City Paper Widget

Friday, November 21, 2014

Sex Club Building Conditional Demolition Endorsement from ANC Committee

A committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2F/Logan Circle voted unanimously to give conditional endorsement to a request to raze 1618 14th Street NW. For years until 2009, the building was the site of the gay sex club "Men's Parties", which was closed after a man fell to his death on premises.

1618 14th is at the corner of Corcoran (Luis Gomez Photos)
The support for the demolition of the building is "strictly contingent" on the retention of the 14th Street facade of the building, according to the resolution passed by the Community Development Committee (CDC) of ANC2F.

The request to the committee was made by the "personal attorney since 1989" of Stephen Jaffe, the owner of the building. A NBC4 report about the lawsuit by the DC government following the 2009 death says the building was owned by 1618 14th Street LLC, "a company listed at 9464 Newbridge Dr. in Potomac, Md., the home of Stephen and Pirjo Jaffe."

The case for the raze

Accompanying the attorney was Peter Neubauer of Neubauer Consulting Engineers.

The attorney began his presentation by warning the committee the discussion and vote should be about the demolition only, and not "what comes after".

The attorney and the engineer detailed recent study of the building. The building has been "fully vacated" since December 2010. An architect retained in 2011 recommended facade repairs and full interior demolition. In May 2012, an internal demolition of the building received official approval and was done. The true condition of the building was revealed. Moisture at ground level had rotted the floorboard and led to termite infestation according to Neubauer.

A June 2013 raze request met objections from ANC2F and DC's Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB). There has been some further study since then.

The building is in terrible condition and some of the walls are bowing. It is structurally unsound, Neubauer said. In order to restore the south wall facing Corcoran Street, for example, the original bricks in the wall would have to be removed individually or in groups and then replaced. Some of the wall would be lost in the process.

"The brick is failing," Neubauer said.

Three sides of the building (south, west, north) are unsound in part because the bricks are only two-deep. However, the east wall is three-deep (the usual standard). The engineer said in response to committee questioning that the east wall (facing 14th Street) was not structurally unsound.

Historic Preservation attends the meeting

The new raze request seems to have the support of HPRB, although that support is not yet official. Steve Callcott of HPRB appeared in support of the raze request, waiting patiently for over two hours while the CDC considered other matters.

Callcott said the building dates from the 1870s.

"It probably wasn't intended to last this long," he said. "It's significant for that reason. It's a nice reflection of the earliest period of the neighborhood."

However, as the structural integrity of the building is failing, the building may no longer be considered a contributing building to the 14th Street Historic District, in which it is located. 

New ANC Commissioner responds

This building is located in ANC2F district 01. Katherine Gordon was elected earlier this month to be the Commissioner for this district after running unopposed. Her term will start in January.

Gordon told the committee she had spoken to neighbors and the building has been a problem since 2001. (Jaffe bought the property in 2005.) The building owner has not listened to neighbor complaints about the condition of the building since he owned it.

"It has been demolition by neglect," Gordon said.

"I've been expecting this," the attorney replied.

Jaffe only became aware of their concerns after "the 2009 horrific event".

"The neighbors never voiced concerns." the attorney said. "My client was unaware of their concerns."

"If my client had been aware of concerns," the attorney said, "my client would have responded."

The attorney said the building owner now addressed graffiti and vermin problems "weekly".

The raze application resolution will now move to the full ANC for approval. The next meeting of ANC2F is scheduled for Wednesday, December 10, at 7pm, at the Washington Plaza Hotel (10 Thomas Circle).

All requests (like this one) to demolish contributing buildings in a designated historic district must be heard by the Mayor's Agent in the DC Office of Planning.

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