Shotgun House and Frager’s Garden Center Sold – 120 Apartments Coming to 1200 Block of PA Ave SE

The Shotgun House at 1229 E Street, SE, slated for development

The Shotgun House at 1229 E Street, SE, slated for development – finally.

The current site of Frager's Garden Center - formerly owned by Capitol Hill real estate investor Larry Quillian - will become a 120 unit apartment house

The current site of Frager’s Garden Center – formerly owned by Capitol Hill real estate investor Larry Quillian – will become a 120 unit apartment house

SGA Architects designed and developed Butterfield House at 1020 Pennaylvania Avenue, SE

SGA Architects designed and developed Butterfield House at 1020 Pennaylvania Avenue, SE

Shotgun House and Frager’s Garden Center Sold

120 Apartment Complex Coming to 1200 Block of Pennsylvania Ave SE

by Larry Janezich

Sassan Gharai, founder of SGA Architects, is the new owner (ed. see comments below) of both the famous Shotgun House* and the attached Frager’s Garden Center in the 1200 block of Pennsylvania Avenue, SE.  The firm designed and developed Butterfield House at 1020 Pennsylvania diagonally across from the old Frager’s Hardware store, which is being developed by Perseus Realty.  The new SGA project is within the Capitol Hill Historic District and subject to design approval by the Historic Preservation Review Board.

SGA plans to build a 50 foot, 120 unit apartment building by right, on the site that is now Frager’s Garden Center.  The Shotgun House will be pushed back on the lot, preserved and restored, and a three story addition will be built on the rear of the building. Sources indicated the building would not contain a retail component (ed. but see comments below).  The town house at 1230 Pennsylvania which is part of the parcel would remain a residence and be incorporated into the project.   SGA architects have been reaching out to neighbors in the past few weeks to explain their intentions for the site.

The controversy over preservation of the historic Shotgun House has been an impediment to the development of the parcel, but Capitol Hill historic preservationists and early signals from the Historic Preservation Board seem to favor this development.

SGA Architects hope to take the design before HRPB in July, which would put it on the agenda of ANC6B earlier in the month.  That may be the only time it comes before the ANC if the plan to build by right stays in place, and no zoning changes are sought that would require a Planned Unit Development (PUD) procedure.  It could be a year before construction can start, leaving time for Frager’s to relocate their garden center.  No word yet on where that might be.

Asked for comment, ANC6B Commissioner Nick Burger, in whose single member district the project lies, said, “This has been a contentious site for many years.  I’m cautiously optimistic that this is a plan viable for the developer and one the neighbors would be willing to support.”  Burger said he had urged the developer to hold a community meeting to introduce the plan to the neighbors, and said the developer seemed amenable.

Butterfield House, the design of which pays homage to the Victorian era, has 28 condos and was finished in 2008.  The new project – so far unnamed – will be apartments, in contrast to the 30-40 condo units planned for the Frager’s site across the street.  No word on how much parking is planned for the new SAS development.

For a CHC post on the last time then-owner Larry Quillian tried to get rid of the Shotgun House, go here:  The result was that the Historic Preservation Review Board refused to permit its demolition.

*From Wikipedia:  “A “shotgun house” is a narrow rectangular domestic residence, usually no more than about 12 feet (3.5 m) wide, with rooms arranged one behind the other and doors at each end of the house. It was the most popular style of house in the Southern United States from the end of the American Civil War (1861–65) through the 1920s. Alternate names include “shotgun shack”, “shotgun hut”, “shotgun cottage”, and in the case of a multihome dwelling, “shotgun apartment”. A railroad apartment is somewhat similar, but instead of each room opening onto the next room, it has a side hallway from which rooms are entered (by analogy to compartments in passenger rail cars).

