Washington preservationists called on city officials this week to take the "bold step" of awarding landmark status to the Greyhound Bus Terminal at 12th Street and New York Avenue NW, saying that the building should be protected even though the building's historic qualities are hidden under a modern metal and cement cover.
Preservationists across the United States have stepped up efforts recently to save what are known as "slipcovered buildings," structures with historic facades hidden under post-World War II plastic or aluminium skins. The Greyhound terminal here, however, is the first case of preservationists seeking landmark status for a slipcovered building in the Washington area.
While landmark status would not require the owners of the Greyhound terminal to strip off the covering, it would require any changes to the property to be reviewed by the D.C. Preservation Review Board. Preservationists said that if the review board awards landmark status to the building, it would be unlikely to approve a redevelopment plan that did not include stripping off the modern skin and restoring at least a section of the building.
The Art Deco Society of Washington and the D.C. Preservation League presented the case for the Greyhound terminal to the review board after negotiations with the building's owners reached a stalemate last week.
Witnesses testifying for the preservationists said the 1940-vintage building should be protected because it was an "excellent example" of the streamlined "moderne" style of architecture popular during the 1930s, and because the building had served as the "Ellis Island of Washington."
The original stone building, which was designed by the renowned bus terminal architect William S. Arrasmith and featured a style that conveyed a sense of motion and streamlining, was covered with modern metal veneer in 1976.
"Even if the building is not uncovered in our lifetime, it deserves to the preserved," said Kim Hoagland, vice president of the Preservation League. "There is no comparable example of the moderne streamlined building in the downtown and precious few left in the city."
Richard Striner, president of the Art Deco Society, said that preserving the city's "hidden heritage" was as important as preserving buildings that can be seen and that it is standard procedure among archeologists to seek historic protection for buried sites if there is sufficient information that the site contains artifacts.
"The analogy between the Greyhound terminal and an archeological site is not a frivolous one," Striner said. "We have documentation that 95 percent of the building is intact underneath the covering, and we believe that is ample documentation to designate the building now."
The D.C. preservation staff said it considered the originial building historic under the city's preservation criteria but that it could not recommend landmark status unless the structural integrity of the original building could be confirmed.
The owners of the building said they believe the building does not merit preservation because -- in its present state -- it does not meet the review board's criteria for historic properties. The owners also said that designating a covered building would "set a terrible precedent" in Washington, making it difficult for developers and investors to predict whether or not a building might be subject to landmark designation.
The preservationists, however, warned that rejecting the landmark application for the Greyhound terminal would set a precedent that could "encourage developers to cover buildings with cheap materials to circumvent preservation efforts."
The Greyhound terminal opened for service in March 1940, and Greyhound still leases the terminal for operations, although the company last year sold the building to a local developer in partnership with a New York real estate investment company. Greyhound plans to move its terminal operations to a new site near Union Station within a year.
Michael Hadid, the local developer, sold his interest in the property several weeks ago to the New York investors, Carlyle Associates. Carlyle has commissioned two architects to design ways to accommodate the historic facade into a new, multi-story office building.
Negotiations between Carlyle and the preservationists broke down last week, however, when the Art Deco Society and the owners could not agree on how much of the building should be retained. The Art Deco Society is seeking to retain a 40-foot deep facade, which the Carlyle says will not allow full utilization of the site.
Several members of the preservation review board said they were impressed by a part of the presentation that showed other examples of covered buildings that had been protected and later stripped of their coverings to reveal the historic qualities hidden underneath. Thomas Moriarty, a real estate consultant who has worked with preservationists across the country, said that the aluminium coverings were usually put on the buildings in an effort to "modernize the company's corporate image" and that in many cases the coverings were easy to remove.
While the review board is not required to make a decision on the application within a specific time period, both sides urged the board to take some action soon, saying that a clear determination of the historic status of the building would "facilitate" the negotiations.
"We're more than willing to work with the [preservationists] to keep a certain amount and shape of the building," said Manon Failey, a spokesman for Carlyle. "As long as it is within reason."