Tuesday, December 2, 2008

S.O.S. (Save our Stables) Initiative is Launched

The National Trust for Historic Preservation request for nominations of historic buildings or areas that are recognized as being at risk of destruction http://www.preservationnation.org/issues/11-most-endangered stimulated the author (DC Preservationist) to launch an initiative to help preserve the few remaining Washington D.C. stables – S.O.S. (Save our Stables).
On December 7th 2008, the Logan Circle Christmas Tour will feature several stables in Blagden Alley and Naylor Court to share insights into the past seldom seen worlds that lay behind the elegant Victorian homes on the Streets in front of them.

(Dakota stables c. 1944 as a garage)

(From the Office for Metropolitan History reported in the New York Times)

Preservationists lost a battle to protect the Dakota, built in 1894 and shown here in 1944, after the owner secured a stripping permit.
Soon word spread that a demolition crew was hacking away at the brick cornices of the stables, an 1894 Romanesque Revival building, on Amsterdam Avenue at 77th Street, that once housed horses and carriages but had long served as a parking garage. In just four days the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission was to hold a public hearing on pleas dating back 20 years to designate the low-rise building, with its round-arched windows and serpentine ornamentation, as a historic landmark. But once the building’s distinctive features had been erased, the battle was lost. The commission went ahead with its hearing, but ultimately decided not to designate the structure because it had been irreparably changed.
Today a 16-story luxury condominium designed by Robert A. M. Stern is rising on the site: the Related Companies is asking from $765,000 for a studio to $7 million or more for a five-bedroom unit in the building.
The strategy has become wearyingly familiar to preservationists. A property owner — in this case Sylgar Properties, which was under contract to sell the site to Related — is notified by the landmarks commission that its building or the neighborhood is being considered for landmark status. The owner then rushes to obtain a demolition or stripping permit from the city’s Department of Buildings so that notable qualities can be removed, rendering the structure unworthy of protection. In the case of Dakota Stables, some preservationists have accused the landmarks commission of deliberately dragging its heels. “The commission had no intention of designating Dakota Stables,” said Kate Wood, the executive director of Landmark West!, a preservation group. “They waited until it had been torn down. It was clearly too late for them to do anything meaningful.” Some commissioners say the landmarks commission and the buildings department should adopt a more reliable alert system to prevent pre-emptive demolitions. “When a property owner goes to the buildings department for a permit to strip, it should be a red flag,” said Roberta Brandes Gratz, who has served on the landmarks commission since 2002. Christopher Moore, a commission member, also said the situation demanded redress. “There is a standard of honor I wish the developers would follow,” he said. “The landmarks commission should have greater authority” over the granting of demolition permits, he added. “All of a sudden, the cornice is gone.”

New York Times
- "Demolition through Loopholes"

The Adaptive Lives of Washington DC Stables over 150 Years

Stables are architecturally simple yet elegant structures, melding form and function. Because of this simplicity and their “hidden” location in alleys, many DC stables have been blessed with multiple lives over the past 150 years. Originally built to house horses, carriages and hay, their classic features – bollards, square two story configuration, hayloft door and beam, horse head height windows, cupolas and massive doors and hinges – make them readily recognizable today. Some were private and small while others were commercial and large. The occasional stable was born into elegance as part of an estate (such as the Heurich mansion). With the civil war, came a massive demand for D.C. stables that continued throughout the period of reconstruction. However, by 1900 few new stables were being built as the automobile eclipsed the horse and carriage, street car lines developed and demand declined. Nonetheless, their simple architecture allowed easy conversion of many stables to alley auto repair shops. These were hard lived years for stables. Some were abused but most were neglected. Many were destroyed as alleys began to be abolished by government fiat through a series of alley abolition acts. Ironically a long period of building stagnation in D.C. (after the1968 riots) protected many of the remaining stables. Today, few alley auto repair garages exist but stables are slowly being rediscovered and restored to live adaptive new lives as musician and artist studios, offices or homes. Unlike the labyrinths of London mews, intact collections of stables are virtually nonexistent in D.C. today. Almost none were built outside of the city as it was defined by turn of the century maps. Today, stables have a hard earned right to be protected (two D.C. alleys and their stables were recognized as National Historic Landmarks in 1990) and nurtured so that they can continue to thrive. They uniquely remind us of their struggles and the roles that they have played in the special history of Washington, its alleys, transportation, commerce and the arts. They have a special charm that is timeless.