Community Strongly Opposes PN Hoffman Condo Project

Concerns Raised About Public Easement on Plaza 

Adams Morgan, DC, Wednesday, September 21, 2016 – A throng of PN Hoffman’s brightest talents brought their latest designs to Adams Morgan Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners and residents at a packed public meeting at Mary’s Center.  Of the more than thirty people in attendance, the reaction was swift and almost entirely in opposition to the project, with only two people speaking in support of the latest design iteration, Online here –   http://tinyurl.com/suntrust-plaza-design-sep-2016

“Don’t destroy our Plaza,” said 40+ year Adams Morgan resident Mary Jane Owen. “The plaza honors one of the community’s victories against racism, and it can be it refurbished.” Owen references the dedication of the plaza in atonement for bank redlining back in the 1970’s. “Our built environments and memorials are reminders of our historically important neighborhood struggle against discrimination.”

After questioning, PN Hoffman representatives admitted they did not own the site yet. Suntrust Bank has not sent representatives to any public meetings yet.

Further, the PN Hoffman team proclaimed the plaza to be “private property” and that deed searches have not demonstrated any known ownership issues. In stark contrast stood Vikram Surya Chiruvolu who said, “We have discovered several critical documents that show the Suntrust site is encumbered with a public easement [PDF, links to AdMo4RD attorney Paul Zukerberg’s preliminary legal opinion]” and that his group, Adams Morgan for Reasonable Development, “will pursue the full measure of the law to protect this public plaza space.”

“By building right up to or nearly to the bank property line, the proposed out-of-scale apartment will act like a tall wall blocking the wonderful light and air on 18th Street,” said Monica Bose, Adams Morgan artist.  “The adverse impacts of a project this massive in this neighborhood context is unacceptable given how central this site is to Adams Morgan.”

Further, the PN Hoffman team failed to bring any dimensional measurements of the area of plaza that may remain after dropping their condo project on the site. Residents believe the latest design leaves about 300 square feet of the existing 2,500+ square foot public plaza space.

“How do you come to a long-anticipated public meeting about this critical project without measurements of the most controversial aspect of the project — the elimination of the plaza,” said Chris Otten, 2016 ANC Candidate.

Some residents claimed that PN Hoffman’s latest design plan renderings depict the existing Adams Morgan commercial strip along the west side of 18th Street  (Julias Empanadas, inter-alia) as bigger and taller then what they really are. But PN Hoffman representatives fired back and proclaimed that people like Denis James, president of the Kalorama Citizens Association (KCA) were purposefully “manipulating” their photos to hurt their project.  James scoffed at the notion, defiantly holding up his cellphone and challenged PN Hoffman walk to the site and take photos with him.  They  declined reticently.

In the end, the ANC Committee voted in the majority to not support the latest PN Hoffman designs for the Suntrust site.

On October 5, 2016, the ANC as a whole will give one final review before PN Hoffman intends to seek approval by the DC Historic Preservation Review Board in late October.

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History Prior to the Plaza

The Knickerbocker & Ambassador Theaters

The site was originally the home of the beautiful Knickerbocker Theater, designed by local architect Reginald Geare in 1915 and owned by DC theatre operator Henry Crandall , who also later built the Tivoli Theater which still stands in Columbia Heights.  On January 28, 1922, the night after the worst snowstorm recorded in DC to that point which deposited over two feet of snow on the region, the Knickerbocker opened for business. Tragically, during the movie intermission, under the weight of so much snow the badly constructed roof collapsed, “crushing 98 [to death], and severely injuring 133 more” according to a Washington Post article which said it was the worst DC disaster in 50 years.  Among the dead was medical doctor and Pennsylvania Congressman Andrew Jackson Barchfeld. Local station WETA aired the following silent footage of the aftermath of the disaster in 1990.

The 1922 blizzard became known thereafter as the Knickerbocker Storm.  Architect Geare killed himself in 1927 and Owner Crandall did likewise in 1937.

