June 2, 2005

Commission Disapproves Canopy Enclosure Proposed for the Patent Office Building
(File Number 6479)

NCPC disapproved the Smithsonian Institution’s final plans for the enclosure of the courtyard at the Patent Office in order to ensure that changes to the historic integrity of the structure were undertaken carefully. Designed in the early 1800s, the Patent Office is considered to be one of the most historically significant buildings in Washington. Its age, style, and design by Robert Mills—the first American-born and American-trained architect—all contribute to its recognition as one of the most treasured buildings in the nation’s capital. It occupies a key site in the L’Enfant Plan; is considered to be one of the finest examples of Neoclassicism in the country; and is a National Historic Landmark.

The Commission thoughtfully weighed public testimony and professional analysis prior to voting. The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the Secretary of the Interior, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the District of Columbia Historic Preservation Review Board, and the Committee of 100—a local citizens organization—all stated that, as proposed, the final plans for a glass canopy over the open courtyard would have an adverse effect on this treasured structure.

As a condition of approving a project involving a National Historic Landmark, NCPC is required to ensure that the applicant will minimize harm to the property. The proposed glass canopy would, in the words of the architect, look like a “magic carpet” floating above the building, adversely affecting both the appearance of the exterior façade and the significant views established by the L’Enfant Plan. Given the Patent Office’s significance as one of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in the nation, NCPC would have been remiss were it to approve the project’s final plans.

It was also of serious concern to the Commission that the Smithsonian Institution terminated Section 106 review—a consultation process under the National Historic Preservation Act that requires federal agencies to consider a project’s potential effect on historic resources. Further, the Smithsonian demolished the historic courtyard landscape and poured the footings for the canopy columns without approval from NCPC or the Commission of Fine Arts. This seriously limited the ability of NCPC and others to recommend design changes to the canopy and the courtyard.

Further, these actions failed to meet the Commission’s submission requirement that applicants not issue construction contracts prior to receiving final approval. This is intended to prevent potentially harmful or irreversible actions, as well as unnecessary costs. It is important that the Commission have flexibility should it determine that a project is not advancing as envisioned, or should an applicant not appropriately address concerns raised during earlier design phases.

As part of its action, the Commission asked the Smithsonian to return with plans to reconstruct the demolished courtyard; required the reconstruction of the building’s south façade stairs; and advised the Smithsonian that it could submit a revised plan to enclose the courtyard.

NCPC welcomes new and exciting architecture, such as the Smithsonian’s own National Museum of the American Indian, however, we do not believe it should come at the expense of iconic and historic. We look forward to reviewing a revised design that accomplishes this worthy goal while preserving the structure’s important heritage.

See the Commission Action, Staff Recommendation, and Staff Recommendation Graphics

Department of Defense Proposes New Master Plan for the Pentagon
(File Number MP174)

With the exception of the Transportation Management Plan (TMP), the Commission approved a new master plan for the Pentagon. The master plan addresses several issues that have arisen since the document was approved in 1991. The new master plan’s two primary objectives are to outline a completed perimeter security program at the reservation and to implement sustainable environmental strategies, such as consolidating surface parking into multi-level structures and restoring impervious land areas into open and sustainable landscape. Additional topics covered in the master plan include incorporating a heliport; consolidating parking; improving vehicular and pedestrian circulation; creating an industrial zone; and developing design guidelines to enhance and protect the historic Pentagon Reservation.

See the Commission Action and Staff Recommendation

Trail Will Serve Pedestrians and Bicyclists Along the Anacostia River
(File Number 6550)

The Commission approved preliminary and final site development plans for Section 2 of the Anacostia Riverwalk, a multi-use trail for bicycles and pedestrians that will extend along the east and west sides of the Anacostia River. Section 2 of the riverwalk includes all portions of the trail west of the river from the Washington Navy Yard on the south to Benning Road on the north. As planned in Section 2, the trail will include circular resting and orientation areas with benches, bike racks, interpretive signs, and maps. The trail will be seamlessly integrated into the shoreline environment and use grasses, shrubs, and a combination of canopy, evergreen, and ornamental trees to enhance existing landscaping.

See the Commission Action and Staff Recommendation

Commission Finds No Adverse Impact on Zoning Proposal for Land Acquired by Catholic University
(File Number Z.C. 04-25)

The Commission concluded that a proposed map amendment to zone property now owned by Catholic University of America would not adversely impact federal interests or be inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan for the National Capital: Federal Elements. Congress directed the Armed Forces Retirement Home-Washington to sell the 49-acre stretch of land—located west of Catholic University’s main campus—to the school. On the recently acquired parcel, the university plans several activity areas and temporary housing units.

See the Commission Action and Staff Recommendation

Plans for Georgetown’s Waterfront Park Nearly Complete
(File Number 6383)

The Commission approved final site development plans for the Georgetown Waterfront Park, stretching from 34th Street to Wisconsin Avenue in Northwest Washington, D.C. Once implemented, several new amenities will grace the waterfront, including the reconstruction of a bike trail, a promenade, a labyrinth, and an area for the future design of a children’s sculpture garden. The final plans provided details on issues such as grading, sidewalks, lighting, and landscaping; but the commission is yet to review several elements, including the overlook structures, a pergola with seating area, and a central fountain area for the park.

See the Commission Action and Staff Recommendation

Consent Calendar: The Commission voted on Consent Calendar items without staff presentations or public testimony.

Delegated Decisions: Projects for which the Commission delegated decision-making authority to the Chairman, Executive Committee, or Executive Director.