Friday, August 10, 2012

Chinatown: Monument Looks to Expand Foothold

A few lots on H Street near the intersection of 7th and H, NW are some of the last undeveloped lots in Chinatown / Penn Quarter.  If things go as planned, Monument Realty's 10-storey Gallery Tower will occupy the vacant parcel at 627 and 631 H Street NW, just a block from the corner.  The future 10-story building, with a design by architect Chris Morrison with Cunningham Quill, is due for delivery in 2014.  The site formerly housed China Doll Gourmet, which closed in 2006 and was razed shortly thereafter.

Monument Realty acquired the empty parcel in 2011 after foreclosing on the note it bought from Yeni Wong in 2010.  Wong had plans to develop the whole corner, but failed to secure financing when financial markets soured around 2008.  Douglas Development scooped up the neighboring corner lot to the west - 675 H Street NW - last year during the same week Monument clinched 627-631, from the auctioneer.  Douglas also owns the Vapiano building to the east of the Gallery Tower spot.

Gallery Tower rendering
courtesy of Monument Realty
According to one company representative, Monument hopes to expand its foothold in the neighborhood of Chinatown / Penn Quarter.  According to director of marketing Natasha Stancill, Monument's acquisition team is looking for opportunities to develop a residential parcel close to the future Gallery Tower site. She said the firm was excited about its plans for Chinatown.  "We are looking at other possibilities in the area because it is such a vibrant, exciting part of town," Stancill told DCMud.

The Gallery Tower building plan calls for two floors, or 11,000 square feet, of retail and another 60,000 s.f. office space on floors three through 10.  The project went through zoning, Office of Planning (OP), area neighborhood commission (ANC), and Chinatown Design review approvals processes when Yeni Wong controlled the property.  According to the project's development manager Pam Frentzel-Beyme, the first two floors will likely house a restaurant.

Frentzel-Beyme said the building's location would be its biggest selling point. "You can't beat being next to Gallery Place, and the design is really modern but also compliments Chinatown's history."  A lot of Chinatown's office space, she noted, is in historic buildings where tenants don't get the great views that she said Gallery Tower, with its large, modern windows, would one day offer.

The  former China Doll Gourmet was on the site
Developers describe the future Gallery Tower, with floor plates that are less than 8,000 square feet, a "Class A boutique space." "We'll be targeting the type of tenant that is not going to want much more (than 8,000 square feet)," Frentzel-Beyme said.  She said Monument would be targeting businesses with a "fun and creative employee base", such as design or architectural firms.  "They are young, they might want to grab dinner, go over to the Verizon center, but don't necessarily need 50,000 square feet of space."

Gallery Tower is now in the building permit process and Monument says it will break ground in the first part of next year.

Floor plan courtesy of Monument Realty

Floor plan courtesy of Monument Realty

Floor plan courtesy of Monument Realty

Washington D.C. real estate development news


Anonymous said...

Wow, what an eyesore. I am not usually too concerned with DC's careful contexturalism and faux historicsm, but this thing doesn't just stand out like a sore thumb, it's a sore thumb poking you in the eye. Too tall, too 1990s, too glassy. If the actual product looks anything like the renderings (hopefully it won't) it will surely become one of those buildings you want to be inside of, so as to avoid looking at it.

Eric K said...

While I agree it's a little ugly, it's certainly not too tall for one of the densest and more transit accessible neighborhoods in the city.

supersonicparachute said...

It's definitely looks tall in those pics, but it won't look out of place when you take in similar glassy, tall buildings across the street. (Anybody know what happended to the China Doll sign? I liked it.)

Anonymous said...

If I recall correctly, the China Doll was not razed intentionally. They tried to do an extensive renovation and the facade collapsed.

Anonymous said...

Having worked in Cullingham Quill, it's no surprise to see this banal glass box. They've been doing this corporate modernism for years and trying to pass it off for cutting edge. With Shalome, this style at least looks a bit sleek, but this thing is flat footed.

Anonymous said...

The scale is not the problem -- it's the kitschy appliques on the front facade. Fake torii gates? Please. And the "cornice" a few stories up seems to take cues from the Gallery Place complex across the street, which is quite possibly the worst recent building in Washington. Can't we do better??

Nathaniel Martin said...

