Will Frager’s Return to Its Former Pennsylvania Avenue Location?

Preservation Law Appears to Require Keeping Frager's Facade

Preservation Law Appears to Require Keeping Frager’s Facade

Will Frager’s Return to Its Former Pennsylvania Avenue Location?

Preservation Law Complicates Effort to Rebuild

by Larry Janezich

It’s been 15 months since Frager’s was destroyed by fire.  Customers were hoping for a quick rebuild as Frager’s opened up temporary outlets in three separate Capitol Hill locations.  The leased space at 1323 E Street, SE, was subsequently purchased by Frager’s and owner John Weintraub is being closed – ​mouthed about future plans for the original Frager’s site on Pennsylvania Avenue.  Efforts to contact Weintraub for comment on this post were unsuccessful.

However, Capitol Hill Corner has learned that earlier this year, Weintraub was soliciting interest in the redevelopment of the site but it is unclear whether this was to sell the site outright,​ or as part of some partnership arrangement.  The site, just inside the Capitol Hill Historic District, is​ located on​ prime real estate, an easy walk to Eastern Market Metro, Barracks Row, and Eastern Market itself.  As of yet, no agreement appears to have been reached.

One of the possibilities discussed,​ according to a source familiar with the meetings ​,​ was increasing the height of the building and adding additional floors.  Theoretically, there is nothing in the zoning regulations  to prevent that, but it would require review by the Historic Preservation Review Board with an opportunity for community input.  The building could rise to 50 feet by right, and given the precedent set by the Hine development, potentially​ even​ higher. Butterfield House with 28 condos sitting diagonally across the corner from the Frager’s site at 11th and Pennsylvania Avenue ​is​ six stories.

Ed. Note:  Readers should not assume that a height equivalent to the Hine project is possible for this site.  (The height of the Hine project does make more likely additional height of developments on sites along Pennsylvania Avenue to the east.)  Restrictions on the visibility of new construction above the historic façade may limit the height of any building on the Frager’s site.  

A complicating factor in the rebuilding anything on the site is that historic preservation law appears to require preservation of the existing façade.  To that end, Frager’s owner has not yet applied for bracing and stabilization permits for the facades to begin the process of cleaning up the site, but it is unclear why.  Such a permit would likely be routinely approved by HPRB. According to one District architect, the case is similar to reconstruction of Eastern Market after its destruction by fire. “It is an expensive proposition which has always made me advise clients that an historic structure is a liability financially speaking….  An historic building is not an investment. It is rather an expense, meant for those who appreciate bringing a structure back to life as a source of pride and satisfaction regardless of the cost.  Good work requires generosity.”


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24 responses to “Will Frager’s Return to Its Former Pennsylvania Avenue Location?

  1. DavidS

    With every week that passes, it becomes increasingly clear that Frager’s will not return to its former Pennsylvania Avenue location, which is probably inevitable. It simply would not be Frager’s if the interior complied with the fire codes.

    • Doug, Thank you for providing this link and explanation. I think Larry provides a valuable service but deploys this advice not only in headlines but in the articles too. Just look at the efforts to back off ANC commissioners from making endorsements and use of a string of questions to somehow justify the “concern”.

      Larry, one thing about this specific article, Hine did not set any precedent as it relates to this block of PA Ave. That seems like a stretch. Hine used a well established process (PUD) and it was recently the Court’s decision that the Zoning Commission properly considered and adjudicated the height issues on that case based on the law.

      Beyond that, the two cases (if one really does emerge in to a case) are so unique that the idea of a precedent is a pretty casual way of bringing your opinion on Hine in to the Frager’s conversation. Hine was a public land disposition, this is not. This has a very different set of buildings adjacent to it than Hine. Hine is on an open square, this is not. So to take the two, where one is not even a case or a proposal and is a very different context, and state as fact that it is a precedent my be your opinion, might be used as a line of attack, but seems like the creation of a fact to suit an opinion.

      • anon

        11:20 am @anon here
        Agreed Ivan

      • Hill Feller

        Ivan, I”m not sure I’m with you re Hine and precedent. There are strict legal precedents but there are the also the vaguer precedents of compatibility and what the neighborhood was willing to accept (even if there was a fight).

        Hine got X, so should Frager’s” may not pass muster w/ a judge but the HPRB is not made up of judges.

