Wednesday, April 24, 2013

City’s Oldest Stable now Unstable

According to a news release by Forrester Construction Company, (Feb 26, 2013) The new addition to the inn requires preservation of a 1700s carriage house, one of the oldest buildings in Washington, DC, keeping the exterior intact while completely renovating the interior.”

“The design incorporates adjacent historic buildings, including an 1880s townhouse, a rectory and a carriage house from the 1700s, said to be one of the oldest buildings in the District. The carriage house's exterior will be maintained and its interior will be completely renovated.” (Rebecca Cooper Washington Business Journal)

This week the Western section of the roof on the alley-nested stable collapsed, causing the front wall to separate from the adjacent building and begin to lurch into the alley. 


                                   Stable stable - last week               Unstable stable - this week

It is clear that there are no interdigitating bricks in this essentially “freestanding” West wall. The original wall was apparently removed some time in the 1980’s. 

Note the lack of major beam structural support and the absence of the original wall. (Photo courtesy of Kathy McEnany)

From the overhead photo it's evident that at some point in its history, the stable relinquished its Western wall and thus did not share a common wall with the building next door. There also does not appear to be any evidence of a center keel beam or robust joists to distribute the roof stresses. The "shared wall" was more of an abutment than a load-bearing "party wall." In a way, it’s surprising that this collapse did not occur earlier.

The Morrison Clark stable preservation is “part of the deal” for their large expansion process. So what to do now? Yesterday, a representative of the construction company said that after discussions with HPRB/HPO and DCRA, the decision was made to remove the roof and to remove the bricks on the second floor down to the top of the first floor. The bricks will be saved and the stable rebuilt as it was, preserving the characteristic architectural details of the classic carriage and horse entrance, windows and stable hand door. Simply “shoring up the building” turned out not to be an intelligent or practical option at this point. It was also dangerous, given that the building essentially only has three walls of its own.

Meanwhile, the alley is closed for safety reasons.

The upcoming precise major architectural stable surgery will be an interesting process to follow. Thankfully, the city is increasingly recognizing the value of these little structures as meaningful reminders of the contribution of the DC alley system and its culture to the history of the city. Some Washington alleys have become a wasteland through past, outdated urban planning blind servitude to alleys for trash and services. These wasteland alleys cannot be reclaimed. However there are many, many alleys with their small charming alley buildings still intact in Washington that can and will be preserved to thrive in new lives of adaptive reuse. 

Application for recognition on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. 
(This application is a fascinating read)

The ongoing Washington Alley Survey project through the Historic Preservation Office is going to help the city's alley revitalization process enormously. 


Why Buildings Fall Down (how structures fail) by Matthy Levy and Mario Salvadori 


BadWolf DC said...

Good Piece. I hope that Forrester are good to their word, and contract.As you stated worth watching what happens. Thanks for the update

Chris said...

I live on the 3rd floor next to the carriage house and it is truly a tragedy. Is there somewhere I can send you a picture I took this morning of the demolition?

Unstable Lives said...

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