Month: March 2014

The Abandoned Embassy of Pakistan

A popular perk for residents of DC is trick-or-treating up Embassy Row, primarily located along Massachusetts Avenue in the Northwest Quadrant. Juxtaposed in this neighborhood is an eclectic mix of modern embassies influenced by the architectural styles of their home nations and Victorian-era residences housing embassies with smaller diplomatic presences. Many of these historic buildings were the residences of millionaires, influential artists, and important government officials — including several future and former Presidents during the early 20th century. A majority of their original occupants were driven out during the Great Depression, leading to many embassies buying up the properties. Built during a construction boom after Congress’ expansion of Washington in 1893, these buildings feature many architectural styles of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

But standing in the middle of gorgeous Colonial Revivalism and Beaux Arts properties lies this decrepit looking building:

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That is the former Embassy of Pakistan, located in 2201 R St, NW. These properties frequently change hands as foreign nations increase their diplomatic presence in the United States and move on to larger buildings. The Pakistanis moved to a beautiful French Classicism building at 2315 Massachusetts Avenue:

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And ultimately created their own purpose-built embassy at 3517 International Court:

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Influenced by the cultural flourishes of their home country like the UNESCO World Heritage Site Naulakha Pavilion:

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But back to this:

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This building, employing a Renaissance Revival style, was built in 1906 by John McGregor and designed by George Oakley Totten, Jr. who was renown for building many of Dupont and Embassy Row’s historic buildings. It was known as the Gardner Frederick Williams House, named for the mining engineer and author who laid the technical foundations for the De Beers diamond mining cartel operations in South Africa. Along with Williams, the house’s other famous occupants include Representative Ira Clifton Copley, Lieutenant Colonel Stephen L. H. Slocum (a military attache to Britain during World War I), and Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr. The building is a contributing property to the Sheridan-Kalorama Historic District and is part of a listing on the National Register of Historic Places since 1989.

The building was initially abandoned in 2009 for renovations, still under the Pakistani government’s possession, but work has been slow to almost nonexistent. Adjacent to this run-down building are the comparatively affluent embassies of Guatemala, Armenia, Cyprus, Niger, and the Dominican Republic. In front of the abandoned embassy is the Brazilian Aeronautical Commission. Check out the Google Street View of the intersection of 22nd and R Streets (the images were taken in 2008, pre-abandonment).

So the next time you go trick-or-treating at Embassy Row be sure to check out an abandoned embassy along the way. And particularly adventurous souls may want to also check out the building’s interior (here are some blueprints):

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McMillan Park: New Development

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After the years of abandoning McMillan Park, recently, starting from 2006, the District Government asked Vision McMillan Partners (VMP) to propose a plan to develop the site. The plan that VMP brought up was the mix of uses: housing, shopping, offices, the Washington Hospital Center, and to get rid of 19 of the 20 underground water purification cells. Because the site was originally a park, they included some portion of maintaining the park. Those portions were, 6.25 acres on the southern end of the site, a 1-acre healing garden on the north end, and an acre of green space over a preserved cell at the north end.

 

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However, VMP’s propose of mixed uses of McMillan Park met oppositions of the surrounding community. According to the recent survey, 85% of the community wanted any development to include at least 50% of the park, an open space. A revised plan was to remain 50% of park space and to create large community recreation center.

 

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2012 -2013

During the summer of 2012, Bloomingdale and LeDroit Park experienced the flooding, and DC came up with another plan. DC Water made plans to use parts of the site to store storm water, and to demolish number of cells to create a sewer tunnel under First Street, NW to manage water system better.

So, you might want to visit McMillan Park, full of Washington DC history, before the renovation.

McMillan Park

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The McMillan Park Reservoir Sand Filtration Site is a 25-acre Olmsted park bounded by North Capitol Street, NW; Michigan Avenue, NW; First Street, NW and Channing Street, NW.

 

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McMillan Park Reservoir Sand Filtration Site was first operated in 1905 until 1986, when US Army Corps of Engineers built and operated new water filtration system on the McMillan Reservoir ground. It was the first water treatment plant in Washington DC. When the sand filtration site was first developed, it was innovative system of water purification, which many people needed. This was a system that used sand to purify water instead of using chemicals. Sand using water-purifying system was a slow sand filtration system that reduced many communicable diseases and spread of typhoid.

