Finis for the Shotgun House? Or Not?

The Shotgun House at 1229 E Street, SE

The Shotgun House at 1229 E Street, SE

Larry Quillian, Owner of the Shotgun House and other Capitol Hill Properties

Larry Quillian, Owner of the Shotgun House and other Capitol Hill Properties

Finis for the Shotgun House?  Or Not?

Demolition Could Clear Way for Development on 1200 Block of PA Avenue, SE

by Larry Janezich

Tuesday night, a peeved ANC6B, endorsed the concept of a raze permit for the long-preserved historic Shotgun House at 1229 E Street, SE.  The commission was clearly unhappy with owner Larry Quillian who bought the property in 1985 and, in the eyes of the ANC and many in the community, has connived to raze the property for redevelopment using “demolition by neglect” – letting a property which is protected under historic preservation law become a danger and nuisance to the community until Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) has little choice other than to let it be demolished.  Quillian came with an engineer’s report in hand, which told HPRB that it would not be safe to make the repairs to the roof which HPRB had ordered him to make.  Commissioner Dave Garrison called the case a “poster child for demolition by neglect.”

The motion to endorse the concept of the raze permit carried language encouraging HPRB to make the raze conditional both on holding Quillian accountable for demolition by neglect and upon yet-to-be-determined restitution to the community for the loss of a historic structure.  The motion passed 9 – 0.  Any future plan for the development of the site will come back before the ANC as a historic preservation – and perhaps – a zoning issue.

The structure – so named because a shot could be fired through the front door and pass unhindered out the back door – is common throughout the South by rarely found on Capitol Hill.

Gary Peterson of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society Board of Directors, said it would be safe to assume that CHRS would oppose the raze concept.  HPRB will consider the case at its June 26 or July 10 meeting.

Owner Larry Quinlan bought the shotgun house in 1985, along with some ten townhouses behind the property in the 1200 block of Pennsylvania Avenue, just east of the CVS.  Those lots now sit behind a plywood barrier and last Fall Frager’s announced plans to erect a 5800 temporary structure on them.  Those plans have since been abandoned.

The Shotgun House has been standing in the way of development of the lots and Quillian has been trying for decades to circumvent the preservation laws which prevent its demolition.  Quillian also owns numerous properties on Barracks Row and the 600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue, SE, including the legendary Mr. Henry’s.


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26 responses to “Finis for the Shotgun House? Or Not?

  1. Michael

    What makes the Shotgun House worthy of historic preservation?

  2. Can it be moved to Hill Center grounds, repaired and given a new use?

    • anon

      That’s always seemed like the most reasonable solution, but moving it entails cost, it would require a new permanent home, and it was in poor shape 3 decades ago let alone now. HPRB and CHRS may fight for this one, but they’re unlikely to back it up with $$

  3. Tbone

    Why is this house historic? It’s ugly and adds nothing to the neighborhood. Did something happen here or is it the typical blanket dc historic that happens in our neighborhood?

  4. fresh air

    What kind of business and/or what kind of job does Quinlan have? Purchasing real estate in 1985 and holding on to it for all this time and I suspect paying taxes on it, Quinlan must have some kind of business.

    • anon

      I was amused when the tax office started pressing for an increased tax for abandoned unoccupied houses. They wrote a loophole that exempted the owner if the property was in process of being sold. Mr. Quinlan’s solution – he put the house on the market for a cool $1 mil (pretty sure it would have apprised substantially lower). Amazingly after many months there was not a single taker.

  5. Joey

    Demolish this eye sore. The historic people have too much power. There is nothing historic about this dump.

  6. Shotgun houses do have a history. Most were built by freed slaves after the civil war. isn’t that population an important facet to DC history? although I didn’t think of it when I made my original comment, it does belong with the OLd Navel Hospital now the Hill center. A civil war soldier may have left that very hospital and crossed the street to build his own home.

    Shotgun houses are not unique to Capital Hill. They were built all over the south and most have been torn down. The architecture repeats designs of houses in Africa and Hatii. But take a look at bungalos in the neighborhood. Are they two story shotguns with peaked roofs? What about mobile homes? Don’t they look like a shotgun house? Can you think of it as a railroad apartment? if it was painted pretty and landscaped would you think of it as eyesore?

    • Michael

      If I understand you correctly, then there is nothing particularly historic, unique, or remarkable about this building. So why save it?

      Given the costs that would likely be required to bring it up to standards acceptable by the Historic Preservation Board and DCRA, I doubt this building would be economically viable on its own.

      • Hill Feller

        I’m with Michael on this one.

