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.
A week after the news broke that the liquor store would move, Commissioner Pepin Tuma, 2F-03, floated the idea of saving its iconic barrel façade by applying for a historic status.
“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.”
An imperiled Logan Circle business could receive a historic status.
Washington City Paper reported last week that Barrel House Liquor — known around the neighborhood for its iconic barrel-shaped facade at 1341 14th St. NW — is being forced to move next door due to rising rent. Though the liquor store will live on, what might happen to the big barrel is unknown.
Or maybe not. At least, not if Logan Circle’s ANC 2F can help it. The neighborhood commission is currently discussing applying for a historic status for the building’s facade, which would make it difficult for future tenants to modify or remove it.
Commissioner Pepin Tuma, 2F-03, is the one leading the effort.
“I first heard that M.G. [whose full name is Mesfun Ghebrelul] would be moving last Thursday. I heard that the landlord was doubling their rent every lease term, which is unfortunate,” said Tuma. “He’s been a great neighbor. They’ve won the Logan Circle Community Association award several times. I’ve been shopping there almost 17 years.”
Tuma and his fellow 2F commissioners plan to hear public comments regarding giving the building a historic status during a community development meeting at the National City Christian Church (5 Thomas Circle NW) next Thursday at 7 p.m.
“We want to hear if this is something that the community wants to stay,” Tuma said. “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.”
The neighborhood commission will also hear from members of the public during its general ANC meeting in the first week in October.
Provided the ANC reaches a consensus, Tuma said it will move forward with applying for the historic status, preferably with the property owner’s blessing.
“Because the property owner is part of the community, we would like to have a situation where everyone is moving toward the end result,” Tuma said. “We are going to do it. I hope the property owner signs on.”
But Tuma added that it’s not necessary to have the landlord’s approval before applying for the status.
“I think that there really is a desire among the community and the commission to preserve the history of Logan Circle. That’s why we live there,” said Tuma. “Whether it’s a building built in 1893 or Barrel House, the beauty of Logan Circle is everything that it was and everything that it will be.”
From Tom Hay
You may have noticed the large number of homes in our neighborhood with brass medallions on their facades, bearing the name of a trust or preservation organization. The medallions usually are the indication of a facade easement.
The home of the late Alma Woodsey Thomas on 15th Street NW is a good example. She was an African American Expressionist painter and art teacher and the first graduate of Howard University’s art department. You can find other such houses and buildings in the Dupont, Logan and Shaw neighborhoods.
In a recent Housing Counsel column in The Washington Post, lawyer Benny L. Kass provides a great analysis of facade or preservation easements.
In a nutshell, the owner of a property in an historic district may grant a facade easement to a local preservation organization. The owner is restricted from making changes to the facade under guidelines established by the organization. There is potential for significant tax incentives for the property owner based on the value of the property.
To qualify a property must be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, or be located in a registered historic district and be more than 50 years old. Vast portions of Logan and Dupont are considered historic district. Among them are Dupont Circle, Logan Circle, Greater U Street, Strivers’ Section, 16th Street, 14th Street and Shaw.
The DC Office of Planning Historic Preservation Office has detailed maps and an inventory to check to see if your property is in one of the designated districts. The HPO also has some useful online guides for homeowners in a designated historic district.
Kass does point out many of the potential challenges a homeowner may face when becoming a party to such an agreement. Homeowners are cautioned to consult with their tax and legal advisers before undertaking the process.