Sunday, October 4, 2009

Building Bones

Interpreting the past lives of old buildings is like doing an architectural/archeological autopsy. Each building carries its own scars, personalities and underlying pathologic processes. Many have had superficial face lifts. Many look great on the outside but are in terrible shape inside. Some have had easy lives and others hard lives. The Queen of Sheba (1503 9th Street NW) is a great example. The original stable – the bones of which can still be made out – was built in 1890 for $400 and measured 20’ x 23’. [Two stories – Owner: A. Long, Builder: JC Yost]*

The associated home in front of it facing 9th Street, was built in 1901 for $5,000 and measured 23’ x 32’. [Three stories – Owner: A. Long, Architect: Edward Woltz and Builder: J.C. Yost]* Since the lot measures 95 feet in length and today has a fully occupied property footprint, the deduction is that forty feet (95 feet – 55 feet = 40 feet) of the property footprint consisted of “infill construction” to join all of the elements together.

You can see the same process in the wall of the building to the North of the 9th Street BP Station. It’s easy to see how this evolution would escape notice unless the building is revealed in its entirely as occurs when neighboring structures disappear.

The complexity of past architectural history can make the HPRB decision making process daunting at times. It can be difficult to sort out what is original, what has been added, what can be demolished and what needs to be saved!

* Data retrieved from the Kraft database of buildings in Washington DC

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