A longstanding theory is that the style can be traced from Africa to Haitian influences on house design in New Orleans,[1] but the houses can be found as far away as Chicago, Key West, Florida, Ybor City,[2] and Texas. Though initially as popular with the middle class as with the poor, the shotgun house became a symbol of poverty in the mid-20th century. Some of these houses are being bulldozed as part of urban renewal, while others are being saved for historic preservation. Others are saved and renovated in areas that undergo gentrification.”  Read more of this article here:


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31 responses to “Shotgun House and Frager’s Garden Center Sold – 120 Apartments Coming to 1200 Block of PA Ave SE

  1. Charlotte McG.

    What a shame that the Restoration Society and HPRB managed to force the preservation of that utterly unremarkable shotgun house. Their actions kept a neighbor from replacing a worthless shack of no use to anyone, but whose preservation imposed great costs on others.

    • John

      It’s ironic that a shack that was once a symbol of poverty will now become a symbol of the HPRB’s decadence.

    • Being one of the only examples of the shotgun house type in DC, by definition the house is not _un_remarkable. The only (in)actions that led to the house not being maintained and occupied were performed by the owner. It’s a classic example of “demolition by neglect” that was countered only by DC’s strong preservation law.

      But you blame the victim, in this case “preservation” rather than the actor, Quillian, for the disinvestment.

      The one “defect” in DC’s building regulations is the failure to have a receivership statute, by which notorious and noxious nuisances could be cured by a third party. With that kind of potential threat, fewer property owners would be motivated to try to grind opposition down through the execution of multi-decade intransigence.

      • muskellunge

        It may be unusual in DC, but elsewhere it is not — there are thousands of them in New Orleans, for example. Just because something is locally rare does not make it worthy of preservation; it is basically a shack that prevents better use of the property.

        I don’t have a dog in this fight, but it seems that a line in the sand was drawn that realistically did not have much meaning — kind of a larger version of a traffic dick war. There is plenty of foolishness to go around.

      • David C

        “Just because something is locally rare does not make it worthy of preservation.”

        I guess this is the point on which people disagree – what is the purpose/goal of preservation. My opinion differs from yours, and I’m not alone.

      • muskellunge

        Well then, where do you draw the line? Is an old doghouse a “structure of significance” to the Capitol Historical District? Usually what is worth saving has something distinctive and grand about it, which this house does not have.

        Just to point out that haven’t taken a side: The CH historical district is indeed worth saving, and a primary reason why I live here. To flout the laws and demolish by neglect any house in the district undermines what by law is to be preserved and therefore, diminishes the property values that have made the neighborhood a success. Mr Quillian knew what he was getting into when he bought the property, and that he would have to follow the same laws as every other property owner.

      • wrt muskellunge’s point, I agree there is an issue with ouevre. By definition a local law focuses on local matters, in this case building stock. Because the building was considered a contributing structure in a long time historic district, it was deemed worth saving. Why shouldn’t it? Yes, there are thousands of shotgun houses in other locales, but that’s somewhat irrelevant to this particular question.

        OTOH, I have argued that while the Mies van de Rohe MLK Library is the only Mies building in DC, it is not particularly noteworthy and probably undeserving of special historic preservation protections, especially judged against his complete body of work.

        It’s hard to be fully consistent on the issue. WRT the shotgun house, I don’t think an alternative project of any significance was ever offered up.

      • muskellunge

        “it was deemed worth saving. Why shouldn’t it?”

        I guess the point a rule, any rule, is that there will be exceptions and it is vital to know when it should be broken. Exceptions are invoked when the rule, if strictly followed, violates the spirit which motivates it. What is that spirit in this case? I say it is to preserve the historical building stock that makes Capitol Hill distinctive. Shacks, doghouses, and outhouses are not distinctive to Capitol Hill and therefore not worthy of preservation.

        Look at the picture — it is a cheaply constructed shed that clearly has outlived is usefulness. It was never distinctive and I disagree that it contributes, in any meaningful way, to the historical housing inventory on Capitol Hill. Apparently no direct neighbor thinks it should be saved. More to the point, its existence prevents a far better use of the property.

  2. Anonymous

    The lot at 1229 E ST SE (the ‘shotgun house’) is NOT part of the lot at 1230-1232 Penn Ave SE and has different zoning requirements. In fact, Frager’s specifically fenced off 1229 E from their use of the 1230-1232 Penn Ave lot as a garden center to allay these concerns. The ownership structures are different too, with 1229 E being directly owned by Mr. Sassan Gharai’s LLC, while the lot at 1230-1232 Penn is being controlled by Mr. Gharai’s group under a long term land lease from Larry Quillian. The implied dependence between the two properties has always been a specious impairment manufactured by the previous owner.

