Posted tagged ‘Architecture’

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.

Then and Now: Pepco’s Harvard Street Substation

November 12, 2015

Here’s a great then and now comparison of the Pepco substation located at Harvard Street and Sherman Avenue. Substation No. 13 was built in 1907 and designed by architect Frederick B. Pyle. Currently, it is Pepco’s oldest operating substation and one of the oldest purpose-built substation buildings still standing. To keep up with demand, additions were also constructed in 1920, 1921, 1929, and 1944.

Below is an image of what it looked like in the late 1950s.

Harvard Substation late 1950s(Image courtesy of Pepco)

Substation No. 13 was the first purpose-built substation constructed outside of the boundaries of the original City of Washington. Compared to other substations built prior to 1929, the Harvard Substation is the most architecturally significant as it is unique in its inclusion of a hipped roof, dormer windows, and stone quoins. These details are likely the result of a two month battle between residents of Columbia Heights and the city which attempted to prevent the substation from being constructed. The resulting building was an attempt to make the building more compatible with the surrounding neighborhood.

Below is what the building looks like today.

IMG_9627

Columbia Heights Home & Garden Tour in the Works

June 26, 2015

CoHi Home and Garden banner

DC Home Buzz — a local real estate brokerage firm in Washington, DC — is in the process of organizing the first ever Columbia Heights Home and Garden Tour. They have scheduled the event to take place on Saturday, September 19th, 2015. According to Columbia Heights Home & Garden Tour Web site, attendees will be able to tour homes and gardens in Columbia Heights with a focus on extraordinary architecture, superior interior design or eclectic history. There will be a reception immediately following the tour, included as part of the ticket purchase.

The organizers are still encouraging people interested in participating as a volunteer, attendee or showcasing their home to contact them, which is also possible to do from the Web site.

CoHi Home and Garden Tour

Conversation on Rowhouse Pop-Ups Continues

January 26, 2015
Over the past year, the houses on the southeast corner of Harvard Street, at 15th, have been slowly popping up. As each house falls like dominoes, the front porch is removed and the roof is raised. The house on the corner was the first to get renovated. The third house in was the last, and least compatible with the street.

Rowhouses on the southeast corner of Harvard Street, at 15th, have been slowly popping up over the past few years. As each house falls like dominoes, the front porch is removed and the roof is raised. The house on the corner was the first to get renovated. The third house in was the last, and least compatible with the street.

Leading up to, and since the January 15th Zoning hearing on the proposed text amendments to our rowhouse neighborhoods, a lot is being written both in favor and against those amendments. While there are several aspects to the text amendments, the focus has been on the additions to rowhouses known commonly as pop-ups. In reading through the testimony before the Zoning Commission on this issue, one might get the impression that should the amendments pass and be implemented that pop-ups would be banned in rowhouse districts. This is incorrect. The text amendments will be a good beginning in managing pop-ups, but it won’t stop them.

I wrote about pop-ups over a year ago and talked about how we need a process that will guide new construction in old neighborhoods — possibly the Conservation District — which will address the question of “How?” rather that “Can we?” I think there is real potential for new development in old neighborhoods with the proper oversight, design review, and guidance. Sadly, this doesn’t exist in D.C. at this time.

Today, Pop-ups will be a topic of discussion on the Kojo Nnamdi show as well. I’m providing the write up from the WAMU Website below for those interested in turning in.

Kojo logo

Pop-Up Houses in D.C.

Some residential neighborhoods in D.C. are developing a jagged skyline as row house owners build up — adding on vertically to create so-called “pop-up” houses with more floors than their neighbors. Some home owners see them as a savvy way to increase a family’s space, or to create new units. But others consider them to be not only an eye-sore but a way to price more people out of the District housing market. We consider the practical, aesthetic and zoning issues created by pop-ups buildings.

Guests

  • Kent Boese D.C. ANC Commissioner (1A08); Chairperson of ANC1A
  • Martin Austermuhle Producer / Reporter, WAMU.org
  • Roger Lewis Architect; Columnist, “Shaping the City,” Washington Post; and Professor Emeritus of Architecture, University of Maryland College Park

 

Architectural History of the Meridian Hill Baptist Church Building

December 29, 2014

3146 16th Street(The 16th Street elevation of the church, showing the design of Porter & Leckey.)