A year after the tragedy, in 1923, the facade of the theater was salvaged and rebuilt into the Ambassador Theatre, which remained open until 1968.  Interestingly, in its final year, the theatre was rented by a trio of rock and roll promoters calling themselves the Psychedlic Power & Light Company, and they hosted a number of well known rock and roll acts including Jimi Hendrix for five nights in August of 1967.  Here is a photo of the concert poster.

Jimi_Hendrix_Ambassador_Theatre_poster

After the Ambassador closed, it was purchased by local investors JB and Maurice Shapiro, according to this May 1976 Washington Post article, which also details how they then sold the site to Citadel Corporation in 1974, which tried and failed under heavy community opposition to put a BP or Shell gas station on ths site, and then sold it to Perpetual Federal Savings for $350,000.  We have tried to locate any building or demolition permits for both the Knickerbocker and Ambassador Theatres, and neither are in the city’s Washingtoniana archive.

Update: July 9th SOPA Gathering

Update: July 9th SOPA Gathering

We wanted to update you about our SaveOurPlaza gathering on Saturday, July 9, 2016.

Our gathering brought out more than 35 people from the community, including:

Vikram Chiruvolu Surya, with Adams Morgan for Reasonable Development, led the discussion on the history of our Adams Morgan plaza at Suntrust Bank. It was a fact-filled and fun exploration about the amazing history of this location, at the gateway of historic Adams Morgan.   This is the same history that DC’s Historic Preservation Office (Anne Brockett) called ‘insignificant.’ https://saveourplaza.wordpress.com/2016/06/18/plaza-history/

There were so many old-school heads at our forum who chimed in with their memories of what happened back in the 1970’s in the fight to first keep BP’s gas station from taking this important corner, to the eventual victory against the racist redlining of Adams Morgan residents and businesses by Perpetual bank who ultimately built the open plaza and bank building we see and use to this day.

Frank Smith, former Ward One Councilmember, and the Adams Morgan Organization (AMO) both were mentioned by many people as reflecting key leadership in the fight to ensure Perpetual Bank gave up concessions in lieu of the opportunist and classist lending practices that hurt Adams Morgan families and small businesses.

We discussed the idea of the community, with the help of the city in purchasing the land and determining the complete future of this site. But bottom-line, we all agreed that the public plaza from the face of the current bank building to the property lines in all directions shall remain under public control, as it has for 40+ years, here on out!

The question is how do we get there?!?
http://www.facebook.com/admo4rd

Pointedly, many folks have sent in letters asking our Councilmember, Brianne Nadeau, to host a public forum to discuss our vision and concerns for this critical central corner of our neighborhood.  Have you sent in your letter yet?  http://www.activist.one/saveourplaza

Tania Jackson, Chief of Staff for Brianne said she would bring this request back to the Councilmember.  Call her to ensure that our request for a community wide forum actually happens, 202-724-8181.
http://dccouncil.us/council/brianne-nadeau

In the meantime, we are organizing and continuing to reach out to Adams Morgan residents.

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SAVE OUR PLAZA
GET INVOLVED!

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MEET UP TO ORGANIZE— This Saturday, July 16, 2016, NOON (12pm) at our Plaza to be part of the core organizing efforts to win our vision for this special public space.  It’s SAVEOURPLAZE SATURDAY’S!

Petitions — We will also be petitioning all Saturday’s this summer starting at 10am at the Farmers Market.. can you be there?  Let us know. admo4rd@gmail.com || 202-670-2366

Send a note to Councilmember Brianne Nadeau >> http://www.activist.one/saveourplaza

Get updates by liking our Facebook page >> http://www.facebook.com/admo4rd

We live in a neighborhood that developers eye strictly for profit.  It’s a place where speculators seek to shoehorn large dormitory-style condos made of stick and plastic in between our unique historic homes and low-rise commercial buildings because of the massive money they fetch for such development.