        More generally, the Frager’s footprint is huge. Frager’s and Hine (and the 1200 block of PA Ave SE) are of a kind in the sense that they are major spaces that, collectively, will have major impact in creating a look and feel on that six-block stretch of PA Ave.

        Even with many caveats, Hine will be a defining precedent for the community in one way or another.


      • Craig D'Ooge

        “Hine is an open square”. Hee hee hee. You should do standup.

      • anon

        @HF you sound dizzy. Take a seat

        Fragers doesn’t even the entire 1200 block, let alone the southern portion adjoining G St. which is entirely residential. Apples and oranges here. Plus the PUD process was used for Hine because it’s PUBLICLY OWNED LAND, not private ownership like Fragers.

      • Just as importantly, Hine is across from the Eastern Market Metro Station and is located at Capitol Hill’s “100% intersection”, Pennsylvania Avenue and 7th-8th Streets SE. It is not comparable

      • Hill Feller


        It’s not DIRECTLY comparable but it’s still a substantial piece of property at the corner of a significant intersection (11th is a major artery and has some retail, a school, and a church) and just a few blocks from the Potomac Ave metro. It’s also one block away (and across the street from) the 1200 block of PA Ave which will, at some point, get developed and there are other redevelopment projects in that section of Capitol Hill.

        Hine is unquestionably the 800 pound gorilla but that does not mean that Frager’s is some kind of flyweight. It isn’t.

        More generally, I just cannot believe that the Hine case will not have some precedent spill-over effect on Frager’s. What will it be? Hard to say but a project of that magnitude is has got to provide precedents and lessons for all involved.

        Re Butterfield House, remember that the top floor is behind a mansard roof which (theoretically) makes it look shorter than it is. (The top floor, even though it is supposed to be the nicest floor, is actually not that great because of the weird window placement and the squareness of the windows, or at least that’s the way it looked when I toured it before it was occupied.)


      • From a “scalar” standpoint, the Frager site is much different. Both the Butterfield and Hine School sites were also much different in terms of lack of “historic building stock” present on the sites.

        A special merit determination could allow something new to be built. But it would have to be super special, and there is no way it would be built to the size of Hine. Maybe Butterfield.

        But it would be very speculative and most developers don’t have the patience to go through what they call “the entitlement process” for such a project, because the likelihood of approval is low, the project would end up being smaller, etc. (E.g., think of the site, I think it’s at 24th St. and Pennsylvania Ave. NW, that is new construction.)

        Even the Columbia Hospital of Women project (I know some of the people involved so I know some details). It was shrunken some by HPRB, which ended up reducing the value of extinguishing the easement on the property. Etc.

      • Hill Feller


        I mostly agree.

        I would only that one way to get around the special merit hurdle for Frager’s is to have it razed as a risk to the public at which point you can build whatever you want. My sense is that John Weintraub has not been aggressive in pursuing that route…but maybe he should have been and maybe he is.

        I would also note the opportunity cost that the community is paying while Weintraub tries to think through his options under our very unpredictable historic district regulations.

        I’m glad I’m not in his shoes!

      • I don’t think HP regulations are that unpredictable. People who complain about unpredictability generally submit project plans that are unsympathetic to the regulations. And then they have to go through many iterations to get a workable project. Projects that stay within the guidelines do ok. Although HPRB is likely to want to lop off some stories. That way they feel like they are doing something.

        The thing with the Fragers site is that the default position is to rehab. Which they aren’t taking steps to do.

        Ec. hardship caused by the action/inaction of the property owner generally is not considered an “actionable reason” to allow demolition and special merit awards.

        wrt Larry Quillian, were I in the HPO, I would have worked to initiate an eminent domain action against the property one decade ago. But generally the city isn’t that “bold.”

      • anon

        I would only that one way to get around the special merit hurdle for Frager’s is to have it razed as a risk to the public at which point you can build whatever you want

        Not true — even new construction would still require HPRB approval like Butterfield did for compatability with the historic district. And it wouldn’t change the zoning one iota.

        There is no public risk unless the structure is willfully allowed to significantly further deteriorate (now there’s a suitable comparator to the Hine building). The facade did withstand a massive fire so it’s unclear what could be further done to damage it. Maybe allowing the interior structural supports to erode due to elements until it collapses upon itself?

