By Mark Lieberman
Eight years ago, construction workers using a heat gun on exterior wood accidentally started a fire that destroyed the entire Georgetown Library building.
It took three years and $16 million to reconstruct the building. Now five more years have passed, and to celebrate the anniversary of its reopening, the library is unveiling a new bust in its historic Peabody Room.
Jerry McCoy, the special collections librarian at the library, has been hoping to add a bust of George Peabody — who donated money to found the library — to the collection since the reopening five years ago.
“I just thought having a portrait bust for the Peabody Room would just add classy on top of classy that was already embodied by the new Peabody Room when we reopened in 2010,” McCoy said. “It’s just an amazing collection.”
McCoy spent that time searching for a bust on eBay and in antique shops. In the fall of 2013, he mentioned his search to an acquaintance, who suggested Jeannette Murphy.
Murphy majored in painting at George Washington University before spending her career working at the World Bank. Once she retired, she headed back to her alma mater to audit art classes and eventually developed an interest in sculpture. She gladly took McCoy up on his proposal.
“He said he had no funds for a project like that but he would try to find some,” Murphy said.
Murphy worked on the bust from an old photograph of Peabody intermittently for three weeks before putting it in the kiln. When Murphy contacted McCoy last fall to let him know that the bust was done, he said he still hadn’t come up with funding. Murphy offered to donate the bust to the library instead.
“I thought, ‘I’ve learned so much about Mr. Peabody, a very generous soul himself,’” Murphy said.
The bust will be unveiled in the Peabody Room this Saturday at an event that will honor the space’s history. It’s named after George Peabody, who left $15,000 for the Georgetown neighborhood to open its own branch of the D.C. Public Library, which it did in 1935.
To thank Peabody for his contribution, the library administration named a room after him, filling it with documentation of Georgetown history. McCoy thinks the impulse to preserve the past was new for that time period.
“The very fact of that always amazes me,” McCoy said. “This was 1935. There was no such thing as a concept of historic preservation then. These Georgetown families were very proud of their neighborhood and their history.”
McCoy thinks of the room as a makeshift historical society for Georgetown, which doesn’t have an official one of its own.
The original space was on the second floor of the library building, but after the reconstruction, the Peabody Room ended up in the attic. McCoy recognizes the irony.
“We always tell people to preserve their family materials, don’t put them in the basement or the attic,” McCoy said. “And here the Peabody Room is in the attic.”
The room has undergone renovations in the years since the reopening. Air conditioning keeps the temperature consistent. Security cameras keep watch over the historic artifacts. But McCoy says the room’s modernity is hidden well.
“When you walk in, even though it looks old, it’s all 2010 construction,” McCoy said.
On Saturday at 2 p.m., visitors can expect a small celebration that pays tribute to Peabody and showcases the Peabody Room and its contents.
“It’s just going to be a fun little event,” McCoy said. “We’ll have the unveiling and cut some birthday cake.”
This article appears in the May 20 article in The Georgetown Current newspaper.
By Elizabeth Wiener
Current Staff Writer
The expanded Kennedy Center will still boast a “river pavilion.” But the controversial structure will now be on land, according to a revised design presented to the National Capital Planning Commission last week.
Plans now show the “river pavilion” planted firmly across Rock Creek Parkway from the water, with its upper floor high enough to enjoy views of the Potomac. There will also be a redesigned pedestrian bridge over the parkway to the river, allowing hikers and bikers to access the entire complex from the riverfront, with a “gentle ramp” eliminating the need for an elevator, architect Chris McVoy told the panel.
The new plan is “even more exciting,” said Kennedy Center president Deborah Rutter. “Although land-based, the re-envisioned river pavilion … will have a vista of the river and magnificent pedestrian bridge over the parkway.”
Commissioners expressed support for the creative solution. “It takes advantage of the river, but protects the resource,” said commissioner Beth White.
The changes also represent a win for Georgetown waterfront activists, rowers, kayakers and other boaters who ply that section of the river, and who all opposed placing a permanent structure in the river itself.
“Mrs. Rutter really did turn that battleship around,” said Ann Satterthaite, chair of Friends of the Georgetown Waterfront Park. “With all the interest to protect rivers from unnecessary development, this building did not require a river site.”
The original scheme, which also included two other pavilions on land south of the center, met unexpected but daunting opposition in December.
Boaters said that section of the river is too narrow to accommodate the pavilion and still leave safe space for the crew shells that race there, as well as the canoeists and other river users. The Friends of the Georgetown Waterfront Park group was concerned about the aesthetics and also the environmental impact of new construction in the river.
