Philip Brown is seeing red, but not, he claims, where it counts.

Instead, the red he says he should be seeing is white, or beige or maybe even cool gray, depending on whose view is heard.

Brown and his cousin, William Brown, are going head-to-head with a large Washington development firm over what he insists is no minor matter: the color of a new office building located on a piece of land in Washington's West End neighborhood that has been in the Brown family for most of this century.

If the Browns get their way, the city would force the development firm, Kaempfer Co., to strip the existing off-white color from the facade of the building at 1250 24th St. NW.

The result of such an order would be to get the facade -- a portion of which includes the front from a 1925 building constructed by the Browns' fathers and grandfather -- back to its natural, red-brick state. In addition, the Browns charge that the development firm also has ignored a city requirement that the building's windows should be green-tinted, not clear like the ones that have been installed.

Philip Brown contends that he is simply trying to force Kaempfer to comply with a D.C. zoning panel order mandating that the office tower be a salmon or rose color. But he readily acknowledges that honoring his family's past is the overriding impetus for pursuing the issue at the length he has.

Take, for example, the hearing he has requested before a District zoning agency next month to try to settle the matter. Or, consider the former Central Intelligence Agency lab chief and the Catholic University physics professor he hired to confirm that the color of the building's new facade is not red, and that the tower's glass is not green, but clear.

For Brown, the shade-of-the-brick, color-of-the-windows issue is not funny, and he said the tens of thousands of dollars he is spending on the matter proves he is serious.

"I figure I've been taken," Brown said. "We even helped them get the zoning."

Officials at Kaempfer Co., a Washington-based development firm that has a 99-year lease with the Brown family for the 24th Street land under the building, declined comment on the color controversy.

On April 8, 1985, the D.C. Zoning Commission approved plans for the 209,000-square-foot office building, which has since been completed and is now about 75 percent occupied. At the time of the hearing, Kaempfer presented several witnesses who extolled the virtues of the building's plans, including the reddish color of its proposed facade.

Because of the particular zoning in the West End neighborhood, developers must build projects there that are half residential and half commercial. Like most developers in the bustling West End, however, Kaempfer offered a series of amenities that persuaded the zoning panel to let the firm sidetrack the neighborhood's zoning mandate.

One provision Kaempfer agreed to was to preserve the facade of the existing building on the site. That building and the business it housed, the old B&W Garage, were owned by the Browns' fathers and grandfather. The Browns' family used the facility to house the old B&W Taxicab Co., one of the first big cab companies, started during the 1920s.

As a result of the amenity package offered, the development firm was permitted to construct a building nearly 50 percent larger than would have otherwise been allowed. With annual West End office rentals in the $30-per-square-foot range, such an increase in square footage will translate into substantially greater profits for the developer.

Last year, while the building was under construction, Kaempfer officials applied to the D.C. government to change the color of the building from red to off-white.

"After a thorough evaluation ... {we have} decided that a light, warm gray-white shade of brick and metal work would be more contextually harmonious with the surrounding area," a Kaempfer petition said.

But Kaempfer didn't wait for permission to change the color. While its petition was pending, the firm painted the eight-story structure the "warm gray-white" color it wanted. Last March 6, just three days before the matter was to be considered by the zoning panel but with the building already painted, Kaempfer dropped its color-change request.

That action sent Brown reeling. "It was incredible," he said. "I still don't understand it all."

He took his case to the District, where the issue only became more muddled. On Jan. 8, Joseph Bottner, the city's acting zoning administrator, told Kaempfer in a letter that the off-white color of its building "does not match" the shade approved by the zoning panel. "Again, I advise you it is important that all provisions of the zoning commission order ... be met," he wrote.

But on April 27, in a surprising and still unexplained twist, Bottner wrote to Nicholas Addams, a lawyer hired by the Browns, stating that the color of the facade and the windows "does match" the zoning panel order.

Bottner was unavailable for comment, but his deputy, Ed Nunley, said this week: "What we have here is a ludicrous situation."

Nunley said he could not explain the conflicting letters, but said it is Bottner's "feeling the brick and glass does meet the conditions of the zoning commission."

Since the April 27 letter from Bottner, Brown has intensified his fight with Kaempfer. On Sept. 16, the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment is scheduled to hear an appeal brought by Brown and his cousin. Brown said he hopes the zoning board will require that the structure's occupancy permit be lifted until the off-white paint is stripped from its facade.

Brown, however, appears to be going it alone. Neighborhood groups that had backed the original plans for the building because the structure's facade was being saved are hesitant to get into the brick-color scuffle. Charles Clapp, chairman of the area's Advisory Neighborhood Commission, said his group will not testify at next month's hearing. "We felt {Kaempfer} was not violating" the original zoning mandate.

"We own the land. We did not want to sell it because we wanted to save the building," Brown said. "Kaempfer testified that {the facade} would look like the old building. It doesn't."