OMG. The facade is design is unbelievably embarrassing. I agree with the previous post -- the height is not inherently a problem (this is a chock-a-block area, and no one at street level will really notice a taller building on that site). But the projections seemingly glued to the glass curtain wall are horrendous.

Skidrowe said...

First: Thank you to the developer and reporter for including floor plans. Such a rarity, but so informative.

The height is fine. C'mon people, there are lots of taller buildings around! The modern part is fine, if a little dull. But I have to agree with Nathaniel Martin and others -- the applique of torii gates on a glass building is a bizarre throwback to now-discredited Postmodern design.

Unlike one of the previous commenters, though, I regard Cunningham-Quill well. A little more conservative than I'd prefer, but that same conservatism would not lead to torii gates. I'm guessing this aesthetic equivalent of fingernails-on-the-chalkboard is a gift of the Chinatown Steering Committee, the opportunists who demand unsubtle Chinese ethnic references even as they sell their neighborhood's authentic heritage to the highest bidder.

Anonymous said...

If you want to do a modern building then do a modern building. Don't wreck it with crappy things stuck on the side.

Anonymous said...

ANC stands for Advisory Neighborhood Commission. Not "area".

Anonymous said...

The building is too tall to not stick out from the other buildings and let's not forget this is China Town, but how would you know that by the recent and future building designs.

Anonymous said...

"the applique of torii gates on a glass building is a bizarre throwback to now-discredited Postmodern design".

"If you want to do a modern building then do a modern building. Don't wreck it with crappy things stuck on the side."

It's amazing how narrow architects think about design, as if some tacked on decoration was violating some unwritten law. I'd like to know exactly who "discredited" post modernism, and why is yet another glass box any credit to our fair city. Are we still stuck on modernism from the 1950's? Wow, that's cutting edge!

Skidrowe said...

Last "anonymous": I'm wondering if you understand what Postmodernism is, as applies to architecture. It's the name for a specific, short-lived movement, with roots in the 1970's (architects and writers Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown most notably) that briefly blossomed in the 1980s. It does not refer to everything that isn't Modernist, which seems to be your take.

Postmodernism sought to break the strictures of Modernism (which by then had become pretty stale) via injections of historicism. But within the Postmodern realm, the historicism couldn't be done directly: it needed to be massaged somehow, changed in scale, rearranged somehow or done in non-traditional materials, etc. A premier local example is Arthur Cotton Moore's Washington Harbour. Some of the better-designed local examples would be the architect Amy Weinstein's work on Capitol Hill, which include brick arches, cornices, and ornamental patterns, but always with an unmistakable non-traditional twist.

Postmodernism very quickly morphed into straightforward historicism: the academic mannerisms of Postmodernism dissipated, regarded as ugly and/or unnecessary. At that time (early 90s), Washington became the "avante garde of the rear garde," with architects like Hartman Cox retreating into an extreme level of historicism (for example, the PBGC building at 1200 K Street NW).

Nowadays, many DC-area architects, cheered on by architectural Tea Partiers who anonymously write comments on this website, remain firmly rooted in extreme historicism, global warming and the realities of 9/11 be damned! A majority, however, have moved to what one might call post-Postmodernism, or neo-Modernism which starts with the Modernist base but molds and refines it for our era. Some of the refinements are purely aesthetic, drawing from a general feeling that old-style Modernism is just too dull, especially for larger buildings. Almost all reject Modernist urban planning principles. But a lot of the refinements stem from current concerns such as sustainability, new high-performance materials, and research into optimizing space for user productivity and well-being. That is, non-aesthetic influences, which have always played tag with aesthetics in the forward movement of architectural history.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

@ Skidrowe,
You where doing so good up until you wrote "with architects like Hartman Cox retreating into an extreme level of historicism". Clearly, you know your styles, but not calling out the current "mid-century" modern revival as an "extreme level of historicism" betrays you're bias. I especially love the irony of your McCarthy-like accusation of people who reject modernist ideology as "Tea Partiers". How very post-modern!

"Nowadays, many DC-area architects remain firmly rooted in extreme historicism, global warming and the realities of 9/11 be damned"
- Becasue nothing says sustainable as a glass box.

"Almost all reject Modernist urban planning principles" And a majority of people have always rejected modernist architecture. Any cursory survey will bear that out, but ideologues like you seldom acknowledge empirical evidence. Of course, none of this logic matters to an ideologue like yourself. Sufice it to say that the last poster said all that needs to be said.


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