Thursday, July 31, 2008

Washington Hilton Landmarked

Some say the aerial view of the Washington Hilton in Dupont looks like a distant seagull, some say the hotel looks like a sedentary spaceship. The Historic Preservation Review Board says it looks like a historic landmark. In a 5-2 vote at their July 24th meeting, the board designated the Washington Hilton Hotel at 1919 Connecticut Avenue, NW a historic landmark based on "Criteria D and F", architectural significance and the work of a master.

In his staff report prior to the meeting, Tim Dennee, Architectural Historian for HPRB, recommended that the Board designate the Hilton, built from 1962-1965, a historical landmark and wrote, "Its sinuous massing was a radical departure from traditional local architecture as was its use of column and slab construction throughout, and uniform, pre-cast concrete, windowed wall panels."

In addition to his praise for Architect William B. Tabler, who designed the 1,250-room full-service hotel and whom Dennee described as "no household name, but nonetheless an extraordinarily prolific and acknowledged master of hotel design," Dennee pointed out the hotel's significance as the site of the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan and as a venue for events attended by subsequent presidents.

But not everyone was as convinced that the hotel was worthy of landmark status, which not only puts it on the National Register of Historic Places, but also makes the building subject to preservation law, which "requires review of proposals for new construction and additions, demolition, and exterior alterations." Among the reasons the two dissenting members - and several local residents - opposed the landmark were doubts about the distinctiveness of the building, the significance of the architect, and the owner's motivation in landmarking it.

There has been some speculation that the applicant and owner, C.J.U.F. II Destination Hotel LLC, a partnership of Los Angeles-based Lowe Enterprises and Beverly Hills-based Canyon-Johnson Urban Funds, LLC, created by basketball star Magic Johnson, applied for the landmark to be eligible to apply for a parking and loading waiver in the event of future on-site construction or renovations. The HPRB can't confirm this, as the owner did not discuss it with them, nor did they officially submit future construction plans. The developer bought the hotel in May of last year and is currently working with the HPRB to come up with a residential concept that is applicable to the now landmarked hotel.

Dennee, on the other hand, said it seemed like the owner applied for the land mark to beat other applicants to the punch, "In his testimony before the HPRB, the owners’ rep seemed to suggest that the motivation was largely the fact that they recognized it as an important building and thought that someone else might nominate it as a landmark. The owners apparently wished to manage any risk and the timing by forwarding the nomination themselves," he said.

"We have the zoning and development right to build, but now that we had the hotel landmarked, we have to have any building concepts approved. We want to work with the community and the HPRB to come up with a concept that works with the landmarked building. We felt that if we landmarked the hotel ourself, we were opening doors to the community to have a good rapport. We want to set a precedent that developers should be landmarking their own buildings rather than fighting it," said Sarah Hubbard, Development Manager at Lowe Enterprises.

"We want to be proud of the fact that it's recognized as a historic site. There were things left out of its original design and now we want to bring the historic site into the 21st century, so any addition would not only be a modern addition, but it would fix some urban design problems like open space and pedestrian access," said Hubbard.

According to William B. Tabler Architects' website, the sprawling form, a result of the District's height restriction, "gave every guest-room a view with light, space and air. The curve allowed for an efficient double loaded corridor while breaking the endless vista that usually occurs in such long buildings." The landmarking process is intended to protect the physical fabric and appearance of historic structures. We think Jody Foster will be impressed.


Anonymous said...

Damn. I hope I live to see the day that this is bulldozed, but looks like that's not possible. I think they need more stringent standards for declaring something "historic."

Anonymous said...

I hope the HPRB designates everything in DC historical so we can get rid of all the new construction. Clearly the bar for noting something as "historical" is set pretty low.

Anonymous said...

this is a stunning example of a stupid owner landmarking their own building and HPRB abusing their power and voting yes when there is no merit. this, the 3rd church, the italian embassy... what building without merit is next for the radicals at HPRB?

Anonymous said...

I believe the Hilton meets a high standard for being considered historic--or more aptly, worthy of preservation--both for architectural and cultural reasons, and irrespective of the fact that it is not what some might consider "pretty" . I concede that many downtown office boxes mimic the concrete forms of the Hilton, and that ultimately diminishes its impact in some measure. Nevertheless, the building makes elegant use of its site, makes elegant use of the technology used to build it, and is distinctive. I applaud the HPRB for its designation, and encourage skeptics to take a second look at the building and the designation report.

Paul said...

The bar is where it is for a reason and developers landmark their own properties not necessarily because they want to, but because they do not want to waste money proceeding with their planning process only to see a community group landmark for them.

The criteria is here:

A few comments for those that posted before me:
- Historical does not equal historic. Historic implies significance while historical is just old.
- For the guy that wants to 'get rid of all the new construction', what if someone had that view 50 years ago? New is the next old, we just need to be careful that we build a reasonable level of quality, and that is what the planning department and HPRB are meant to supervise.

Anonymous said...

The windows and landscaping are not part of the original design, and the site where Reagan was shot has been significantly altered. Congratulations to the HPRB for designating a concrete shell forever.

Anonymous said...

Someone should look up sarcasm in the dictionary. Clearly we should not get rid of new construction. I find it interesting however that so much is preserved in this city while developers are continuously allowed to build some of the most poorly constructed and aesthetically mind numbing projects ever seen, all to try to turn a quick profit. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, travel down Mass Ave from the Convention Center to Union Station. Not that DC has ever been known for stunning architecture. Simply because a hotel like the Hilton reflects a particular style of a particular time does not mean it is something impressive or unique. It isn't historic simply because it reflects a style of architecture not yet half a decade old. Not everything unique is "good" or "historic." Sometimes it is just awful. I think we should have given it another fifty years and then see how we feel about it.

Real Estate Rental Service on Aug 5, 2008, 12:52:00 AM said...

very good article, you make some interesting points.

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