Six architecture students from Catholic University have come up wth a design for revitalizing a commercial strip in nearby Brookland that community planners hope to use in developing the quiet, low-rise area.
Graduate students from the university's design studio spent about nine months doing the seven-part study. They interviewed community residents and business owners along the Northeast neighborhood's 12th Street commercial district and developed models and plans for a no-frills renovation of the area.
"I would give them a top rating," said city planner Peter Leiberg, who is assigned to that area. "This is the kind of work that we try to encourage and would like to see done."
Brookland, a low-density, middle-class area of detached bungalows, garden apartments and several religious institutions, has seen what Miller calls a phenomenal increase in pedestrian and auto activity since 1979, when a Metro station opened there. Also, the area has one of the highest percentages of two-parent, homeowning families in the District, making it probably one of the most stable neighborhoods in the city.
The 12th Street strip now is made up of structurally sound buildings that show some exterior decay. Soiled brickwork and the rusted-out shells of what were once neon signs adorn several small businesses in the strip between Monroe and Newton streets -- the block the students feel needs the most attention. Area residents told the students that they are unhappy about the lack of parking space there.
The students' propose low-cost changes -- mostly in the facades of the buildings -- and the creation of parking lots and widened walkways.
"This is a very realistic, very feasable, very economical proposal," said Joseph Miller, the 63-year-old architecture professor who led the Brookland project. "It's not spectacular and that's its saving grace," agrees Thomas Rooney, who heads the CU art department and is involved with planning for the community.
Doug Dyess, who owns several businesses in the area and who is chairman of the 12th Street Steering Committee, said local planners hope to buy and use portions of the students' study.
"I would think a facade change would be great," concurs Colonial Robinson, a repairman at Earl's Repair Service, 3532 12th St. NE.
Denise Fay, a 26-year-old urban design student who provided much of the impetus for the Brookland project, said that her group attended dozens of community meetings during the course of the nine-month project.
Fay has no regrets about putting about 1,200 hours and $150 into the nuts-and-bolts project, a departure from the kind of fanciful design work that she feels "leads to nothing but a nice portfolio."
On a grader scale, seven students last semester designed a hotel-convention center complex for the area around the Brookland Metro station.
Brookland planners are hopeful that the 12th Street project will inspire a commercial revitalization of the area. "It has started the juices flowing among the business community," Leiberg says. He went on to predict that the combination of Metro-inspired traffic and the number of local students and residents with money to spend will make the Brookland area boom.
The manager of a newly opened Colonel Brooks Tavern at the corner of Ninth and Monroe streets agrees with Lieberg, citing the willingness of local persons to do business in the area . "When we first planned the restaurant we weren't sure how much disposable income the residents had ...but it's been a real surprise," said manager Jim Stiegman, whose restaurant is across the street from the Metro stop.
Stiegman says his investment group, Monroe Street Restaurants, which owns part of the Capitol Hill watering hole, The Man In The Green Hat, first became interested in the Brookland area in 1978 and bought and renovated the tavern building in l979. Governmental agencies also are beginning to take some interest in Brookland. Through the efforts of the District's Office of Business and Economic Development, the U.S. Economic Development Administration has approved a $30,000 grant for market studies of the entire area.
The Brookland project is one of more than a dozen community projects the CU design studio has completed since 1962. Miller said earlier student plans for the Ballston Metro station in Arlington were used extensively for the development of that facility.
Miller's next project? He'll put his students to work on planning uses for a vacant chunk of District-owned land near Mt. Vernon Square.