August 03, 2010 - 5:53 pm

The Jazz Man

The Jazz Man

The renovation of the Howard Theatre is set to start this month and from our recent conversation with Howard Theatre Restoration president Chip Ellis, everything is set to go.  One final element to be decided is the statue that will adorn the top of the new theater.  When the theater opened 100 years ago this month, a statue of Apollo playing the lyre stood at the apex of the Beaux-Arts Italian Renaissance façade, accompanying the other classical references in the building.

The theater renovation will restore the original look of the façade, but the statue of Apollo, now long gone, will be replaced with a statue, The Jazz Man, pictured above.

The statue will be constructed of metal and lit internally with LEDs. The Apollo statue referred to an ancient era and the new statue will refer to the Jazz Age. We can’t move forward without looking back.

What do you think of the statue design?

June 16, 2010 - 10:41 pm

Several Groundbreakings in August

Developers of several large projects in Shaw adhere to the Macbeth method when promising groundbreakings: tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.

But this summer is shaping up— keep your fingers crossed— to be a constructive one for Shaw. After decades of disinvestment, decay, and neglect, much of Shaw’s physical environment has already healed.  Some star-crossed exceptions include the area around the Shaw Metro station’s north entrance, which emerges from the ground to a large empty lot, a row of boarded-up shops, a vacant Hostess factory, and a vacant theater.  A terrible first impression of Shaw.

If action is eloquence, then the poetry begins in August.

August 22, 2010 – Howard Theatre

After false starts and a tumbled marquee, the Howard Theatre’s renovation is expected to commence on August 22, 2010, the centennial of the theater’s opening.

August 2010 – UNCF Headquarters

It seems like only yesterday Radio One unceremoniously withdrew from the Broadcast Center One project to be built at the Shaw Metro’s north entrance.  Lo and behold, the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) swooped in to fill the void.  The District cemented the deal by offering UNCF $5.1 million in tax abatement and relocation subsidies.  The project will include 50,000 square feet for UNCF’s offices, a college information center, as well as 180 (or 133?) housing units.  Work on the project will also commence in August 2010 and finish sometime in 2012.

September 2, 2010 – O Street Market

Just down Seventh Street between O and P Streets is the shell of a Victorian-era market designed by German-born Washington architect Adolf Cluss.  The project includes condos, apartments, senior housing, a hotel, parking, retail, and a new Giant to be built behind the extant walls of the old market (rendering above).  The project will also re-establish Eighth Street NW between O and P Streets NW.  Construction will begin on September 2 and the current Giant will close and be demolished early next year.

April 11, 2010 - 7:36 pm

Are There Too Many Restaurants?

Are there too many restaurants, bars, and cafés on U Street and Fourteenth Street? According to the zoning code, the answer is yes.

View U-14th-Florida-9th Arts Overlay in a larger map

The Uptown Arts Overlay District (shaded in red above) covers much of the commercial areas on U Street and Fourteenth Street (and some side streets) and limits eating establishments in the zone to 25% of the linear frontage as measured along Fourteenth and U Streets in the zone (red lines above). The original purpose of the limitation was to prevent the area from becoming “overrun” with restaurants, thus crowding out other non-eating establishments.

DCRA recently finished surveying the zone and found that the area is a mere 12.6 feet short of hitting the 25% limit, meaning that DCRA will not issue new Certificates of Occupancy or Building Permits for restaurants unless they receive zoning variances.  Variances takes months to approve and aren’t guaranteed.  Now opening even a modest café will require much more time and money and may require hiring a lawyer to apply for zoning variances.

The MidCity Business Association is upset and is demanding a zoning text amendment to raise the limit from 25% to 50%.  Their fury directed at DCRA is unwarranted, though, as the agency must enforce zoning laws.

MidCity, though, has a lot of support on its side.  Last year the three ANCs in the overlay, 2B, 2F, and 1B, as well as the Logan Circle Community Association and the U Street Neighborhood Association all supported increasing the limit from 25% to 50%.  Though the changes to the Uptown Arts Overlay were expected to be included as part of the District’s city-wide zoning rewrite, DCRA’s recent decision, combined with the fact that the city-wide zoning rewrite is over a year away, have given new urgency to an immediate text amendment.

Now it is the time to act.  As Greater Greater Washington (GGW) explains, zoning amendments typically originate from either the Zoning Commission or the Office of Planning, but an ANC or ordinary citizen can propose a text amendment, too. The Zoning Commission, if it decides to take up the matter, would hold a hearing and decided whether to approve the amendment.

Limiting the space devoted to eating establishments allows for more space devoted to neighborhood-serving retail such as dry cleaners, grocery stores, furniture stores, and clothing stores.  Even still, restaurants serve residents, too, and the 25% limit is too low.  Seventeenth Street in Dupont, as GGW explains, enjoys a sufficient variety of neighborhood-serving retail stores even though frontage devoted to eating establishments far exceeds 25%.

The Overlay extends as far east as the Howard Theater and even down Ninth Street’s Little EthiopiaIf the 25% rule holds, don’t expect any new restaurants to open up there, either. [see update below]

What do you think?  Should the District allow more eating establishments in the area?

Update: We emailed the Office of the Zoning Administrator for clarification, and we stand corrected: “The 25% restriction only applies to businesses within the subset of 900-1400 blocks of U St NW and the 1300-2200 blocks of 14th St NW; so a potential restaurant on 9th St NW would be able to proceed without seeking BZA relief.”

