Archive for the ‘Architecture’ category

Brief History of Howard University Power Plant

November 15, 2017

The Howard University Power Plant, constructed in 1934. View toward northwest.

There are many examples of beautiful and historically important architecture on Howard University’s campus. One example that may be overlooked by many is the Howard University Power Plant, a structure designed to provide power to Howard constructed as part of the Public Works Administration during the Great Depression. The power plant was designed by Albert I. Cassell in 1934. It’s a handsome Georgian Revival style building adapted in scale and configuration as a power plant. Of particular interest are the inclusion of a few low-relief Art Deco details on the building which allude to the buildings industrial use.

The Great Depression had a severe impact on Federal construction projects, and in the Washington, D.C. area this impact was acutely felt by efforts to expand Howard University and meet their growing needs. Two forward looking priorities – the construction of both a new library and a heat, light, and power plant – were placed in jeopardy in early 1932. Even after the Interior Department appropriations bill passed the House with an appropriation of $1,075,000 for Howard University, an amount $535,000 less than budget estimates for Howard, the Senate appropriations committee removed an additional $400,000 leaving only $675,000 for Howard’s needs. The Senate pointedly removed both the $300,000 budgeted for the heat, light, and power plant and the $100,000 required for the new library from the appropriations bill.

The Senate’s removal of the Howard power plant followed testimony from H. A. Brooks of the Potomac Electric Power Company who appeared before the Senate sub-committee and spoke in opposition to the construction of the power plant. Brooks told the sub-committee that PEPCO could furnish service at such a rate that no private power plant would be able to compete with it.

The Senate sub-committee restored funding for both the library and power plant in March 1932 following a lively debate, only to remove funding for the project again in April. Howard needed an advocate, and Representative Oscar Stanton De Priest rose to the occasion.

Oscar Stanton De Priest was a civil rights advocate from Chicago who served in the House of Representatives from Illinois. He  was the first African American to be elected to Congress from outside the southern states and the first in the 20th century. During his three terms, he was the only African American serving in Congress.

In December 1932, De Priest recommitted the Interior supply bill in the House of Representatives in order to reinsert $460,000 for a Howard power plant, a move that was rebuked in the House Appropriations Committee. Despite the opposition, Representative De Priest prevailed when the House voted 138 to 105 on December 27, 1932, to provide $460,000 in the Interior bill for the Howard University heating, lighting and power plant. De Priest considered the plant not only necessary for Howard, but also an opportunity for students to benefit scholastically.

The timing of funding for Howard could not have come at a better time as Congress began to focus on approved projects lacking funding for inclusion in the new Public Works Administration. In the first round of PWA projects, $3,474,347 was allocated for projects in the District of Columbia, and this included $948,811 for Howard University alone. The Howard projects included:

  • The Howard University Power Plant — $460,000;
  • A new chemistry building — $390,000; and,
  • Reconditioning existing buildings — $98,811.

Funding for the new chemistry building was increase by an additional $70,000 in September 1933, as the PWA prepared to issue contracts for the construction of both the chemistry and power plant at Howard.

Art Deco detail at top of facade, reinterpreting the Georgian swag motif as a gear, chain, and hooks.

Plans for the 100 foot square and 60 foot tall power plant were completed by Howard University instructor and architect Albert I. Cassell and submitted to the Fine Arts Commission for consideration on March 17, 1934. By September 1934 construction had begun on the site and progressed well.

The power plant was nearing completion by January 1936. It was an important part of Howard University’s 20-year physical development program. The plant was designed to serve the needs of both the University and Freedmen’s Hospital. Additionally, it was directly connected with the teaching program of the school of engineering and architecture, for purposes of demonstration and mechanical engineering apprenticeship. Upon the plants completion in the late summer of 1936, the total cost of construction amounted to $550,000.

The power plant was designed to have a capacity of 4,000 horse power. It also contrasted sharply with the usual coal-fired boilers in use in other local power plants as the Howard plant was equipped with high-rating oil-fired combustion units.