Recently I received a question asking what the church at 3146 16th Street originally looked like. Many will be familiar with this building as the Meridian Hill Baptist Church which was damaged by fire 2008. At the beginning of my research, I quickly learned that the building’s original building permit lists Speiden & Speiden as the architects, this being the last of their church designs in the District of Columbia. The complete list of their church buildings form the building permit database follows:

  • 150 S Street, NW (1904);
  • 3100 13th Street, NW (Friends Meeting House, 1905);
  • 841 Shepherd Street, NW (Primitive Baptist Church, 1911);
  • 557 Randolph Street, NW (Petworth Baptist Church, 1913);
  • 1019 Park Road, NW (Park Road Methodist Episcopal Church, 1914);
  • 700 I Street, NE (Centennial Baptist Church, 1914);
  • 3146 16th Street, NW (Mount Pleasant Methodist Episcopal Church, South, 1916)

Speiden & Speiden, Architects, was a successful partnership between brothers William and Albert Speiden. Their practice was based in Washington, D.C., and they designed houses, churches, government buildings, apartment buildings, and movie theaters in the Washington metropolitan region. There was a great diversity of styles in the Speiden designs, ranging from large Colonial Revival houses to modest Craftsman bungalows, and from Gothic Revival churches to a stone hut weather observatory on the summit of Mt. Whitney in California. William Speiden died in 1914, but Albert Speiden continued to practice under the name Speiden & Speiden until his death in 1933. Albert Speiden, the younger of the two brothers, lived in Manassas, Virginia, and designed many of the historically significant buildings still standing in Old Town Manassas. He is acclaimed as the most prominent architect of the city of Manassas, honored by the extensive collection of his works archived at the city’s Manassas Museum.

The Mt. Pleasant M.E. Church as it appeared in 1916.

The Mt. Pleasant M.E. Church as it appeared in 1916.

While I wasn’t able to find the clearest image of the 1916 church building, I was able to find one that confirmed that the original church building looked quite different than the building does today. The original building was designed in the Gothic revival style and constructed of brick. It is perfectly in keeping with other designs by Speiden & Speiden and seems to be a good synthesis of their earlier church buildings.

In July 1927 a new auditorium was constructed in front of the original church. It was reported that the addition would bring to completion the original plan of the congregation. It is interesting to note that many of Washington’s church buildings were constructed in stages and that the architectural design of the original church could change as the building was enlarged (the church at 13th and Fairmont is a good example).

With the Mount Pleasant M.E. Church South, as plans were developed for a new auditorium at the front of the building, the original 1916 building was remodeled to meet the requirements of the congregation’s Sunday School work. As you walk past the building today you can see the walls of the original church behind the 1927 addition.

The new structure to the front of the church is a complete departure architecturally from the earlier effort. This is due to the congregation’s desire to have a more imposing building, and in their hiring of Porter & Leckey as the new architects to accomplish that. The structure that is familiar to people today was built of stone with a frontage of 80 feet. The design was described as one presenting massive dignity in harmony with the other important buildings that had been constructed on 16th Street between 1916 and 1927. Construction was completed in April 1928. As part of the dedication of the new sanctuary, the church changed its name to the Francis Asbury M.E. Church. It congregation continued to worship in this building until it became the new home of the Meridian Hill Baptist Church in the spring of 1970.

The building is currently in the process of being converted to Condos. Read more at The42.

3146 16th Street(If you look to the rear of the structure, you can see the original Speiden & Speiden section of the building.)

Bibliography

“Bad Weather No Bar to Breaking of Ground.” Evening Star, Jan. 2, 1916: p. 13.

“Church to Mark 22d Anniversary.” Evening Star, Jan. 1, 1938: p. A13.

“New Church Dedicated.” The Washington Post, Oct. 9, 1916: p. 7.

“New Francis Asbury M.E. Church.” Evening Star, April 7, 1928: p. 13.

“Plans Made for New Church.” The Washington Post, Oct. 24, 1915: p. B7.

“To Dedicate New Church Tomorrow.” Washington Times, Oct. 7, 1916: p. 7.

“Work to Begin on New Church.” Evening Star, July 9, 1927: p. 10.

Details from the Alsco/Linens of the Week Redevelopment Meeting

August 14, 2014

Persepctive of Alsco development(Perspective of Alsco/Linens of the Week development project)

On Wednesday evening (August 13, 2014), at the 4th District MPD Substation at 750 Park Road, the Holladay Corporation made their initial presentation to members of the community about their plans to redevelop the property on Lamont Street, NW, currently housing Alsco (formerly Linens of the Week). Alsco is currently in the process of developing a new location in Maryland and is planing to move to the new location in late 2015.

The Holladay Team with architect Eric

The Holladay Team with architect Eric Colbert during the presentation.

