Tuesday, December 2, 2008

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.

1 comment:

stable preservationist said...

This looks like a building on 1st street - rear.