The West Heating Plant, an Art Moderne building completed in 1946, was designed by the Supervising Architect of the Federal Public Buildings Administration. In 2013, as surplus property and as a contributing building to the Georgetown Historic District, it was sold at auction by the Government Services Administrator to The Levy Group with a covenant stating that the building qualifies as an individual landmark on the National Register of Historic Places and requiring that any development of the structure comply with the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for restoration of historic buildings. The covenant also allowed the State Historic Preservation Officer to waive this requirement and approve a project that does not comply with the standards.
The development team, admittedly counting on the waiver, proposed a high-end condominium building requiring more than 75% demolition of the structure in order to provide large windows for the condo units.. As justification, the developer’s engineer claimed that the building had deteriorated beyond any possibility of adaptive use, but an independent structural assessment requested by the Commission of Fine Arts determined that the building can, in fact, be substantially preserved. In November 2017, despite opposition from the developer, the West Heating Plant was designated a local landmark and listed as an individual landmark on the National Register of Historic Places. The development team’s proposal for the condominium has been rejected by both the Old Georgetown Board and by the DC Historic Preservation Review Board because it violates the terms of the covenant. The Committee of 100’s position, which is that the covenant must be respected, has actively participated in the proceedings to date in opposition to the developer’s proposals. The Committee’s Historic Preservation Subcommittee will continue to monitor the project as future proceedings ensue.
- C100 Testimony USCFA West Heating Plant
- May 18, 2017, Sally Berk
The fact that the Heating Plant is significance as a familiar landmark is, unfortunately, under-appreciated. One of the primary purposes of preservation is to retain those layers of history that tell the story of a place. Most of us thrill to the bold presence of a power plant when we approach a new city; or encounter one while exploring a city. The power plant represents the vitality of the city. And whether or not it remains as a source of power, it does, indeed, remain a source of pride and a lesson in history. The proposal before you today, defaces that iconography.
- C100 Testimony OGB West Heating Plant
- April 6, 2017, Sally Berk
C100 is opposed to the proposal before you today, which seeks to demolish the West Heating Plant. This would not only violate the city’s preservation ordinance, but also the historic and cultural preservation easement that conveyed with the property when it was purchased from the US Government Services Administration. That easement stipulates that any plans for the building must meet the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. Those standards, obviously, do not provide for demolition.
- C100 Testimony 2016 OGB West Heating Plant
- February 4, 2016, Sally Berk
The Committee of 100 recognized that the West Heating Plant is not simply a contributing building in the Georgetown Historic District, but a building that is significant in its own right as 1) indicative of the industrial role that Georgetown played in the history of the nation’s capital for more than two centuries; 2) an exemplar of late Art Moderne design as applied to an industrial building; 3) a monumental presence in Georgetown that has served as a familiar landmark of the waterfront.