The prospect of Logan Circle’s ANC 2F pushing for a historic status for Barrel House Liquor’s façade is getting dimmer.
The commission picked apart the idea during its general meeting at the Washington Plaza Hotel in Thomas Circle last night.
A little background if you haven’t followed along thus far: Barrel House Liquor — known around the neighborhood for its iconic barrel-shaped facade at 1341 14th St. NW — announced it planned to move next door last month. Though the liquor store will live on, what might happen to the big barrel it’s leaving behind is unknown.
“We want to hear if this is something that the community wants to stay,” Tuma told Borderstan in September. “I personally want it. Everyone I’ve talked to wants it. But that’s the first step, that making sure this is representative of the greater community.”
Only a few parties can apply for a historic status, noted Tuma, and that includes the property owner and the local ANC. Though Tuma said he’d like the owner, Eric Meyers, to apply for the status himself, he said he was willing to push the ANC to move forward in applying with or without his help.
Some members of the public cheered on the effort. ANC 2F’s community development committee did not. Several ANC 2F commissioners echoed the committee’s skepticism last night.
Meyers spoke about the property and its iconic barrel during the meeting.
“This property has been an integral and very important part of our lives for almost 44 years,” Meyers said. “I could never conceive demolishing [the barrel], much less trying to move it anywhere.”
But Meyers stopped short of saying he wanted to apply for a historic status. “I want to make sure that the ANC understands that the property is already located in a historic district, and any renovation, any potential demolition — and I don’t know how you’d move that thing no matter what — would be subject to Historic Preservation Board approval,” he said. “But my wife and I own this property and have for decades, and we don’t intend to dispose of it.”
Meyers added that the barrel, which is made from poured concrete, cannot be moved or dismantled without destroying it.
“We will do the right thing for the property, we will do the right thing for preservation, and for the tenant if the tenant allows us to do so,” said Meyers.
Commissioner Kate Gordon, 2F-01, asked him pointedly: “Are you in favor of a historic landmark status for the facade of your building or not?”
“I am in favor of letting the Historic Preservation Board make that decision,” responded Meyers. “I am in favor of keeping it as part of any design for the property if M.G. [whose full name is Mesfun Ghebrelul] is no longer there operating in the business. I think it would be great to keep it there as a lobby or retail for the apartments above. But we’re nowhere near that sort of determination before we know more.”
Though Tuma said he felt like it was too early to push for an ANC motion, he said he’d like to see more research and documentation from architects. “I would not feel comfortable putting forth [a motion] without that kind of research,” Tuma said.
Charlie Bengel, 2F-06, strongly opposed applying for a historic landmark status for the barrel.
“Unless the owner specifically wants his property to be designated as historic, there’s no way I would ever support designating it as historic,” Bengel said.
“I think it limits his ability to run his business,” he added. “I think it would be a perfect example of government overreach to the nth degree, to the point where it could be fodder for late night comedians. I really feel strongly for private property rights.”
Commissioner and Chair John Fanning, 2F-04, echoed Bengel’s opposition to applying for a historic status.
“I think it’s kind of confusing and it’s an awkward situation because the barrel is the icon of the business,” said Fanning. “Where’s the real Barrel House? I would hope that you guys can work something out.”
Speaking from the audience, community development committee at-large representative Helen Kramer summed up her thoughts.
“I think it’s inappropriate getting involved in a landmark designation when there’s no imminent threat to the barrel,” Kramer said. “The owner of the property has stated that he has no intention of altering or destroying it, so the whole issue is moot.”
Talks to grant an imperiled Logan Circle liquor store’s facade a historic status may have hit some preliminary bumps in the road.
A panel of representatives and ANC 2F commissioners weighed concerns and asked questions about the idea during a community development committee meeting at the National City Christian Church (5 Thomas Circle NW) last night.
Commissioner Pepin Tuma, 2F-03, made his case before the panel. He said that, although the owner of the building at 1341 14th Street NW and Barrel House Liquor owner Mesfun Ghebrelulare — who also goes by M.G. — are discussing ways to keep or move the facade, he’d like to have a plan in case those talks fall through.
“A lot of the members of the neighborhood and myself personally are interested in … preserving the facade of this building within the parameters of D.C.’s historic preservation law,” Tuma said. “The important thing to do is to recognize the historic landmark of this facade and begin the process of working with the D.C. government and with neighbors to ensure that, if this is what folks want, we have all our ducks lined up in a row.”
But members of the ANC’s committee had concerns about granting historic status to the building when Ghebrelulare has already said he plans to move next door.
“I’m concerned because … if that happens, are we going to have two liquor stores side-by-side?” said Helen Kramer, at-large representative. Kramer also noted that granting the property a historic status would mean that the barrel could not be “chopped off and moved somewhere else.”
“I hear your concerns,” responded Tuma. “I think we would obviously like to minimize confusion to customers and the neighborhood about where Barrel House is. I think that’s a very good point.”
But Kramer reiterated her point. “I’m just very concerned that if this is designated as a historic landmark, what are they going to do to the property?” she said. “The sensible use would be a liquor store. I don’t think it’s desirable to have two side-by-side liquor stores.”
Other concerns raised by the panel included whether the building’s facade truly is historic and whether it fits with 14th Street’s historic theme of being “automobile row.”
“The facade, which I think represents elements that people are really looking to preserve, was built in the early 1950s and has the historic … roadside style of architecture style of development that is rare in Washington D.C.,” Tuma said.
“If it is understood to be an example of roadside architecture, it could conceivably fit within the historic district as automobile row,” he added. “But that’s certainly above my pay grade. Everything is above your pay grade when you’re an ANC commissioner.”
In an interview with Borderstan, Tuma stressed that the committee’s discussion was necessary to move forward with a concrete ANC proposal.
“Those concerns that were raised in there, about confusion and potential trademark issues, are significant issues with which we’ll be concerned,” Tuma said. “But none of those independently mean that we should not investigate and concern ourselves with the historic nature of the facade.”
“I’ve shopped there for 17 years, maybe longer, and it’s a piece of history” Tuma said. “Hopefully there’s a way to preserve the architectural history and ensure that M.G. and Barrel House have another 20 years of success in the neighborhood.”