford amid mounting medical bills and other family expenses.
Already, Barrett notes, two prospective purchasers have visited his house. They said they were considering buying it along with two adjoining houses, one occupied and the other already vacant. Their plan ie to evict the tenants, tear down the houses and build new high-priced town houses for sale. Barrett says he wants to stay in the West End, has a son nearby Francis Junior High School at N and 24th Streets NW, is attached to his home and cannot afford to move. Will he manage to hang on to his rented home? "I don't think so, Barrett says. "There's too much money involved."
In a recent interview, Nathan W. Gross, a D.C. city planner, conceded that the District government's chief shortcoming in planning for development in the West End has been its failure to press strongly for government-subsidized housing for moderate-income families. Gross believes, as do other observers that some lower-income West End residents will inevitably be forced out as land values rise.
Though the West End been under scrutiny for many years by city planners and private developers the development now beginning there stems largely from parellel moves undertaken by the city and by developers in 1972.
A city planning study in April, 1972, proposed that the West End, which it described as "an underutilized area dreariness and decay," be transformed into "a vibrant new in-town community, having the diversity and flair enjoyed by the West Ends of other world capitals." Also in 1972, Carr and other businessmen and lans owners formed West End Planning, Inc., a nonprofit group, to formulate development proposals.
The West Ends, as defined by city planners, is bounded by N Street on the north, by 21st Street and New Hampshire Avenue on the east, by K Street on the south, and by Rock Creek on the west.
Amid considerable controversy, the city set the stage redevelopment of the West End by creating new zoning regulations for much of the 99-acre area in December, 1974. The new zoning restrictions were more stringent than those developers had sought, but permitted far more high-rise buildings than neighborhood groups wanted.
In broad terms, the new zoning was intended to spur contruction of a mixture of apartment houses and office buildings. It was meant also to preserve many of the old roq houses and small apartment buildings in the neighborhood. City planners hoped that the West End would become an architectural transition from the city's downtown office sprawl on the east to elegant Georgetown on the west.
The outcome, city officilas for Georgetown on the west.
The outcome, city officials for, more tax revenue for the city an infux of affluent new West End residents, safer streets, new residential contruction to help lessen the city's housing shortage, brighter surroundings and livelier nightlife.
Little has occurred, however, until now. During the nation's economic recession, money was tight and construction slumped. In Washington demand for office space was temporarily sluggish. Developers were also irked by rent control on apartments and other restrictive housing measures. Today, the economic climate, planners and developers say, has brightened. "The basic things is the market," Carr says.
Development in the West End was also slowed by such impediments as a neighborhood battle over realigning an alley and negotiations to hammer out an unusual no strike agreement betweem Washington buildings trades unions and the George Hyman Construction Co., Carr's building contractor on his initial West End venture.
Now, the West End is a patchwork: barking lots, neatly kept rowhouses, in abandoned and dilapidated auto repair shop, a hospital, an aging warehouse, a brightly landscaped public library office buildings, a printing plant, boarded-up vacant houses, gas stations. Much of the industry that once dominated the area has left because of rising taxes and other costs, shortages of space for expansion, trucking bottlenecks and other problems.
The West End's future has scarcely begun to emerge. City planners say the community's population will grow from about 2,300 residents now to 9,000 or more in coming years. Developers predict hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent on new construction, mainly for nine- and 10-story office buildings apartment houses and hotels. Most of the West End's new inhabitans are expected to be single persons or childless couples - a forecast that has prompted complaints that the area may become a "swinging singles ghetto."
Carr says he expects the West End eventually to resemble Foggy Bottom, with new structures comparable to the Watergate complex, luxury highrise buildings and fashionable town houses. The architecture of the West End, Carr says, will be softer in design, more open to the sky and surroundings, and more varied than that in much of downtown Washington.
By all evilences, Carr is as expected taking the lead in seeking to develop the West End. Cranes and trucks are already clearing rubble from the recently razed Sealtest Dairy site at 26th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW where Carr's first West End office and apartment complex will go up. Carr and other investors have bought the former Goodwill Industries headquarters at 1218 New Hampshire Ave. NW, where preliminary drawings are being Irafted for new Arnold and Porter headquarters.
In addition, Carr's firm is carrying out a preliminary study of possible high-rise development on the sprawling site of Capitol Cadillac Co., at 22d and N Streets NW. Capitol Cadillac is considering giving up its 4 acres in the West End and moving to the suburbs. It already holds an option, a Capitol Cadillac official said, on land in Prince George's County.
Carr's company is also preparing drawings for possible redevelopment of land owned by U.S. News & World Report, whose headquarters is at 2300 N St. NW. Carr's proposals are to include a new headquarters building for the magazine as well as other residential or commercial high-rise projects. The magazine's land holdings include a dig warehouse at 24th and M Streets NW, now leased by the World Bank. A U.S. News & World Report spokesman has characterized its development plans as highly uncertain.
Carr says he may eventually take part in developing land on M Street NW., between 24th and 25th Streets, part of which is owned by Watson B. Rulon, an investor who says he hopes to sell out on profitable terms.
According to an Army Times Publishing Co. official, Carr also sounded out the publishing company on a possible land development venture, but no deal materialized. Army Times Publishing Co. owns five small land parcels in the West End, bought in the 1960s as an investment. All are up for sale, the official said.
While Carr is in the forefront of West End development, other developers also are eager to cash in on the boom. Richard Norair, president of Norair Corp., a construction company, says he owns two West End tracts and will eventually put up high-rise buildings on them, though his plands have not yet been drafted.When he builds, Norair says, a group of row houses he owns will razed.
Even the White House and the Commerce Department have a stake in West End property. The White House leases a four-story garage on 23d Street NW. The lease expires Dec. 31, a government spokesman said.
The Commerce Department occupies a building at 24th and M Streets NW, once used by the old Weather Bureau and now by the National Fire Prevention and Control Administration. Nearby Columbia Hospital for Women has in the past shown interest in acquiring the site. D.C. government planners also suggest it might be converted to moderate-income housing.
What developers and planners describe as imminent rebirth for the West End has drawn repeated protests, however, from opponents who fear further encoachment of monolithic office buildings, destruction of existing homes and eviction of long-time West End families.
West End residents and community leaders say their fight - partly an effort to preserve moderate-income row houses and to thwart high-rise development - will continue as each new construction project is advanced. "It's hard to tell how these battles are going to come out and how the war's going to be won," says Ann Hume Loikow, who represents the West End on the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission. "We feel very threatened by commercial development."