Monday, October 19, 2009

Historic Preservation Frowns on Takoma Theatre Plans, Again

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.


Anonymous said...

I don't live in Takoma park, but I do wonder what the board expect to happen with a theater that no one wants.

What is the purpose of saving something that has no viable economic alternative? We cannot have these museums of public space. It is time to move one and find an alternative.

Rebecca Miller on Oct 21, 2009, 11:02:00 AM said...

The DC Preservation League requested that the architect present his plans to our Project Review Committee so we could comment. The owner declined.

Also, the Takoma Theatre Conservancy has offered to purchase the site from Mr. McGinty without success.

Stephen Smith, Takoma DC said...

The community (ANC 4B and Takoma DC Neighborhood Association) does not believe that there is "no viable economic alternative" to demolition of this contributing structure in the Takoma Historic District. Here is the resolution passed by the ANC:
- - - - -
This Resolution was adopted at the Special Meeting of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission 4B October 15, 2009 with a vote of 4 in favor, 1 opposed, and 1 abstention.
. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Takoma Theatre:
Resolution to Oppose the Demolition of Most of the Theater

WHEREAS, the owner of the Takoma Theatre, Mr. Milton McGinty, proposes to demolish most of the historic Takoma Theatre;

WHEREAS, the Theatre is a key resource in the Takoma Park Historic District and is, therefore protected by historic preservation law which prohibits demolition of historic buildings;

WHEREAS, the history of the building for this purposely integrated community of Takoma, Brightwood, Manor Park and Shepherd Park is of particular interest in that it was one of the first theaters in DC to integrate;

WHEREAS, the Takoma Theatre is considered the southern anchor for the Old Takoma business corridor which we are working hard to revitalize -- with the Takoma Underpass Mural, the Fa├žade Improvement Program, and DDOT's Takoma Transportation Improvements program;

WHEREAS, in Ward 4 there is no other theater of any kind, and in all of North Washington there is no other cultural arts and education center other than university centers, such as the Hartke Theatre in Catholic University in Ward 5;

WHEREAS, there is strong and active support among people in the community to keep the Theatre, with the prospect of at last having an active cultural arts and education center to serve all residents in our ANC 4B Commission, as well as the wider North Washington and nearby Maryland community and to celebrate, present and represent the rich diversity here in our part of Washington DC;

We hereby recommend that the Historic Preservation Review Board does not approve the proposal to demolish most of the Takoma Theatre.

Anonymous said...

The ANC resolution is a lot of arm waving and empty posturing because the HPRB couldn't approve the partial demolition, even if it wanted to. That power rests only with the Mayor (or his agent.)

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