    Proposals shared with CHRS indicate the intent is to restore 1229 E to a single family home. The first 26 feet of the ‘shotgun house’ would be rebuilt directly *next* to 1227 E (removing the current gap) and a basement would be added (no basement exists currently). The proposed rear addition is approximately 3 stories with a basement, 24 feet deep, and extends wall to wall to close the gap on E St. This pop back portion would extend past the rear of 1233 E by no more than 10 feet. No access to E St in any way would be provided to the much larger 1230-1232 Penn Av building. The illegal curb cut that was removed to restore the curb on E St would not return.

    Here’s hoping that the same concern that lead to the careful scrutiny of 1229 E for so many years carries over to the excavation and construction process and protects the existing foundations and buildings at 1227 E and 1233 E. The critical piece going forward will be insuring that *DCRA* does its job well in conjunction with contractors hired by Mr. Gharai. The good news is that a well executed building and foundation could actually help the neighboring buildings. Mr. Gharai has also indicated that this project can proceed separate from and prior to the project at 1230-1232 Penn Ave.

    The scope and scale of the project at 1230-1232 Penn Av is obviously much much larger. The plans for 1230-1232 Penn do indeed include approximately 5000 square feet of retail, focused at the deepest part of the lot. Plans have varied between 120 and 132 apartment units with roughly 20-22 parking spaces. Additionally, Mr. Gharai has been pursuing the idea of providing rear yard access easements to many of the neighbors on E St (including 1229 E) through a curb cut on Penn Ave that would serve the building’s parking.

    Mr. Sassan Gharai should be commended for working really hard to make numerous constituencies happy with his proposals and providing communication and accepting feedback during the process so far. Thank goodness that a resolution on the ‘shotgun house’ is in sight; we just need to keep an eye on the execution.

  3. casdie

    So disappointing that none of these projectd have retail. If they did include retail, then the other two empty retail on 13th and E and 15th and D would fill up.

  4. dlg


  5. But what about the “character” of our neighborhood having a creepy abandoned shack in it? Will the new developers respect that by leaving the shack looking like a pile of tetanus?

  6. Andy

    Larry, Sass Gharai has NOT bought the 1200 block and the shotgun house. Quillian owns it until plans are approved.

    This presents a major risk. The Restoration Society, the HPO, and the HPRB chip away at the viability of the project (by requiring, for instance, façade preservation of 1230 Pennsylvania Ave, etc.), Gharai walks away, and we’re back to a derelict shotgun shack and dealing with Larry Quillian for another ten years.

    Who in the world wants that?

    The Restoration Society has already flouted the desire of the community to deal with the shotgun house so many times that they will likely vindictively insist on just enough concessions to torpedo this deal, too.

    • me

      Look, if this is true, please present evidence. Mr. Gharai has repeatedly represented himself as the owner of 1229 E ST SE and an attorney representing Mr. Gharai also represented him as the owner in a DC Court proceeding concerning the property.

      • Andy

        According to the District’s Real Property Sales Database the owner is Larry D. Quillian. This is the link:

        and you just enter 1229 E St SE.

        You can also go to this link

        and look for 1229 E St SE under “Property Search.” You will find that the owner is Larry D. Quillian.

        What is the source of your information? Were you at the court hearing? Is it possible that you misunderstood or misinterpreted what was being said?

      • Corey H

        The further Andy’s point while noting OTR’s site sometimes lags, the up-to-date Recorder of Deeds website has nothing on the property since it was sold at a tax sale last year (Quillian owes a cool $103k in taxes and penalties on the property). This isn’t to say that there isn’t an agreement to sell the property between the two parties. Just that Quillian is still the legal owner both properties.

        Recorder of deeds search is here:

    • Anon 4

      Hard to sort out who owns this based on these competing claims. But as somebody who has been on the Hill for a while let me say this.

