1. The Neighborhood.
The name Adams Morgan began to be used in the late 1950s when the John Quincy Adams school (all-white) and Thomas Morgan school (all-black) in the neighborhood were integrated after the 1955 Bolling v. Sharpe Supreme Court decision on the same day as Brown v. Board of Ed was handed down. For decades, news coverage of the annual Adams Morgan day festival, which attracts up to 300,000 visitors, and much other coverage of the neighborhood emphasizes the diverse multiethnic, racially integrated, creative and progressive neighborhood identity which has flourished. As a result, Adams Morgan is one of the most iconic and well-known neighborhoods of DC along with Capitol Hill, Georgetown, and Dupont Circle.
2. History of the Location.
Before the neighborhood was called Adams Morgan, it was called 18th & Columbia. The lot on the southwest corner of the 18th & Columbia intersection was once home to the Ambassador Theatre, which was at the address 2454 18th St NW, and demolished in the early 1970s to make way for a BP gas station. Neighborhood residents successfully fought real estate speculators to reject the gas station at that special corner. Upon Perpetual Federal Bank’s purchase of the land in 1976, the site was re-branded as 1800 Columbia Rd NW and a historic struggle for the soul of the community played out over the course of three years, ultimately resulting in a major breakthrough in US banking policy: Perpetual Federal agreed in the chartering of the Adams Morgan branch by the Home Loan Bank Board to redress its history of redlining and discriminatory lending to provide specific changes to its banking practices and to create a sizable community space for public use, covered in a “good neighbor” agreement between the Adams Morgan Organization (precursor to the current ANC) and the bank.
3. The Building & Plaza.
The building was accordingly constructed by leading DC architect Seymour Auerbach in a modern functionalist style with an amphitheater shaped public space for use by both vendors and community groups, and in proportion with the stretch of historic 18th Street which it sits atop. The plaza quickly became one of the most used public squares in the city, and was at the center of the annual Adams Morgan Day festival and many community events over the years.
4. Ownership Transition.
In 1991, its owner Perpetual failed in the S&L crisis. While US taxpayers put in $400 million, the property was sold to Crestar Financial of Richmond, VA, for an official purchase price of $10, along with the Perpetual’s sixty-plus DC region branches and $6 Billion in banking assets, for which Crestor paid a total of $7.8 million. Crestar closed dozens of Perpetual branches and laid off hundreds of workers. SunTrust made Crestar a subsidiary in 1998 and rebranded the branch but allowed Crestar to remain the legal owner, which city records indicate it still is.
5. PN Hoffman Proposed Redevelopment
Crestar allied with PN Hoffman and Potomac Partners, and are attempting to wipe away the historic Plaza and bank branch, despite almost 40 years of public use and historic service at the heart of Adams Morgan and ample records indicating this would be in violation of what the community wants both from the view of its proposed new function and of historic preservation. Finally, as the image of the actual scale proposed for the new so-called “Plaza” above shows, it is largely built outside the property line, actually subsumes existing city sidewalks, incorporates design elements to further prevent public use such as planters and benches curved away rather than inward, and offers only 5% of the usable space of the current Plaza. It is no plaza at all.
6. Next Steps: Historic Landmark Designation and Return of Plaza to the People of Adams Morgan, and an Open Site Improvement Process Involving Public
If Crestar/SunTrust wishes to dispose of the property, we invite its sale back to the people of Adams Morgan for its purchase price, with interest. We intend to preserve and improve the Plaza and the Building on the site, including honoring the historic agreement which created the bank branch and the plaza.