Be there Saturdays at Noon to organize!
RSVP: admo4rd@gmail.com, 202-670-2366

 

Victory! Community Plaza Saved (for now)

Victory! Community Plaza Saved (for now)

Our historic plaza at the corner of 18th and Columbia has been given a temporary reprieve from being paved over by McCondos.

Between the many letters that were written into the record by YOU, and the great organizing that brought an array of Adams Morgan residents to the HPRB hearing, all taken together pushed the positive result today.

The Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) took up whether they would approve or deny Anne Brockett’s preservation report.

Brockett’s report called the site of the Suntrust bank, and its amazing history as “insignificant” in her full support of PN Hoffman’s gargantour project at our historic corner.

pnhoffmanlatest2

Larry Hargrove, 50+ year Adams Morgan resident living on Belmont Road called the failed HPO staff report, “startling” in its lack of substantiation.  Brockett’s report completely ignored the ANC resolution calling out major problems with the project.

Despite the outpouring of dissent to the project in its current configuration as well as the destruction of 90% + of the public plaza, the Chair of the HPRB, Gretchen Pfaehler, moved to approve the HPO’s staff report.

But the vote tied, three to three, so the proposal to support the flawed HPO report failed!  Victory!

Reparations for Adams Morgan residents!

During the hearing one of our fact-finding archival-archaeologists, Vikram, demonstrated the amazing history of victory over redlining racism which gifted the public this plaza [VIDEO] >> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uaSpZajNd0o

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WHAT NEXT . . .

We have won a bit more time to see a much better redevelopment of this central corner in our neighborhood, such that we:

  1. Ensure the retention of the full historic public plaza from the face of the existing bank building all the way to the sidewalks (including the raised porch).
  2. Drive a campaign for the people to pursue purchase of the site through a combo of crowd-investor fundraising and public monies so we can keep our plaza and build a public resource behind it like a library, maker space, senior resource center, some truly affordable housing, etc.

Help Out and Engage to Save Our Plaza!

  • Conduct internet and archival research work
  • Social media campaigning
  • Investor identification and financial review
  • Alternative planning and design efforts
  • Gathering more petition signatures
    —-> send an email to admo4rd@gmail.com, or call 202-670-2366
ALSO, PLEASE MAKE CALLS TO BRIANNE NADEAU TO ASK HER TO HOST AN OPEN PUBLIC FORUM WIDELY ADVERTISED TO DISCUSS THE HISTORY OF OUR GATEWAY TO ADAMS MORGAN!  (202) 724-8181

… AND, JOIN US ON FACEBOOK!
www.facebook.com/admo4rd

Trove of Historical Records

Trove of Historical Records

Bank’s Response to Community Concerns Included Providing a Public Plaza

The DC Historical Preservation Review Board meeting was  held at 930am Thursday June 23, 2016 at 441 4th Street NW, Room 220 South.  We won a VICTORY—for now!  The HPRB declined to approve the plans as presented at the June 23 hearing giving us more time.

Based on the verbal accounts of folks who’ve been selling at the Adams Morgan Saturday morning farmers market for decades, we’ve been saying that there was a major community struggle with the bank at 1800 Columbia Rd NW prior to the building even being built.   New records that have come forth also describe how this was a historic victory that marks one of the first known acts of reparations for racial discrimination in which a bank that engaged in redlining altered its practice and returned wealth to the community.  Clear historical records are coming forth, and more are yet to come. Here is the story they reveal so far.

Fighting Redlining Adams Morgan

After Perpetual Federal Savings & Loan bought the site at 1800 Columbia Rd NW in 1976, there was an extended fight between the Adams Morgan Organization and the bank about putting a branch at that location. The fight centered on the then-common banking practice of redlining, or racially segregating, neighborhoods using selective home lending, which Perpetual, along with many other DC area banks, had engaged in since the 1930s.