      Even if Sass Gharai does own the property it is no guarantee that the shotgun house will be rebuilt.

      Larry Quillian has owned the shotgun house for the last 30 years and he and potential developers alike tried to get proposals that guaranteed that the original shotgun house would be saved –and none of them were given final approval.

      This deal does not sound finaland Gharai is in the money-making business. If the HPRB or CHRS hold out for too much Andy is right. The deal is off and we’re back where we started.

  7. TWDC

    I’m a little concerned with how the excavation is going to affect the nearby homes’ foundations, but overall I think adding density to this area of Penn will make the stretch between Eastern Market and Potomac safer and more enjoyable.

    I haven’t been completely satisfied, however, with the explanation of how parking will work. I know Mr. Gharai has said he plans to market the units to car-free and car-lite tenants, and claims that tenants won’t be eligible for RPPs, but I’m not convinced that the city is really enforcing that. Not that parking is a huge problem in this area, but I think Mr. Gharai is being overly optimistic about the impact this development will have in that regard.

    • anon_1

      That’s a false assumption. Look at crime reports on the stretch between EM and Potomac. While there has been notable crime around Potomac Metro, the area to the west along Penn has seen very few reported incidents. Even with the darkened Fragers it’s a very safe route on the Hill. Probably because there’s a constant police presence and it’s an emergency route.

  8. dlg

    Within the past 6 months, 4 houses on E St SE that back into the 1200 block of PA Ave SE have sold: (1) 1235 E St SE; (2) 1237 E St SE; (3) 1239 E St SE; and (4) 1241 E St SE. Coincidence?

    • TWDC

      The owners of 1235 recently retired and moved to Florida (1237 may have been a similar situation), and 1239 was a multi-unit property that was just renovated and converted to a SFH. So yes, it would seem to be a coincidence.

  9. Nooooooo

    Not sure about the Wikipedia article on the origin of the shotgun house…but their origin is usually a response to lot width and tax assessment. In New Orleans (and Quebec), the arpent system of dividing land resulted in very narrow lots valued by their proximity to the river. In NOLA and other cities properties were taxed by street frontage and number of stories, which made the shotgun house the cheapest option for poor and middle class homeowners. It’s a rarity in DC but also was never a common type of housing here, so I really don’t get the argument for preserving it.

  10. whowhatwhenwherewhywhywhy

    It is strange that 1229 E ST SE is continually referred to as a ‘shotgun house’ when the expert testimony before HPRB indicated explicitly that it is not.

    “We should stop calling it a shotgun house, because that is not what it is.”
    – Professor John Vlach, HPRB Public Hearing of February 25, 2010,
    HPA #09-394 Capitol Hill Historic District, 1229 E Street, SE, concept/renovation and three-story rear addition. Here is the video clip:

    Professor Vlach wrote the key journal citations on shotgun houses that CHRS cites in a letter where they argue that 1229 E ST SE is a shotgun house.

  11. Mary Weirich

    Why not find a better location for the “historic shotgun house” and move it there? For example, it could be incorporated into one of our parks..

  12. anon_1

    if there is a retail component, how on earth are they fitting 120 units on this lot? is this project going to be micro units? I can’t see any other way they can realize that many units in that limited space with a 50 ft height cap.

    • Corey H

      Matter of rightC-2-A with IZ zoning allows 75% residential lot occupancy with a 3.0 FAR but allows 100% lot occupancy for commercial uses and a 1.5 FAR. So it’s easy enough to max out residential FAR and have retail.

      By the way, the parcel is 20370 square feet so maxing the FAR is 61110 square feet of residential. So, yes, the units will be small on average if they shoehorn 110 units in there.

    • just the facts

      A prior iteration of the plans for 1230 Penn Av SE submitted to HPO as part of the application to HPRB did show one unit of 5500 square feet of retail and did indeed include roughly 132 residential units. The units are largely studio apartments. There is living space in the cellar level and four stories, as well as a fifth floor penthouse that does not count against the height cap. The number of required parking spaces is approximately 1/6 the number of units.

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