 

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Why named McMillan

The park is name after Senator James McMillan to memorialize his work on the Improvement of the Park System and his effort in developing the city.

How park created

The plan of McMillan Park was the result of United States Senate Park Commission. Many people, not only including Senators and Congressman, but also people involved in City Beautiful Movement, architect, planners, and artists, joined to create the park.

The site has been described as …

“An imaginative combination of landscaped park, with promenades, sculpture, curving carriage drives, careful grading and the placement of trees planned and personally supervised by Olmsted.”

 

McMillan sand filtration site to help relieve flooding

 

McMillan Park was a place that helped people escape from urban life. The space was at the hilltop, forming “emerald necklace” park in the city. The underground of the park was the Sand Filtration Site, and the ground was the park for people to rest and enjoy. A pink granite fountain was placed at the corner of First and Channing Street, NW. This fountain is removed now, but the original fountain’s statue is visible inside the First Street, NW gates of the reservoir facility. However, it is not open to the public.

In the beginning of World War II, to protect the city’s water supply from enemy’s usage. Most parts of the fountain were removed and even the stone benches were removed.

 

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Until 1986, The Army corps of Engineers used the facility, and when they created a new water filtration facility, they decided to sell the site to the District. The District of Columbia Government purchased from the federal government for $9.3 million to develop the land. However, since the land was purchase, the property has remained unused and closed to the public.

The Washington Coliseum After the Beatles: Owners Decide to “Let It Be”

Our last post chronicled the Beatles’ 1964 arrival to the U.S.

First stop on the money-making-train: The Washington Coliseum. The Beatles went on to achieve record breaking success, but did the venue that hosted them garner as much notoriety as the Fab Four themselves?

What’s Happened Since: A Brief (But Far From Boring) History

1965: Bob Dylan plays the Washington Coliseum. The concert marked one of the first times Dylan “plugged in” and went full electric, straying from his usual acoustic set. A photo from the concert was later used as the cover for Dylan’s Greatest Hits album.

Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Album. Photo take by at Washington Coliseum.

Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Album. November 28, 1965, the Washington Coliseum. Photo credit: Rowland Scherman

1967: The Temptations play the Washington Coliseum. Rock concerts were banned at the arena after a riot broke out, leaving 5 injured and 6 arrested. Yes, a riot. At a Temptations concert. We’ll assume they didn’t always attract such a rowdy crowd.

1969: Banned concerts didn’t leave many opportunities for the owners of the venue, so in 1969 the Washington Coliseum hosted the Washington Caps, a California native basketball team relocated to the D.C. area. Unfortunately, the Caps were still classified as a Western Division team, and travel forced them to play most of their games anywhere but the Washington Coliseum.

Is anyone else noticing a trend for this poor building?

1971: The Washington Coliseum finally gets some bodies to fill its venue!                                      …As a prison. The building served as a giant temporary holding cell for 1,200 protesters of the Vietnam war.

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Probably not the crowd the owners had hoped for.

After its stint as a temporary prison, the Washington Coliseum sat virtually vacant. The owners must have taken a page from the Beatles’ playbook, because they sure “let it be”. The building didn’t see much action until more than 20 years later.

1994: It can’t get worse right? Wrong. Because what’s worse than a former rockstar-hosting-venue being repurposed into a protester holding cell? Being repurposed into a trash transfer station. Glamorous.

2003: Ten years pass and the waste management company applies to demolish the Washington Coliseum. But to put a wrecking ball to the Washington Coliseum is to essentially spit in the face of music, so the D.C. Preservation League places the venue on D.C.’s  “Most Endangered Places” of the year.

2007: Fighting the man paid off! (The Beatles would be so proud.) The Washington Coliseum is added to the National Register of Historic Places.

It seems that the Washington Coliseum followed the same trajectory as the Beatles, burning bright on limited time. The owners weren’t pals with Yoko Ono were they….

But this story ending is a happy one. In 2013, Douglas Development acquired the Washington Coliseum in hopes of restoring its historic structure into a mixed-use property with retail and office spaces. Stay tuned for updates!

Xoxox,

Julia