Georgetown Current

Tudor Place Selects Next Executive Director

July 29, 2015

By Deirdre Bannon
Current Correspondent

After overseeing a significant transformation of historic Tudor Place in Georgetown over the past 15 years, executive director Leslie Buhler will retire in October. After a national search, the organization’s board has appointed Mark Hudson from the Vermont Historical Society to be the next executive director, starting Oct. 5.

Praise is widespread for Buhler’s leadership at Tudor Place, which went from an appointment-only museum with uncataloged collections to an award-winning facility recognized for its efforts in museum education, archaeology, conservation and horticulture, as well as its collections.

In June, Ward 2 D.C. Council member Jack Evans introduced a ceremonial resolution, later passed by the council, that honored Buhler for her work at Tudor Place.

“When Leslie Buhler took charge, only clear leadership could have transformed it into the thriving modern museum it is today, where ‘America’s story lives,’” the resolution states.

Tudor Place dates back to 1816, when the granddaughter of Martha Washington, Martha Custis Peter, built the house with her husband Thomas Peter. After six generations of Peter family ownership, Tudor Place opened to the public as a museum in 1983. It remains one of the few historic urban estates that retains the majority of its original landscape, and its collection features more than 15,000 items from the mid-18th century to the late 20th, including the largest Martha and George Washington collection on view outside of Mount Vernon.

Buhler led meticulous cataloging of the historic home’s artifacts and tackled long-deferred repair and restoration of the site’s buildings and grounds. She called her work “extraordinarily gratifying.”

Her list of accomplishments at Tudor Place is long, but looking back on her tenure, a few initiatives stand out. Key examples are an education program that serves more than 3,000 schoolchildren, young adults and seniors in the greater D.C. area; the restoration and conservation work at the site; and the relationship she developed with the Georgetown community.

“When conservation is done on something like a daguerreotype of Martha Custis Peter — the only known photographic image of the granddaughter of Martha Washington — it’s so thrilling that you can see somebody who was born at Mount Vernon with George and Martha Washington,” Buhler said. “You can see them in their older years, and it just makes history seem so much more present in our lives.”

And through archaeology digs at the site, “we found wonderful remnants of Tudor Place’s early years,” including objects from the Peters family and the slaves that lived there.

Buhler also oversaw city approval of Tudor Place’s master plan, which includes carefully designed additions to secondary buildings on the site that will add a visitor’s entrance, a greenhouse and a climate-controlled storage area for the archival collection. It also includes additions to the education center, allowing staff offices to be moved out of the residence. The plans were approved by a cadre of city officials, and they will accomplish a needed expansion without significantly changing the site’s footprint or the main house.

When Buhler passes the torch to Hudson, he will be in charge of overseeing the construction and bringing those plans to life.

“Leslie has done a tremendous job,” said Hudson. “The vision through the master plan for the site is bold, and it suggests to me an organization that really is interested in doing everything it can to fulfill its mission — and that’s an amazing opportunity to come into.”

Hudson will come to Tudor Place from the Vermont Historical Society, which he has directed since 2009. It’s a statewide organization that includes a museum, substantial collections, a genealogical research library, a biennial state history expo, the Vermont Women’s History Project and a publishing arm. Hudson has worked in the region before, having directed the Historical Society of Frederick County, Md., from 1998 to 2009. He is originally from Missouri.

Also ahead for Tudor Place is the celebration of its bicentennial next year, which will include unique programming at the historic site.

“It’s pretty exciting to walk into that,” Hudson said. “One of things that is quite impressive to me is the level of commitment Tudor Place makes toward the preservation of its collections and the historic property. They are doing all the right things, and I think the next two years will be quite transformative for the organization and for the site.”

While Tudor Place is looking forward to its future, Buhler will be missed. Communications director Mandy Katz recalled that when storms came or the roof leaked at night, “Leslie was on it; she was very involved in everything. And she was great at guiding the staff to do their best.”

And likewise, Buhler will miss Tudor Place and the Georgetown neighborhood.

“I really enjoyed and feel I like accomplished and built a strong relationship between the Georgetown community and Tudor Place, which is something I value professionally, personally and highly,” Buhler said. “The site is truly unique and full of discoveries — it’s a treasure within Georgetown that needs the support and care of the community, which I think we have. People need to fully understand what all is in here in our midst.”

This article appears in the July 29 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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Developers Drop Plans for Latham Apartments

July 22, 2015

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

A local developer has attracted significant attention for ambitious plans to create several hundred “micro-unit” apartments in three high-profile Northwest locations. SB-Urban has said its premium furnished units will attract affluent young people who have newly arrived in D.C. and value transit accessibility.

But the company is backing out of one such location — Georgetown’s Latham Hotel at 3000 M St., the first site SB-Urban purchased to build its “urban suites” micro units. Officials told the local citizens association on Friday, and the firm’s Mike Balaban confirmed the plans to The Current on Monday, saying SB-Urban will list the site for sale in the near future.

The firm’s two other “urban suites” micro-unit projects, in Blagden Alley and on Dupont Circle, are still on pace to begin construction within a few months, he said. “Literally the other two projects are [collectively] about the same investment as the Georgetown project, and we have in fact decided that we should prioritize and focus on the two other smaller projects,” Balaban said.

SB-Urban purchased the Latham site for $45.4 million in November 2013, and set about obtaining various approvals for its complex and unusual plans. The firm wanted to convert the old hotel building into about 140 rental units of about 330 square feet apiece, which would be augmented by shared living spaces in the hotel’s underground parking garage. The project also would have entailed razing and replacing some deteriorating M Street retail storefronts.