March 03, 2010 - 7:20 am

The Fall of the Howard Theater

Fallen Sign at the Howard Theater

Commenter Paul noted that Thursday’s blustery gusts toppled the sign at the dilapidated Howard Theater, depositing the rusting hulk atop the rickety marquee.  We wonder how long it will be before the marquee comes crashing to the ground.

Neither the sign nor the marquee will survive the renovation anyway.

February 19, 2010 - 1:00 pm

Howard Theater Documentary

Howard Theater

What do Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Marvin Gaye, and Roberta Flack have in common? Their careers began at the Howard Theater.

The WBJ reports that next weekend Channel 50 (WDCW) will air Howard Theatre: A Century in Song looking back at the theater’s place in Washington history and music over the past 100 years.

The show’s producers have posted a photo gallery documenting what the theater looks like inside today— if you thought the outside looked trashy, the inside is worse.

The show will air twice on February 27 and once on February 28.  In the meantime, check out this cool time-lapse video tracking the removal of the 1940s plaster façade.

Howard Theatre: A Century in Song

  • Saturday, February 27 at 8 pm
  • Saturday, February 27 at 10:30 pm
  • Sunday, February 28 at 1:30 pm
February 03, 2010 - 11:23 pm

Buildings and Booze

Snowball Fight

Tomorrow is the first Thursday of the month, meaning that ANC1B’s monthly meeting will take place on the second floor of the Reeves Building at 14th and U Streets at 7 pm.

Here are the highlights from the official agenda:

  • 1916 Ninth Street NW — variance from lot occupancy requirement; variance for expansion of non-conforming building; special exception for change from one non-conforming use to another.
  • Dogs by Day and GreenPets — special exception to zoning.
  • 321 T Street NW — review of conceptual design.
  • Broadcast Center One PUD (to be built above the Shaw Metro) — motion for two-year extension and amendment.

The last item is the most worrying as it concerns the proposed development above the Shaw Metro station.  This development, which is intended to restore the Howard Theater and the Block of Blight was supposed to break ground last year with a gleaming new office building to house Lanham-based Radio One.  The developer is likely to secure an additional tenant, the United Negro College Fund, if the City Council grants the group’s request for $3.8 million in tax breaks over ten years to move here from Fairfax County.

Also on the agenda are the following liquor license applications:

  • MASA 14, 1825 Fourteenth Street NW — Substantial change to license: addition of roof deck, proposed summer garden, expansion of hours (Sunday – Thursday 8 am – 2 am; Friday – Saturday 8 am – 3 am)
  • Bella, 900 Florida Avenue NW — New retail Class C restaurant license with entertainment including dancing and live bands; hours of liquor sales and consumption (Sunday – Thursday, 11 am – 2 am; Friday – Saturday 11 am – 3 am);  hours of entertainment (Sunday – Thursday 8 pm – 2 am; Friday – Saturday, 10 pm – 3 am)
  • Ulah Bistro, 1214 U Street NW — Substantial change to license to provide new entertainment endorsement including DJ and jazz band (Sunday-Thursday, 9 pm – 1:30 am; Friday – Saturday, 9 pm – 2:30 am)
Be the first to comment »
December 30, 2009 - 12:11 am

Boutique Concept

We came across this proposal for Hartland Commons, a boutique hotel proposed for the site across T Street from the Howard Theater. We certainly think it’s a step up for what we have named the Block of Blight, but we’re not sold on the modern design and the destruction of some of the existing historic buildings.

Given that there’s no development application that we’re aware of, we suspect this is more of a conceptual design with no legs.  The design, by Georgetown-based Group Goetz Architects, certainly contrasts with the neighboring architecture, though.  Have a look.

View of the south façade along T Street

View from Duke Ellington Plaza at T Street and Florida Avenue NW

T Street façade, opposite the Howard Theater

T Street façade during the day.

Florida Avenue façade

While investigating the background of this project, we came across an earlier conceptual design by the same architecture firm, which, coincidentally, is located next to the Swedish Embassy. The façade resembles a fabric we’ve spotted at IKEA— perhaps “boutique hotel” is just a front the Swedish spy agency!  If a motorcade of black Volvos emerges from the garage one day, don’t say we didn’t warn you.

November 22, 2009 - 11:10 pm

Block of Blight

600 Block of T Street NW
Soon after we moved to the neighborhood, we playfully nicknamed the 600 block of T Street (in front of the Howard Theater) as the “Block of Blight”.  Boarded-up and decaying buildings, garbage on the street, visible idleness, public drinking, bullet-proof glass at the store counters.  The 600 block of T Street is the scene of constant littering and loitering— both clearly on display even when the Google Street View car drove by this summer (see photo above).  It wasn’t until the latest listing of MPD Third District arrests that our suspicions were confirmed: the block is the site of drug dealing, too.

On October 1, 10, and 30, three different people were arrested for “Distribution of a Controlled Substance”, and those are only the cases the police actually uncovered.

The MPD has posted a sign on the light post reading

Persons coming into this area to buy drugs are
subject to arrest & seizure of their vehicles.

We certainly hope that this is the police department’s policy citywide regardless of whether or not there’s a sign posted.  It’s the law.

According to the MPD’s crime map, within 500 feet of that block within the past 365 days, there have been no homicides.  However, there have been two burglaries, one case of sex abuse, twelve unarmed robberies, nine armed robberies, six assaults, thirteen thefts, 46 thefts from cars, and eleven cars stolen.

The Howard Theater’s rebirth and reconstruction will at least repair the physical infrastructure (lumpy sidewalks, cracked curbstones, crumbling façades), but we also hope it fixes the social ills with it.