        On a cost-benefit analysis –especially considering what COULD be built there– there is just no reason to save it. I understand that everybody gets to have their say but maybe the community can start being a bit more selective about who it listens to.

        From another angle, it’s very hard for me to relate to the folks who can’t even acknowledge the trade-offs that their insistence on not tearing that house down entail. There are *always* trade offs for *every* decision and it would be nice to hear the people that want to keep the house at least acknowledge that they exist.

        Once that happens, we can start talking about which trade offs make the most sense.

        Hill Feller

  7. J.E.Jones

    I think it is unfortunate that people who buy into an historic district, either have no interest in the area’s history or perhaps any historic artifacts in any area, do not bother to learn, and then want to change the very things that incorporate an historic area – Capitol Hill can certainly work to preserve what little is left that may be unique before it looks like other areas of the district of columbia with little but highrises to view with interest.

    • Hill Feller

      Oh, come on, JE Jones. Quillian has won historic preservation awards. And if it were your house would you really happily take a huge financial hit to restore a rotting shotgun house?

      And what does “Capitol Hill can certainly work to preserve what little is left that may be unique” mean? What little is left? It’s one of the biggest historic districts in the country and is chock-a-block w/ historic houses and buildings!

      Not a very convincing argument!

  8. J.E.Jones

    not a surprising response

    • anon

      I support historic preservation, but in a bigger sense the shotgun house has had a negative multiplying effect on a large tract which is neither preserved nor developed. The adjoining tract south to the 1200 block of Penn Ave was buldozed ages ago and it’s been a festering hole for as long as I can remember (JBG almost developed it at one time along with Jenkins Row but it fell through). Any kind of resolution for the shotgun house, whether it’s saved or demolished, will have a net benefit to the community by allowing an adjoining blight to be reversed.

      • anon

        I’ll add that Mr. Quinlan is intent on thumbing his nose at the HPRB and ANC Zoning commission. If he made any effort to work with them it would have been resolved a long time ago. The last round of plans included an absurd urban McMansion that was DOA

      • Hill Feller


        Please get your facts straight: It’s Quillian, not Quinlan and the developer that almost developed it was JPI not JBG.

        As for the allegation that Quillian has not worked with the ANC and the HPRB…I hardly know where to start. Quillian has been trying to develop that property and do something with that house for nearly 30 years.

        Remember that it was the CHRS that blocked the development of St. Coletta’s school and then stalled JPI long enough that the financing no longer worked.

        Larry Quillian is a quirky guy but he is NOT the villain in this movie.

      • anon

        the last renderings I read about sounded like a complete non-starter. as for the $1 mil price tag for the POS, I’ll let the market speak for itself

      • anon

        how about just letting it go for what it’s worth. acquiring it and sitting on it for that long hardly makes him seem like a good faith actor

      • anon

        … and yet, @Hill Feller — you knew exactly what I was referencing even if sent in haste with minor errors. feel free to correct my grammar too if it makes you feel better

      • anon

        and I noticed read the exact same mistake in Larry’s blog post, but call me out for it in a nitpicking comment

        Owner Larry Quinlan bought the shotgun house in 1985, along with some ten townhouses behind the property in the 1200 block of Pennsylvania Avenue, just east of the CVS.

        I’d be interested in learning more about why the 10 rowhouses were demolished on Penn Ave and why the site has remained dormant for nearly 3 decades. There’s an eggress from the shotgun house lot which impacts the commercial possibilities. The Historic District was established in 1979 so they were also demolished after that designation.

      • In 2002, the City Paper wrote a lengthy piece about the shotgun house and the history of the site. Worth a read.

      • anon

        thanks for the link Alex. very interesting

    • Hill Feller

      “I’d be interested in learning more about why the 10 rowhouses were demolished on Penn Ave and why the site has remained dormant for nearly 3 decades.”

      The rowhouses (I don’t know how many) were razed because they were structurally unsound. At first, the façades were preserved but almost immediately the city ordered them torn down, too.

      The reason that the property has been “dormant’ for so long is that efforts to develop the property have been repeatedly blocked, thwarted, and obstructed. You mentioned JPI but there was also St. Coletta’s and probably others I don’t know about. There have also been efforts to find an economically rational way to re-do the shotgun house. But, again, no project has been able to meet the double criteria of economically rational and acceptable to the preservation mandarins.

      If it is “dormant” it is because getting anything done under the current historic preservation regime is extremely difficult.


  9. Eric

    The shotgun house is NOT within the historic district. It may have been given historic status, but it does not reside in the Capitol Hill historic district