Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Looking Back, and Forward: 15th and V

2005 15th Street, Jair Lynch, Portner Flats, WDG ARchitecture

After noting that the Jair Lynch Development Partners' 9-story, 95-unit apartment designed by WDG Architecture will be built at 2005 15th Street, NW, a reader felt the site's former life should be acknowledged. The new Jair Lynch apartment will rise up on what is now a surface parking lot next to the 10-story, 171-unit Campbell Heights Apartment at 2001 15th Street, but low and behold, the parking lot wasn't always there. In 1978, the Campbell
WDG Architecture, Portner Flats, Jair Lynch, new apartments, U Street

Heights Association constructed its eponymous apartment as subsidized, unassisted, one-bedroom apartments for senior citizens aged 62 and older.
But first, the property on site had to be demolished. A grand Victorian structure stretching the entire block of 15th between U and V Street, built at the turn of the 20th century as "The Portner Flats," a high-end luxury apartment building offering 485 rooms (with baths!) and an entrance flanked by ornate Viennese-style sculptures. 
Portner Flats - Washington DC historic buildings

The Victorian was demolished in 1974, but it became famous first, in 1946, after it was sold by the Portner family and reopened as the Dunbar Hotel, Washington's leading elite black hotel. In the '50s and '60s, in the lobby of the Dunbar distinguished musical greats could be found - Duke Ellington, Sammy Davis Jr., Nat King Cole, Count Basie - cooling their heels after lighting up jazz dens strung along the U Street Corridor. "Before public accommodations were integrated in the nation’s capital, the Dunbar Hotel was the only major hotel where blacks could stay," wrote the Washington Times in 2009. However, when the District's other hotels did integrate, in the 1960s, the Dunbar fell into disrepair, was condemned, sold to the District in 1970, and razed in 1974. The Dunbar was named after Paul Laurence Dunbar, an African American poet born in the late-19th century who died before his time, in 1906; shortly after the Portner Flats were built, but long before the razzle-dazzle heyday of the U Street District that brought with it the short-lived glory that was the Dunbar Hotel. 

Washington D.C. real estate development news


Anonymous said...

Why? Why would they tear it down? So much history and beauty lost. Sad.

Anonymous said...

why? Becasue modernist architects of that era where taught to look down on victorian architecture, so there wheren't any architects willing to defend our heritage. Wouldn't you rather live in the future rather than in the nostalgic past? BTW, I can also tell you what the future should look like!

Anonymous said...

There was also the Whitelaw Hotel serving the African American community: http://www.culturaltourismdc.org/things-do-see/whitelaw-hotel-african-american-heritage-trail

and http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=41952

Anonymous said...

What a shame that we lost a beautiful historic building. Thanks for posting this bit of history.

Scott said...

There were many periods of loss of fabric for the area, the riots are best known, however urban renewal and metro construction had their own impacts that are still being felt as the community continues to rebuild from those losses.

I am truly saddened when I see the pictures of what was, this exposure is one I had not seen before. I have two other pictures of the Dunbar, one from the north looking across V, from the perspective of the current modern photo. The other is a close-up of the entrance of 15th & U, that is shown in the picture in the article. Just beautiful detail the likes of which won't be seen again.

Anonymous said...

You definatley could see details like that again if the architectural community would abandone ideologically based architectural education and instead taught it for the craft it is. Intellectual concepts have replaced the sensual delights of architectural education, therefore we have a bunch of neurotic architects who decorate through words rather than study composition, scale, and ciaro scuro.

Anonymous said...

Truly a loss! Does anyone know what they are planning to do to the Campbell Building? It looks like they are working on the front entrance, but is there anything else on the boards?

Anonymous said...

Some details I noticed in the historic photo:

- 15th Street was once 2-way
- The gas station at 15th/U has been there a long time!
- St. Augustine's at 15th/V once had steeples! Anybody know what happened to them?
- The row houses next to Portner Flats were also sadly demolished and replaced for crappy '70's apartments (ironically named Portner Place)


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