The Old Georgetown Board ultimately approved the plans from a historic preservation perspective, and the Board of Zoning Adjustment OK’d the proposal to move forward without the 94 parking spaces that such a project would usually require. Developers worked with the local advisory neighborhood commission and, in particular, the Citizens Association of Georgetown on both the project’s design and an alternative transportation plan that included making 42 off-site parking spaces available to tenants.

“We found them good to work with and reached something that we thought was advantageous to both sides,” association president Bob vom Eigen said in an interview. “So we’re disappointed to see after all the work that was done, they’re not going to go through with it.”

Balaban also praised “the quality of the dialogue with the community in Georgetown.” But in addition to SB-Urban’s plans to focus on the other two micro-unit projects, he said another factor in the decision is that there’s likely to be broader interest in the Latham Hotel site than when the firm purchased it nearly two years ago.

“At the time we acquired the site, the hospitality market in D.C. was quite depressed, and that has now long since changed,” he said. “It’s now a very strong market that’s very actively being sought by investors and operators from literally around the world.”

Balaban added that Georgetown is also in great demand for multifamily and commercial use, so investors in those projects may also be interested. “We think it’s a great site and something great will come of it,” he said.

Vom Eigen said he wasn’t prepared to talk about hypothetical future proposals for the Latham site, but he said a hotel that retained its underground garage — rather than converting it to other uses, as SB-Urban had planned — would mitigate the community’s parking concerns.

As for SB-Urban’s other two projects, which also don’t have on-site parking, Balaban said all approvals and permits are in hand. The first project to begin construction will be at 15 Dupont Circle, where 92 units will go into the historic Patterson Mansion, with a new addition behind it; Balaban said work will begin this summer or early this fall. In Shaw, the company will break ground soon afterward on a pair of new buildings at 90 and 91 Blagden Alley. Balaban said both should be open in late 2016 or early 2017.

As for the timing of the Latham sale, Balaban said: “We have engaged a broker and we expect it to be on the market sometime soon.”

The article appears in the July 22 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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Hotel Roof-Deck Proposal Raises Concern

July 15, 2015

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

The new owners of Savoy Suites Hotel near the U.S. Naval Observatory are in the midst of a multimillion-dollar renovation that will include overhauling the facade, upgrading the rooms and public areas, and — most controversially — adding a roof deck atop the eight-story building.

Matt Wexler of Foxhall Partners, one of the owners, said the group purchased the property at Wisconsin Avenue and Davis Street in December 2012, and promptly began studying ways to overhaul the 1970s building. They elected to rename it the Glover Park Hotel and have it operated by the Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants boutique chain, Wexler said at last Thursday’s Glover Park advisory neighborhood commission meeting.

The company’s plans don’t call for expanding the building except for adding the rooftop space, which would feature alcohol service and “light fare” food options until 1 a.m. most nights, as currently envisioned. The hotel is now working with its residential neighbors who worry about noise and parking impacts. The Glover Park neighborhood commission voted unanimously to oppose the roof deck’s alcohol license if no agreement is reached with neighbors by the city’s Aug. 10 deadline.

“We would like these negotiations to succeed,” commission chair Jackie Blumenthal said. “But if they don’t succeed we have to file a protest.”

Wexler said he’s confident they will reach an agreement.

“We as the hotel owner have a strong alignment of interest with all of you to get these things right,” he told residents at the meeting. “We don’t want there to be a trash problem. We don’t want there to be a parking problem.”

And about noise and light concerns, added Wexler, “It’s not like we’re a bar under the roof deck — we have 153 guest rooms where our customers are paying to sleep. We don’t want it to be loud either.” And from the neighbors’ perspective, he said, the ground-floor restaurant’s existing outdoor seating has a greater impact: “There’s more noise that’s heard from that street-level patio than could be heard 90 feet up in the air and surrounded by 6-foot-high glass walls.”

The Savoy Suites is a rare high-rise building for that area in northern Glover Park, surrounded on three sides by much shorter structures.

“The views are mostly treetops and the park,” Wexler said in an interview, “and we think that’s something that’s very different about this hotel and unique and we want to take advantage of that. At a lot of the other Kimpton hotels [in Washington], the surrounding views are typically of other buildings.” The roof deck in particular will have “spectacular” views, he said. Current plans call for 136 seats, with total standing capacity not yet determined.

Conceptual renderings of the building — which Wexler emphasized are not yet finalized — show the replacement or removal of various awnings, the removal of metal elements on the upper story, and artwork that would decorate a blank wall facing Wisconsin Avenue. The room layout will see almost no changes, but each room will be heavily updated.

Wexler said he doesn’t expect the customer base for the updated hotel to change wildly, and he hopes that the hotel will also continue to draw community members and their guests. Residents from the neighborhoods near the hotel are eligible to receive a 15 percent discount.

The facade work and renovations to the rooms and hallways are underway and will wrap up by the end of October. As planned, improvements in the sidewalk area will begin next month and continue through October; outdoor work around the porte-cochere will run from September to November; and roof deck construction will last from September through February 2016. The hotel will remain open during the project, though some rooms will be unavailable as work proceeds in or near them.

“We’re just moving forward with a plan to improve the property and make it one that we think will be certainly more upscale than the hotel has been in the past, but also still approachable for community members and neighborhood residents who want to get a good bite to eat,” said Wexler.

The hotel sits at the boundary between the Glover Park neighborhood commission and the commission to the north and east that covers neighborhoods that include Massachusetts Avenue Heights and Cleveland Park. That commission will discuss the hotel’s alcohol license application on Monday.

This article appears in the July 15 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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