It's never a good sign when a government office known for its design-heavy critiques starts the review of your project with "before discussing the specifics of the proposed design...," exactly how the Historic Preservation Office (HPO) staff report began for owner Milton McGinty and Architect Paul Wilson's plans to reinvent the Takoma Theatre in northewest Washington DC. The design for a 43 unit apartment building incorporates the facade of the historic 1923 Takoma Theatre and involves substantial demolition, about which neither the Takoma Theatre Conservancy nor, apparently, the HPO approve.
McGinty submitted a similar request in February 2006 to raze the building, with plans to replace it with an office building. The Takoma Theatre Conservancy formed in opposition to the application, leading to Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) denial of the request. This time around, the HPO waxed philosophical about its role in deciding the future of the property, namely whether it could rightly approve a design that according to various quoted definitions would "demolish" 75% of the historic building, including the auditorium and stage, thus requiring a raze application. The HPO recommends that the HPRB "reaffirm its position that razing the building is inconsistent" with the Historic District Preservation Act.
Still providing no actual review of the planned design, the HPO sets out "next steps" for the owner, such as building in the parking lot adjacent to the theater and funding this endeavor with grants available to such projects. The report also points to other historic theaters, like the Newton, Sheridan and Strand, that either have been or are in the process of being redeveloped without jeopardizing their historic integrity.
Finally, the report reviews the actual design, critiqued for not being "compatible in scale and height given its location on a street of modest one- and two-story" commercial and residential buildings. The staff also indicated that the proposed rooftop addition would subsume the underlying historic building, preventing the theater from being clearly distinguished as a prominent feature.
The HPRB will meet this Thursday to review the plan; while they are not required to agree with the staff report, they likely will do so and make the recommendations official.
* Renderings courtesy of Paul Wilson Architects.
*Picture by Loretta Neumann of the Takoma Theatre Conservancy.