The team was lead by  Holladay Vice President Lee Weber. Also prominent among the team was architect Eric Colbert. Holiday described the overall project as having 225 units of housing and 102 parking spaces, which should give a good sense of its scale.

It breaks down into three parts, labeled in the above perspective and the below map as “A”, “B”, & “C”. An additional area of land involved is currently a parking lot on Morton Street, but is not part of the current project. I have labeled it “D” for reference. The Morton Street lot would be developed at some later date.

Alsco map(Map showing location of Alsco property on Lamont Street. Areas labeled “A”, “B”, and “C” are included in the current development proposal. The area labeled “D” would be developed at some later date).

Holladay stated that their intent is to save as much of the existing structures as possible.

Currently, section “A” is a surface parking lot for Alsco. This area would be developed to have a 3-story, 9-unit building along Lamont Street and include 14 parking spaces at the rear. The building would have a total of 9,600 sq. ft.

Section “B” is the 4-story building constructed in 1925. The plan is to create 77 living units in this building. No parking would be included in this section of the project. Areas would be cut out of the east and west facades to permit light into the new units. This structure would have around 68,784 sq. ft.

Section “C” is — in my opinion — the most interesting part of the development. It would have about 117,886 sq. ft. of space for 139 units. This is the oldest of the buildings, originally erected ca. 1920. The 1-story facade would be retained and restored and the original entrance would be returned to how it looked when the building was first completed providing a prominent entryway. The Lamont Street section would be developed into townhouse-like living units.

???????????????????????????????(Lamont Street elevation showing the various section and how they relate to each other)

The remainder of section “C” would be razed and excavated for a single level of underground parking containing 102 parking spaces. A larger building, which appears to be no higher than the 1925 building to the west, and certainly no higher than Lamont Lofts to the east, will be constructed above the parking lot. The taller building is set off from the single story Lamont section by open courtyards, and has been sited so that it is just as close to the front of the houses on the south side of Lamont Street as it is to the rear of the houses on the south side of Morton Street.

Among the questions asked were:

  • Q: How does the new building relate to Lamont Lofts? A: The building is 12 ft. away from the building.
  • Q: Would construction be in phases, or all at once? A: All at once would make the most sense.
  • Q: How long would construction take? A: Estimated to take 22 months to build once construction begins.
  • Q: How will the building impact sunlight on my property? A: There will be no impact on residents on Sherman Avenue or behind the 1925 building. The new building would have a similar effect as the 1925 building does now.
  • Q: Will these be condos or apartments? A: Both, but the exact number of each is not known at this time.
  • Q: How many affordable units will there be? A: At least 15.
  • Q: What will the roof be like and will it be accessible? A: At least 50% must be a green roof, though its too early in the planning stage to know exactly how much and if it will be accessable.

Other questions — such as how many units would be 1- or 2-bedroom, or if any would be larger — just could not be answered during the meeting due to the early stage of the planning at this time.

The team will next make a public presentation at the September 10th meeting of ANC 1A. They also agreed to coordinate with the ANC and community for additional public meetings as the plans become finalized and the project gets closer to a start date.

IMG_7090(Presentation board showing overall footprint of the plan, including the inner court areas).

The Old Soldiers’ Home Library Building

August 13, 2014

I recently was lucky enough to find two old photographs of the library building at the Soldiers’ Home. The library building was designed by Smithmeyer and Pelz in 1877 and razed in 1910, 33 years later.

The first photo shows the library in the background with the Sherman building in the foreground. As the Sherman building was built in 1889, and as Stanley Hall (built in 1897) isn’t in the photo, it likely dates to the early 1890s.

Library 1880s(Cabinet Card of Sherman Hall and the Soldiers’ Home library ca. 1890s).

The second photo was taken ca. 1905, again showing the library with Stanley Hall in the back ground.

Library 1905(A magic lantern slide of the library and Stanley Hall ca. 1905).

The library was originally designed for use as an officers billiard room and bowling alley, but its purpose was altered in the midst of construction from that of a clubhouse to a library for enlisted men. Due to its enormous building expense, the elaborate porch was not added until five years after the main structure was finished.

The Soldiers’ Home governor and other members of the board were never overly enthusiastic about the building, and shortly after it was completed passed a rule that future Soldiers’ Home buildings would be designed by military architects.

By 1910, the library was overflowing with 8,000 books and the commissioners decided to build Grant Hall — a much-needed new dormitory — on the site of the library.

The map below shows the grounds of the Soldiers’ Home in 1891, with the site of the library building noted.

1891 Soldiers' Home map with library identified


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