The planning commission, which must approve such federally related projects, refused to endorse the river pavilion in previous sessions, citing tightened federal regulations that bar most construction in flood plains. And review by the Army Corps of Engineers, which guards “navigable waters” of the United States, was “looming,” as Satterthwaite noted.
Initially, Rutter said the river pavilion was vital to the plan to provide needed rehearsal space and more intimate performance venues, and to better connect the Kennedy Center to Georgetown, the National Mall and the Roosevelt Bridge. She had argued that the “river experience” would be especially enticing, and serve as “a new way to memorialize John F. Kennedy and his affinity for the water.”
But as prospects faded, Rutter said, she asked McVoy and others at Steven Holl Architects to “revisit” the plan. “We understand the situation here,” Rutter said.
Specifically, the “re-envisioned” river pavilion will be a trapezoidal two-story building offering performance and workshop space as well as a cafe, in what the center calls a “highly convertible, intimate venue.” With a movable wall facing east, the upper floor can be adapted for indoor-outdoor use and formal or informal seating. Its new location allows a landscaped green space and reflecting pool facing the “glissando pavilion,” which remains essentially unchanged (as does a planned “entry pavilion”).
With the river pavilion on land, the lower level will connect to a garage and house a loading dock to bring in instruments and food, making the building much easier to service, McVoy said. “You will still see the river pavilion from the Georgetown waterfront, see how nice it is to walk down and have lunch there,” he added.
It’s not yet clear exactly how much the revisions will impact the earlier projected $100 million cost of the entire expansion project. The originally expected May 2017 opening date has been pushed back to September 2018.
Planning commissioners were pleased with the new tack.
“The relation to the river is different, but in a way works better,” said Peter May, a National Park Service official.
“The design really meets all their needs, incorporates the bike path into the design and leaves the river intact for the river users,” said Pamela Roberts of the Potomac Boat Club, which had lobbied strongly against the original plan.
Rutter said she hopes to bring the revised plan back soon for a vote.
This article appears in the May 13 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.
By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer
The owner of 3107 Dumbarton St. should expediently undo renovations to the 1898 home that were carried out without permits, the Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission said Monday.
Any alterations visible from the street are governed by the Old Georgetown Board, which oversees the neighborhood’s federally protected historic district. The board hadn’t approved permit applications for the Dumbarton project, which included cladding the brick building in synthetic stucco, altering and raising its roof, removing a chimney, replacing the windows and entrance, and creating new window openings. The city issued a stop-work order and a $10,000 fine in January.
Any resident who has carried out renovations in the Georgetown Historic District is likely familiar with the scrutiny that the board, part of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, pays to details as minute as the type of window frame.
The property owner is now asking the board to retroactively authorize the changes and to allow the half-completed work to be finished. Residents and commissioners at Monday’s meeting expressed disgust at the idea.
“It’s absolutely horrendous,” said commissioner Jeff Jones. “What is this applicant thinking by even trying to propose this, taking our time and the neighbors’ time up by taking us through this? Why don’t they just stop this silliness?”
“I think they’re looking for direction from the Old Georgetown Board,” replied Georgetown architect Rich Markus, who was hired by the owner after the stop-work order was issued.
“Well, they’re going to get a lot of direction,” said Jones.
Tom Luebke, secretary to the Fine Arts Commission, told The Current in January that at least some of the alterations were unambiguously incompatible with the historic district. The Old Georgetown Board is scheduled to review the case tomorrow and has ordered property owners to undo changes carried out without permits. “This is one of the most egregious violations of process we’ve seen in a long time,” Luebke said at the time.
Markus said the owner — Alla Bakhtina of Chevy Chase, Md. — hadn’t entirely ignored the law. “It was actually in the permit process, with a different architect and different people, and at one point they started construction without a permit in hand,” he said.
Bakhtina has said previously that the project began as emergency repair work brought about by a burst pipe, unstable brickwork and shoddy electrical equipment. But commissioners and residents took issue with the project as much as the process.
“ANC 2E believes the extent of the unpermitted work severely damages the historic character of this important colonial revival property,” the commission’s resolution states. “These egregious and severely damaging proposed changes to the historic character of 3107 Dumbarton, NW are completely void of any respect toward the Georgetown Historic District.”
Ward 2 D.C. Council member Jack Evans also addressed the issue at the commission meeting. “You cannot, without a building permit, anywhere in this city — especially in Georgetown — put up stucco and get away with it,” he said. “It’s just an activity that cannot take place.”
Evans said at the meeting that he will ask the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, which governs building permits, to order 3107 Dumbarton restored to its previous condition. His spokesperson, Tom Lipinsky, told The Current yesterday that Evans plans to send a letter this week.
This article appears in the May 6 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.