In reviewing DPR’s recently released Play DC Vision Framework Document, I began to reflect upon the former DPR Headquarters property located at 3149 Sixteenth Street, NW, and the adjoining park to the north. The DPR Website refers to the playground as the 16th Street Playground, although historically it was known as either the Powell Recreation Center or the Johnson-Powell Playground after the two schools that were once located on the neighboring properties. Both schools are now long gone and been replaced by the Columbia Heights Education Campus to the south.
But, back to the parkland and building. DPR moved from the 16th Street property t0 their present U Street location in 2012 leaving the building empty. The neighboring park was last renovated in 2011 and seems well used and popular when I walk past it. However, both properties appear to fall far short of their potential and a review of the Vision Framework doesn’t seem to give them any particular importance (although that could change between now and the final master plan).
The landmark building, listed on the National Register in 1986, is large and could accommodate any number of functions — from office space on the upper floors for non-profits, to gallery space for rotating art, photography, and history exhibits, to being one of the few publicly accessible meeting spaces in Ward 1.
The parkland is relatively large, and while the playground and tennis courts are popular, the baseball diamond and large grassy area in the back are lesser used. They were completely empty last time I visited, but I’m betting the Columbia Heights Education Campus makes good use of them. I’ve begun to wonder if outdoor lighting and an upgrade would make the baseball diamond a more attractive amenity for both the nearby Bell Multicultural High School and the greater community. I also wonder if there is enough room for some additional uses if the playground and building site were better integrated. Perhaps there would be room for a community garden or some other recreational amenity that is otherwise lacking in the surrounding community.
While identifying programming and building community consensus may seem like the most obvious hurdles to improving the property, they aren’t the only ones. The properties are among the many in the District of Columbia that are still technically owned by the Federal Government, but whose jurisdiction & maintenance has been transferred to the District of Columbia. A significant aspect of this duel scenario is that the Federal Government transferred day-to-day operations of the properties to D.C. with a restriction that the properties must be used for or support recreation purposes.
This poses less of a problem for the outdoor spaces, but it does restrict what the building can be used for. This, no doubt, has played a role in the building’s current vacant status. The building is also in need of significant repair and upgrades — and I would imagine that restoring a building it doesn’t own or currently use is low on the District’s list of priorities.
Yet, I think that if the community were able to come up with a good plan and vision for both the building and the parkland, funding of that vision could be found — and perhaps some of that funding could come from the Federal Government. A good example of this is a short distance to the south, where after successful outreach Meridian Hill Park is in the midst of improvements from the National Park Service.