This struggle is described at length in this 200-page Masters thesis by James Lloyd entitled Community Development, Research, and Reinvestment: The Struggle against Redlining in Washington, DC, 1970-1995.  This thesis became two journal articles, one in the Journal of Progress in Public Planning, and the other in the Journal of Urban History.   We directly contacted Mr. Lloyd, and he also provided this transcript of his 2011 oral history with Councilman Frank Smith, who was head of the Adams Morgan Organization, which eventually became the Adams Morgan ANC and was a signatory to the settlement about the lending practices and construction of the plaza.  In the transcript, Smith describes how he and other Adams Morgan Organization members went to Atlanta to testify before the Federal Home Loan Bank Board regarding the branch charter.  At minute 20:00, he states about his testimony there and the settlement regarding the plaza:

We said, “well, we’ve got affidavits from people who have been long term members who [are] creditworthy enough for them to be taking their money and holding their large accounts in there, but they’re not creditworthy enough for them to lend money to them.” So we told them that. At the end they did issue them a charter, but the charter required them to do certain things at that site. It required them to – one of our requests was to have a bilingual staff. This was a bilingual community – that they have a bilingual staff there at the bank and that they provide – this site was being used as a public meeting place, as a community garden, not a garden, but a place where they were selling products and they had to allow that to continue. So when you look at that site now it looks a little bit like an amphitheater. That’s because it was supposed to have a community choir go in there every year for Christmastime and sing. We never did that even up to now, but it’s still a good idea and maybe we’ll have it one day. But beside this, they do have the community produce out there …

Related to this, we’ve turned up the following underlying historical documents from 1976-1979 about the Plaza site at 1800 Columbia Rd NW, all from the Washington Post.  These are in chronological order with the oldest first:

And this PDF was given to us directly by former Councilman Frank Smith, from his personal records, and it includes one of the legal agreements between Perpetual Federal. However, the key item of note is described in the July 28 1977 Washington Post article by Martha Hamilton describing the “good neighbor” agreement which the Perpetual put in place with the Adams Morgan Organization which was a forerunner to the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, in order for its agreement to allow the building of the branch.

This “good neighbor” agreement governing the plaza has yet to surface, and the Historical Preservation Review Board has not yet seen it or any of the information on this page. Unfortunately, their recent staff report on the site states “demolition of the building and plaza do not raise preservation concerns”.  If you know of anyone who may have more information on this good neighbor agreement, please let us know at AdMo4RD@gmail.com.

Perpetual Federal Savings & Loan was purchased by Crestar in 1992. The city property records still indicate a division of Crestar is the legal owner of the building.  SunTrust then purchased Crestar in 1998, and rebranded the branch, but never officially transferred ownership.

Here (PDF, 230MB) is about 250 pages of additional documents surfaced in our research.

 

And here is a page about the prior history of the site.

Save Our Plaza Petition

Save Our Plaza Petition

A big local developer wants to turn our plaza into cash for themselves.  Here is a look at the plans and other information on the ANC website.

Instead of this unattractive development that would take public space and turn into money for a wealthy few, the petitioners ask that:

The pedestrian intersection at 18th Street and Columbia Road, NW be improved, yet remain a central community gathering space and plaza serving the residents of Adams Morgan. 

Sign the petition.
THEN SEND A LETTER!

We are opposed to the current PN Hoffman plan to build a 80+ foot tall Bethesda-like apartment complex that would subsume the public plaza we use and enjoy now.

We support city intervention that will protect our plaza from encroachment by any proposed project at this central site in our neighborhood.

We support the City in any effort to purchase this property so that we the residents can shape future development at this special location. 

We want to preserve our plaza as an improved open public space that can positively effect all future generations who come to live, work, and play in our neighborhood. 

We want progressive and serious engagement by our elected officials, especially our Ward One Council Member, regarding this critical planning issue that could forever change the c haracter of our historic neighborhood.

Click here to sign the petition.
IMPORTANT — SEND A LETTER TO CITY OFFICIALS