The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Wrecking ball arrives for Brutalist D.C. church

Demolition began Monday on the 16th street church of Third Church of Christ, Scientist, once termed “Brutalist atrocity” during an epic fight to preserve it.

The building, designed in the 1960s, is prominently located at 16th and K streets NW. But by the early 2000s the church congregation was looking to have it replaced with a new sanctuary, citing the difficulty and cost of maintaining it. Third Church of Christ partnered with a developer, ICG Properties, on a plan to replace the concrete block with an office building that would include a new sanctuary.

What followed was one of the city’s most high-profile historic preservation battles in the District’s recent memory, ending with then-planning director Harriet Tregoning, acting as the mayor’s agent for historic preservation, issuing a 28-page ruling allowing the building to be torn down.

After the ruling ICG partnered with the JBG Cos. of Chevy Chase on the project, won zoning approval for their church-office project and inked law firm Miller & Chevalier to a lease for 70 percent of the building.

David Stern of ICG said the new building, to be called 900 16th Street, would be complete by December of 2015. He began working on it at the beginning of 2006. “My daughter was two. She’s now nine,” he said.

Stern said that although the new building would be only 130,000 square feet, smaller than he had hoped, he said he expected it to get a warm reception. “The thing about this building that you’ll see truly, is it will fit in nicely,” he said. “It’s timeless architecture. It’s all stone. It’s quality of design and construction that you really don’t see in commercial buildings today.”

Before the new building goes up, however, the concrete behemoth has to come down. The lower walls are six feet thick and the upper walls are three feet thick, according to Britt Snider, principal at JBG. Demolition is expected to take eight weeks. The concrete is headed to a recycling plant.

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