Upon its completion, the Howard University Power Plant became one of the first projects in the District of Columbia, and the nation, to be constructed through the Public Works Administration.

View of Howard University Power Plant toward the southwest.

References

“$948,811 for H.U. in Public Work Division.” Afro-American, July 22, 1933, p. 22.

“$3,474,347 Allocated for First Federal Projects Here.” The Washington Post, July 18, 1933, p. 1.

“Amendments Add $535,000 to Howard.” The Washington Post, March 15, 1932, p. 2.

“Appropriation at Howard is Only $675,000.” The Chicago Defender, April 16, 1932, p. 2.

“Arts Body Gets Design of Howard Power Plant.” The Washington Post, March 13, 1934, p. R9.

“Crowd Hears President at Howard U.” The Evening Star, October 27, 1936, p. A5.

“De Priest Explains Efforts in House.” The Washington Post, January 8, 1933, p. 4.

“De Priest’s H. U. Amendment Wins, 138-105.” Afro-American, December 31, 1932, p. 1.

“Fine Arts Body Will Consider Shaft Repairs.” The Washington Post, March 4, 1934, p. 13.

“H. U. Staff Trained for New Power Unit.” Afro-American, October 17, 1936, p. 21.

“Howard Gets Funds Under Recovery Act.” The Chicago Defender, September 16, 1933, p. 4.

“Howard to Begin 68th Year With Three New Dormitories.” The Washington Post, September 8, 1935, p. X8.

“Howard Project Inserted into Bill.” The Washington Post, December 28, 1932, p. 1.

“Howard U. Power Plant Nearly Ready for Use.” The Washington Post, January 18, 1936, p. 23.

“Howard University Cautions Students.” The Washington Post, October 1, 1933, p. 12.

“Howard’s New Power Plant Begun.” Afro-American, September 1, 1934, p. 20.

“New Buildings Show Advance at Howard U.” The Washington Post, September 9, 1934, p. S11.

“New Howard Univ. Power Plant Is Near Completion.” Afro-American, January 18, 1936, p. 15.

“Powerhouse at Howard U. Opposed.” Afro-American, March 12, 1932, p. 2.

“PWA Helped To Finance 3 Additions.” The Washington Post, September 13, 1936, p. F7.

“Roosevelt Vote Bid Called Aim Of Howard Talk.” The Washington Post, October 25, 1936, p. M1.

“Secretary Ickes’s Address at Howard.” Afro-American, October 31, 1936, p. 21.

“Yesterday in Congress.” The Washington Post, December 23, 1932, p. 2.

“Yesterday in Congress.” The Washington Post, December 29, 1932, p. 2.

Fossils at Park View School

August 17, 2017

A while ago I found a website that explores fossils in the architecture of Washington, D.C. by Christopher Barr. The site is organized by geological periods and shows examples of fossils that are in stone used in local buildings. I was immediate drawn to the sections on Sacred Heart Church and the Unification Church on 16th Street.

But as I reviewed the site, I suspected that we would also have fossils in the limestone used at the Park View School — and after inspecting the school, my hunch was right. As near as I can tell, the limestone appears to be Indiana Limestone from the Mississippian period. Below are photos of some of the fossils I found at the school.

(An area of trace fossils or, more technically, “ichnofossils”. These are located on the north side of the entry doors on Warder Street.)

(The structures that resemble netting are typically fenestrate bryozoans.)

Overview of Pepco’s Capital Grid Project

May 2, 2017

Diagram showing existing (green) and new (yellow) substations that will be involved in Pepco’s Capital Grid Project.

On the evening of May 1st, Pepco hosted Ward 1 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners to brief them on their upcoming Capital Grid Project. The project’s goal is to build an underground transmission route through the District from the north to the south. This is necessary to create multiple pathways of power supply to connect multiple substations in the Capital area with higher electrical load capacity. In short, this creates a “networked system” that improves reliability and resiliency.