      • Kathleen

        I am surprised–no wait, I’m not surprised–to see you characterize Larry’s article inaccurately and unfairly as an “effort to back off ANC commissioners from making endorsements.” My recollection is that Larry posted a piece regarding whether ANC neighborhood email lists, which many friends and neighbors sign on to in order learn about crime patterns, etc., should be used for a political purpose–i.e., endorse candidates.
        As a lobbyist, you are I’m sure aware of the separation between the materials provided to an office by virtue of that position and political campaigns, and you know that one cannot be used for the other. I think the point of that piece was to acknowledge that email lists fall into that blurry zone (it actually doesn’t seem that blurry to me, btw–I very much doubt that many people on your list are signed on to it because they want to hear from you), and to raise a question.
        I thought your reaction to that piece on Twitter and that of Phil Peisch was childish, and embarrassing to not only yourselves but to the neighborhood.
        But, I do remember a “backing off” effort…and that was when the people who host the neighborhood listserv EMMCA decided to endorse a candidate. Several folks, including someone for whom you campaign, Elissa Silverman (who, to the best of my knowledge, never before posted on the listserv), expressed their consternation that the listserv should be used for anything other than neighborhood updates. Now, if that was considered clear-cut–that is, that a private organization should refrain from expressing a political preference on a listserv built to share information–than the case against the ANC commissioners using their own email lists in that fashion must be rock solid.
        I’m also of the opinion that the Hine height precedent, which you helped to create, is operable in this case, as Hill Feller below suggests

  2. anon

    Fragers was denied a raze permit and I fear they’re leaving the structure to benign neglect so they can make another stab at razing it. It’s long past the point where the facade of the structure should be been shored up. They seem to be holding out for a stiff wind.

    While Fragers or some other developer may seek additional height allowable under existing zoning by right, there is absolutely zero chance they get that kind of rezoning or anything approaching the scale of Hine.

  3. Hill Feller

    Weintraub, poor guy, is on the receiving end of the the standard Restoration Society and Historic Preservation Review Board strategy: wait the applicant out until they have to knuckle under.

    The Preservation Fanatics can, by both accident and by design, drag out the process interminably while the applicant incurs various carrying costs and then ultimately has to give in or go away.

    It’s infuriating to watch people like Janet Quigley and Shauna Holmes of the CHRS insist that others spend their own time and capital to conform exactly to Quigley’s and Holmes’ precise vision of what our neighborhood should look like.

    If “Good work requires generosity” then how about those who are screaming for it pay for it. It’s not generosity when you’re spending other people’s money.


    • anon

      … or how about what it looked like before his employee’s unextinguished cigarette burned his business to the ground?

      and exactly what cost has been borne on the original Fragers site besides boarding up the openings? It’s been idle for the past 15 mo.

  4. Cour Courred

    It’s called a facade easement, people.

  5. Craig D'Ooge

    Anyway, it was nice to see my suspicion confirmed by an architect that Historic Districts do not increase property value, and are more like an eccentric indulgence by the wealthy, like a classic car. Those within the proposed expansion zone would be well advised to take note.

    • anon

      excepct when they have superior location and housing stock rather than the tin foil pop tops sprouting up to the north and east of the historic district. Location matters, including being located next to some architectural atrocity hogging your natural light.

    • FWIW, it’s not true. Yes, historically designated buildings cost more money to maintain. They are also worth more and more desirable. (Why do you think property values in DC continue to escalate–it’s the historic buildings, designated or eligible that are retaining and increasing in value.)

      Probably the “District Architect” consulted by the author of the piece doesn’t focus on preservation-based architecture.

  6. anon

    in relation to Butterfield House on Penn — while it’s technically 6 floors of housing, the lowest level is below grade which projects much closer to 5 stories (ceilings not particularly high). A newly constructed/adapted commercial storefront like Fragers will require higher ceiling height on the 1st floor (14′). The old building was two stories + basement. At the absolute most 4 above ground floors may be feasible. Given the historic compatability requirements, the loading space requirements, and the need to set it back it may not be that enticing to developers.

  7. Ken Melo

    Rumor is Apple is looking to set up shop in the neighborhood. I think the Fragers would be an excellent option.