Historic Preservation Tuesday: 16 Grant Circle and the landscape of DC's avenues and circles as an element of the city's identity
The original design of the city by L'Enfant intended for circles and squares to become staging points to showcase states, although that idea fell by the wayside, as the city's avenues instead were named in honor of the states.
These days, the circles (and squares) are a mix of exclusively residential zones, mixed use, or fully commercial.
After some back and forth, the L'Enfant design was extended to what was originally Washington County, after Georgetown, Washington County and the City of Washington were all combined into one consolidated jurisdiction in the 1890s.
As this part of the city was built out, avenues and circles--not squares like Lincoln Park or Stanton Park in northeast and southeast Capitol Hill-- were created,although there aren't as many circles and squares as there is in the L'Enfant City.
Grant Circle is a residential circle(with a church prominently occupying a small section, on New Hampshire Avenue NW in Petworth. For the most part the houses around it are "Wardman-style" porch front rowhouses, constructed in the 1910s and 1920s.
16 Grant Circle is a detached house that pre-dates the construction of the rowhouses around the rest of the Circle.
It has been acquired by a developer who intends to make it over/demolish the building and replace it with 6 condominiums, taking advantage of the mass and height potential that remains in the lot that results from the zoning code.
There isn't a Grant Circle historic district to provide protections to the building or the landscape.
Jumping into the fray, a group called the Off Boundary Preservation Brigade has submitted a historic landmark nomination for 16 Grant Circle NW, a residential property, in an attempt to stave off the change.
It's hard to "handicap" the likelihood of the nomination being approved. I'm doubtful.
Typically, it's very difficult to succeed with the landmark nomination of an individual house, unless the building/site meets a very high bar in terms of the criteria that support nomination (such as particularly distinctive architecture, key landscape features, association with key figures in history, architecture, or historical events, etc.).
Although I would argue that there is no doubt that if all the houses around the circle had been nominated to be in a "Grant Circle Historic District" it's likely that such a nomination would be approved.
2. This gives me the idea that city preservationists should be more proactive and put create a set of "circle historic district" nominations to put forth the idea that this built environment form is worth protecting.
By way of comparison, Logan Circle is part of a historic district, but the district covers eight blocks around the Circle.
Similarly, areas around Seward Square, Lincoln Park, and Stanton Park are designated historic as part of the Capitol Hill Historic District.
With circles like Grant or Sherman, I am suggesting a triage measure, and focusing on just getting designated the buildings and the circle itself, rather than trying to create a larger district beyond the circle.
3. Similarly, we need to be more proactive in protecting the building stock and urban design of the city's avenues. As it happens the Massachusetts Avenue Historic District runs from 17th Street NW to Observatory Circle, providing a similar precedent to Logan Circle.
If a similar district existed on Upper Connecticut Avenue NW it would have likely prevented the glass curtain wall-based design of 5333 Connecticut Avenue NW from going forward.