The underground transmission lines will be constructed from the Takoma Substation in Prince George’s County through the District to the Waterfront Substation. The feeders will travel approximately 10 miles, connecting five substations: Takoma, Harvard, Champlain, Mount Vernon (proposed) and Waterfront. The flexibility this will create will support faster service restoration and reduce the potential impact of major unforeseen event.

In our area, work will begin around Fall 2018/Winter 2019 in the area of New Hampshire and Georgia avenues and move south along Georgia Avenue through the Spring/Summer of 2019. On Georgia Avenue, the scope of work will close two of the four lanes as new transmission cables are put underground via trenching. Each night steel plates will cover the trenches. Work will continue down Georgia to Harvard or Gresham, before turning west to the Harvard Street substation.

The Havard Street Substation will also be upgraded and expanded as part of this project, with work commencing as early as 2019 and estimated to be completed around 2022 or 2023.

I will continue to share more information about the construction aspect of this project as we get nearer to the start date. Pepco will also be sharing information directly to the community.

Progress on the Old Arcade Sunshine/Linens of the Week Housing Project

April 14, 2017

The project to convert the old industrial laundry plant is progressing well. As you can see from the photos below, the foundation is being poured and the forms are starting to go in for the first floor. To see photos from February showing the excavation work, go here.

Work Continues with Park Road Church Project

March 15, 2017

Rowhouse at 633 Park Rd in process of being razed.

The project to redevelop the old church at 625 Park Road, the surface parking lot, and the rowhouse at 633 Park Road appears to be moving again. While work appeared to stall in mid-February, by the end of the month new fencing went up and over the past week the rowhouse at 633 has been razed. The approved plans are for new construction connected to the historic church to create 38 new housing units in the neighborhood.

Below are views of the property with the house razed.

 

Then and Now: Lithuanian Embassy on 16th Street

January 26, 2017

Recently I found a glass magic lantern slide showing the “Norwegian Ligation” located on 16th Street in 1912 (see below). The Norwegian embassy moved to a new building on Massachusetts Avenue in 1931, where it remains today.

1912-norway-lithuania-embassies(Lithuanian Embassy building on 16th Street in 1912)

Anyone familiar with the building will know instantly that the building in the photo is actually two buildings. the northern half is the Lithuanian Embassy, and the southern half was razed and replaced with a tall apartment building in 1965 which is jarringly incompatible with the surrounding architectural character of the area. However, I think it is easy to miss that the Lithuanian embassy building itself has also had an addition — not just in the rear but also on top. In this way, I think the expansion of the 1907 building was accomplished successfully. It is also good to see that Lithuania is a good steward of its building, and undertook a restoration of the limestone and terracotta facades in 2008, which can be seen here.

lithuanian-embassy-2017(View of Lithuanian Embassy and abutting apartment building as it appears today)

Raze Application Filed for 503 Park Road, NW

December 20, 2016

503 Park Rd NW(503 Park Rd. (center) may be razed in the near future.)

I was recent alerted that the neighborhood will likely lose one of Middaugh and Shannon’s original Park View houses, namely the duplex at 503 Park Road, NW. The single family house was constructed in 1907 and last sold on August 18, 2016, for $855,000 (see listing here).

Presuming that a raze permit is approved for the existing house, the following conditions would need to be met for a by-right project on the lot which is Zoned RF-1.

  • A new building, in the form of a single family rowhouse that is three stories and 35 feet high, may be constructed. There would be no side yard setback requirements and there would be a minimum 20 foot rear yard setback requirement.
  • A new apartment building would not be able to be constructed on the site as a matter of right. If this is proposed, a use variance would need to be approved by the Board of Zoning Adjustment.
  • The new building could be constructed as a flat — or two dwelling unit building — as a matter of right.
I’m not aware of any other permit applications for this property at this time, but will post a follow up when more is know about this potential project.

 


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