"The 1300 block…is the heart of the arts and entertainment district of H Street,” said ANC Commissioner 6A03 David Holmes, who had been acting as the commission’s “point person” on the Meads Row matter. “It’s the most successful area of H Street in terms of its redevelopment and rebirth from the tragedies that affected it from the 1968 riots and the loss of interest in the business district….[Now] it has lots of bars, lots of restaurants, theaters and so forth. That block is based on the historic architecture of the area and the loss of any of that fabric is important to the business model of H Street.”
The four buildings in question were designed by early 20th century DC architect, Charles Meads, who was also responsible for some 105 structures on Capitol Hill. Of those, only 73 remain today, with the remainder having been demolished to make way for the Congressional Office Buildings and Senate Park. Meads Row represents the very last remnant of Meads’ H Street properties, which once numbered seven. During their heyday, the buildings boasted an assortment of “well-to-do” shopkeepers, who lived above their storefronts in the buildings’ second-story residential flats.
The properties' history in the area, however, was of little import to the HPRB, who in their denial of the landmark application, state,"Judged only for the H Street buildings Meads work would have to be considered typical of that of Washington's designers-builders of that era." Unsurprisingly, Holmes disagrees.
“These are some of the earliest buildings along H Street and they were important because the builder was trying to set a tone for H Street…They are very upscale and would be appropriate on Capitol Hill, closer to the Capitol, but he was putting it right at the boundaries of the old city’s L’Enfant plan,” he said.
Today, most of the Meads Row properties in are in functional, though somewhat degraded, condition. 1311 H St. has been condemned by District authorities and currently boasts boarded-up windows and a damaged roof. Despite attempts from the ANC to facilitate historic restoration tax credits for the buildings, which directly neighbor the Atlas Performing Arts Center, the owners have expressed interest in no development scheme for the site other than asphalt.
“It’s as if they wanted to put [the properties] in that condition. It’s a practice we’ve seen on Capitol Hill in the historic district too…People want to put up a new three-story building and sell it, so they allow the old building to be demolished by neglect,” said Holmes. “He’s doing it simply to reduce his [tax] assessment by taking down the historic buildings and eliminating the improvements, so he won’t have to pay taxes on the land value…It’s a tragedy. These are important, attractive buildings.”