City Paper Widget

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

1618 14th Street: "That Wall Could Collapse at Any Point Right Now"

A structural engineer testified to DC's Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) on December 18, 2014, that the south wall of 1618 14th Street NW "represents a significant safety hazard" and "bracing should have been installed quite a while ago".

"That wall could collapse at any point right now," said Nathan Hicks of Robert Silman Associates, a Georgetown-based structural engineering firm, in testimony concerning the owner's application to knock the building down.

"I have severe concerns about the integrity of that wall and the potential for its collapse," said HPRB Chair Gretchen Pfaehler at the same meeting.

The building sits on the corner of 14th and Corcoran Streets. The unsafe wall under discussion was the wall that runs along the Corcoran Street side. As of three days ago, when I last saw the building, there was no visible exterior bracing, nor was there any indication to passing pedestrians that the building was potentially unsafe.

Stephen Jaffe, owner of 1618 14th Street
HPRB against raze of the building

After hearing testimony both for and against the raze, the HPRB voted 7-2 to reject the owner's application. Many board members made statements opposing the application.

"We've protected and preserved buildings in far worse condition," said Joseph Taylor.

"We need to preserve this building," said Robert Sonderman.

"I'm not convinced that the owner is not partially responsible for its condition and he hasn't been very aggressive about remediating it," said Maria Casarella.

Building owner testifies

Stephen Jaffe, the owner of the building, testified in favor of the demolition. He told the HPRB he had bought the building in the year 2000, but he had no idea it was structurally unsafe until the year 2012, when the interior dry wall was taken down and the extent of the damage to the building was made clear.

Jaffe also told the HPRB of his intentions concerning the size of a successor to the present two-story building -- should he ever get permission to knock it down.

"We're thinking that it's going to be the same or possibly a three-story building," Jaffe said. "But basically the same style to fit in with the neighborhood. We're not looking to make a big change in this building."

At another point in the hearing, Jaffe told the Board he owned two other buildings in DC historic districts -- one of which is the building which houses Le Diplomate restaurant, one block away on 14th Street.

Other testimony at the meeting detailed the building's history as the location of first an African-American-owned tailoring business, followed by a high end photo studio. A sex club took residency in part of the building in 1991, according to testimony, and eventually expanded to the entire building. The club allegedly made unauthorized changes to the building's interior walls and was the scene of a fire in 2005. The sex club was finally closed in 2009 after a man fell to his death there. 

The request to raze the building was conditionally endorsed in November, 2014, by a committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2F/Logan Circle (see SALM blog post of November 21, 2014). The committee's decision was ratified at the December 2014 meeting of the full ANC.

I did not attend this meeting. This report is based on viewing the archived video of the meeting, available here, starting a time 1:11:34.

(photo credit: screenshot of HPRB video of the meeting)

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