DC OKs Demolition of Brutalist Church

DC OKs Demolition of Brutalist Church

Third Church of Christ, Scientist, Washington, D.C. Oh, wait ….

The DC Historic Preservation Review Board had designated the 37-year-old Third Church of Christ, Scientist a Historic Landmark and prevented its demolition, against the wishes of the congregation, the Mayor’s Office, and anyone with at least minimal eyesight who passes 900 16th St. NW. The structure is in the mercifully-extinct style of “Brutalism,” a term derived from the French béton brut, “raw concrete.” It is a huge concrete blockhouse.

Yesterday Harriet Tregoning, Director of the DC Office of Planning, acting as Mayor’s Agent for Historic Preservation,  issued what appears to be a final ruling on the issue:  junk the joint.

The report observes that “design errors” and “defective workmanship” make the building unsuitable for human pursuits of any kind, even with huge operating expenditures for lighting, temperature and humidity control and ventilation. The DC Government will permit the structure’s demolition. The full document is here. Some excerpts:

– The building’s design and choice of materials, particularly the use of uninsulated concrete, were experimental and it could not have been predicted when the building opened in 1971 whether it would succeed as a place of worship.  …the experiment failed badly.

– Adaptive reuse of the church building is not a viable option.

– The use of uninsulated concrete also resulted in the inability to stabilize the wide range of temperature and humidity levels that exist within the building.

– …the Church could operate in the existing building for only three to five years before exhausting its cash reserves.

– As a matter of public policy, the protection, enhancement, and perpetuation of properties of historical, cultural, and esthetic merit are in the interests of the health, prosperity, and welfare of the people of the District of Columbia. D.C. Official Code § 6-1101(a). No permit to demolish a historic landmark may be issued unless the Mayor finds that issuance of the permit is necessary in the public interest, or that failure to issue a permit will result in unreasonable economic hardship to the owner. D.C. Official Code § 6-1104(e); 10A DCMR § 401.1. As noted, the Applicant in this case is relying solely upon a claim of “unreasonable economic hardship,” which, for the purposes of this proceeding means that failure to issue a permit would amount to a taking of the owner’s property without just compensation.” D.C. Official Code § 6-1102 (14).

Conclusion. Based on the findings of fact and conclusions of law, and having given great weight to the issues and concerns of the affected Advisory Neighborhood Commission, the Mayor’s Agent concludes that the Applicant has satisfied its burden of proof that denial of a demolition permit to raze a building that is a designated landmark listed on the District of Columbia Inventory of Historic Sites, known as the Third Church of Christ, Scientist, Washington, D.C. and located at 900 16th Street, N.W. (Square 185, portion of Lot 41), will cause an unreasonable economic hardship to the Applicant.

Here’s what the heap in question really looks like:

DC OKs Demolition of Brutalist Church

 

 Hat tip: Matthew Gilmore, H-DC, Washington, D.C. History and Life.

For an earlier discussion of this topic, see “Saints Preserve Us!”

Top image: The Maginot Line, from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Bottom image: Third Church of Christ, Scientist, Washington, D.C., from The Becket Fund.

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One Response to “DC OKs Demolition of Brutalist Church”

  1. Matthew Says:

    Thanks for the hat tip!

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