ANC6B & 6C at odds with Restoration Society over Folger addition
By Larry Janezich
The DC Preservation League – over the objections of the Folger Library itself – is seeking Historic Landmark designation for the 1983 Hartman Cox addition to the south side of the Library which has been lauded in peer review. The Library opposes the designation, claiming it will tie their hands regarding any future expansion as demand on the Library’s resources grows. The original Folger Library, built in 1932, was designed by renowned architect Paul Cret and most of exterior and interior of the current structure is already Landmarked.
The League maintains treating the addition as a separate element minimizes the “magnificence of [the building’s] full conception,” and that it merits Landmark designation as being highly significant to the development of cultural institutions in DC, and further achieves significance under the criteria of Architecture and Urbanism, Artistry, and Work of a Master.
In a letter to the Historic Preservation Board – where the issue will be decided on July 25 – the Capitol Hill Restoration Society says, “The Hartman Cox addition masterfully carries on Paul Cret’s union of style and function and makes reference to his design without imitating it. We agree the Hartman Cox addition meets National Register Criterion….We are sympathetic to Folger Library concerns. If Hartman Cox addition is landmarked Folger will lose a chance to add to their building on approximately 20’ wide strip of land to the South….[But] The nomination makes a strong argument for preserving Hartman Cox addition, the argument we find convincing.”
ANC6B and ANC6C didn’t see it that way. Both ANCs met this past week and considered the League’s request for support for Landmark designation and heard from both the League and from the Folger.
Tuesday night, ANC6B found fault with the exterior and interior of the addition on multiple grounds which amounted to a finding that it didn’t merit Landmark status. Chairman Chander Jayaraman stated what may have been for many their best reason for not supporting the nomination, saying he has greater faith in the Folger’s ability to make decisions about its long term future and that he didn’t trust HPRB to handle it. The Commission also found that the interior of the addition wouldn’t qualify for Landmark designation even if HPRB finds that the exterior qualifies. The vote was 7 – 2.
Wednesday night, ANC6C Commissioner Christine Healy said the addition didn’t rise to Landmark status “because it is a subordinate part of the building;” Commissioner Joel Kelty, himself a licensed architect, said “though a great piece of architecture, it does not yet rise to Landmark status.” In contrast to 6B, however, 6C recommended that if HPRB approves Landmark status for the exterior, 6C supports the interior alteration. The vote was unanimous, 6 – 0.
It’s not surprising to find lack of agreement between the ANCs and the preservationists. They are often at odds regarding preservation matters before the HPRB. Sometimes the ANC prevails in such a contest, though not often. The dispute reflects the different and opposing approaches of the respective organizations to the future of the city. The ANCs are elected officials, often focused on what to do about the lack of affordable housing and how to increase density in accordance with currently popular new urbanism models. The work of the preservationists can be seen as an impediment to these goals. This case is unusual in that we have an already Landmarked institution fighting regulation of its right to expand without having restrictions imposed on them by preservationists – an argument many residents residing outside the city’s historic districts understand.
The Folger Library is scheduled to close for two years in 2020 for construction of an underground expansion and renovation of the front approach to make the Library more accessible and to provide outdoors green spaces and gardens. The nomination of the Hartman Cox addition is not directly related to this project.