The D.C. Historic Preservation office recommended this week that the Cleveland Park neighborhood in Northwest Washington be designated as a historic district and nominated to the National Register of Historic Places.
If that recommendation is accepted by the Historic Preservation Review Board, 1,400 individual houses, several large apartment buildings and the strip of stores along Connecticut Avenue between Porter and Macomb streets would come under protection of the city's tough preservation law, a proposal that has angered some developers and landowners interested in redeveloping the commercial strip into high-rise offices.
The district, as proposed, would be bounded roughly by Wisconsin Avenue on the west; Woodley Road and the Klingle Valley on the south; the Indian Embassy at the eastern end of Macomb Street and Connecticut Avenue to the east; and Tilden Street and Rodman Street to the north.
In reviewing the proposal from the Advisory Neighborhood Council 3C and the Cleveland Park Historical Society, city preservation officials said that Cleveland Park was "a significant example of the development of a streetcar suburb" and a historic community because "it contains virtually every major architectural style in vogue and represents the changing tastes in styles between 1890 and 1940" while at the same time being a "visually unified neighborhood."
Cleveland Park residents, neighborhood groups and local leaders flocked to a public hearing before the review board Wednesday, saying that they believe the diversity of architectural styles and "village-like" atmosphere make Cleveland Park one of Washington's premier neighborhoods and "a city treasure."
The board decided to defer testimony from people opposing the proposal until a second scheduled hearing, but several developers and landowners in the area, including the Cafritz Co., have said they are against portions of the proposal.
The preservation review board agreed last December to speed up the hearing schedule for the historic designation of Cleveland Park after the Cafritz Co. filed for a permit to demolish the Park and Shop shopping center at the intersection of Ordway Street and Connecticut Avenue.
The 1930-vintage Park and Shop is seen by the Cleveland Park Historical Society as one of the anchors of the commercial strip that serves the neighborhood and a historic landmark in its own right. Cafritz agreed to withdraw its application for a demolition permit when the historical society agreed to set aside a separate application for landmark status for the Park and Shop and the review board agreed to expedite the hearing on the entire Cleveland Park district.
In their presentation, the historical society and the ANC brought out a string of expert witnesses who detailed the history and development of Cleveland Park, saying that the "kids and dogs neighborhood" had buildings representing every stage of development from farmland to urban neighborhood that was typical of the way Washington grew.
Representing the earliest form of settlement, one of the oldest remaining buildings in the city is in Cleveland Park, an 18th-century farmhouse with a kitchen that is believed to date from 1740. That property, known as Rosedale, already is designated as an individual historic landmark.
Cleveland Park's first development was into large country houses and summer homes built between 1800 and 1890 for Washington's elite, including President Grover Cleveland, for whom the neighborhood was named. While most of those estates have been razed, three remain, including Twin Oaks and Tregaron, which also are protected as individual landmarks, and the house that is now the Indian Embassy.
It was the development of the Chevy Chase neighborhood to the north and the formation of Connecticut Avenue as a streetcar corridor, however, that started intensive residential development in Cleveland Park in the 1890s. Within 50 years most of the eclectic mix of Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, Mission Revival, Victorian frame houses, one-story bungalows, English cottages and Tudor Revival houses were built, most individually designed to add variety to the streetscape.
During the 1920s several large apartment buildings, including the Broadmoor at Porter Street and Connecticut Avenue, were built in the then-fashionable "grand resort" style. Later, several Art Deco apartment buildings were built along the avenue, including Sedgwick Gardens and the first garden apartment complex in the city, the Cleveland Park. The commercial strip, which includes several Art Deco buildings, was built between 1920 and 1940.
"What distinguishes Cleveland Park is that the residential and commercial areas are relatively intact, very close to the way they looked in 1936," said Kathleen Sinclair Wood, one of the architectural historians testifying on the architectural significance of the neighborhood. "It is a suburb of great diversity, from the old country estates of Tregaron and Twin Oaks to the bungalows and Sears and Roebuck houses that came later." Wood said the community has at least four of the famous Sears, Roebuck & Co. houses, which could be ordered in pieces from a catalogue.
It was the integrity of the district as a whole that the residents stressed, however, saying that the commercial strip -- the part of Cleveland Park most pressured by developers -- is essential to the historic quality of the neighborhood.
"Imagine what Williamsburg or Old Sturbridge Village would be like without their commercial centers," said one resident. The D.C. Preservation League and the Art Deco Society of Washington echoed that concern, saying that the entire district should be adopted as proposed.
"We are concerned not only with the Art Deco buildings in the commercial strip but the larger commercial district," said Richard Striner, president of the the Art Deco Society. "It is important that we keep the ensemble of storefronts as a record of incremental development in Washington. It is important in its totality."
Some developers have questioned the historic significance of some of the commercial buildings, including the Park and Shop, and have vowed to present a convincing case against including all of the commercial strip in the district.
Richard Longstreth, director of the historic preservation graduate program at George Washington University, defended the Park and Shop as one of the earliest and best remaining examples in the city of a shopping center with off-street parking, but the developer's attorney said he doubted that made the building worth preserving.
"We're talking about a parking lot, or at least that is what they say is historic about it," said Whayne S. Quin, a D.C. zoning attorney representing Cafritz. "It's very clear there is nothing architecturally significant about the property, so I guess the issue is that it is historic. We're going to try and show that it is not." Cafritz is planning to sell the site to a developer who is working on drawings for a 10-story office building that would include four movie theaters.
The preservation review board will continue the public hearing March 12 and will take a vote on the proposal 90 days after the hearing is concluded.