Nov 4 OGB Meeting regarding Tudor Place

Speakers: EB Eve Barsoum, architectural historian, staff assistant to the Board SV Stephen Vanze, AIA architect, Chair, Old Georgetown Board AL Anne Lewis, FAIA, architect, Old Georgetown Board DC David Cox, FAIA, architect, Old Georgetown Board

SV: So we’re ready for the first project.

EB: The first case of the day is OG 10-54 at 1644 31st Street. This is the master preservation plan for Tudor place. It’s a concept application. The Board heard the case last month and testimony from the neighborhood and then went out to a site visit yesterday morning to look at the property and we are here today to discuss findings.

SV: So as everyone remembers, we had a pretty full presentation at the last meeting and
I think we all remember everything that was said and we had a nice tour of all the grounds yesterday. At the last meeting the neighbors presented some alternative ideas so I would ask the applicant to just not represent anything. If there anything that’s changed….Nothing has changed? ...Then fine. Are there... the ANC isn’t here… the ANC said in their letter…?

EB: That was last month that they made a comment. – one second… They had 6 points but in essence they applauded Tudor Place for working with the neighbors and encouraged them to continue to do so.

SV: Okay I would just like to remind everybody that I’ll ask for other public comments that this is slightly unusual in that Tudor Place is here with a master plan so they are not actually seeking approval of anything because we are only here to approve designs for individual permit applications, so individual permit applications will happen at the time when these different projects are applied for to be completed. So are there public comments that are different from the comments that we heard last month? And we are also in receipt of a letter that the Neighbors of Tudor Place sent on October 21st. No one has anything to say? Okay. I like it so far. Tim Dennee (from Historic Preservation Office) isn’t here? Did Tim have any…did he send in anything at all?

EB: No and he did not have any comments last month; he actually wasn’t here during that part of the case, I mean that part of the day.

SV: So then are there staff comments?

EB: Yes, this a really complex and complicated project, with a big parcel and staff has been on two tours of the property, two site visits, and has looked at all the information both from applicant as well as from the neighbors and has some concerns about a variety of aspects of the project. In general, staff believes that the additions and the new construction pieces should be moved to… or existing… at the north end of the property because it is outside of the easement and the gardens, the grounds, there are not as significant as the those associated with Tudor Place proper. So any footprint work should be ideally looked at that area as much as possible. In regards… so that….has implications, regarding the Gatehouse it seems… the footprint of it seems perhaps a little a big and maybe some of that program could be relocated. In Georgetown traditionally the gatehouses tend to be running along the sidewalk without a setback, so that is something that also may want to be considered. In terms of the garage along the 31st street property…the 32nd Street, its seems that one should consider seriously the alterations to the 1913 part and one wonders if there could be more alteration.… less on that part… and more associated with the 1968 addition that was constructed to the north.
The greenhouse area that is being proposed connected to the tool house would require, it would seem some removal of canopy and the Board and staff have been pushing for some time to try to retain as much of the canopy in Georgetown as possible. It seems to be somewhat of a losing battle these days with everyone wanting to pave over their backyards but perhaps there could be an area that would be less impact on the canopy.
And the garage on the north property, I should have mentioned, I have been made aware that that building was built in 1929. That information was not known last month and that is within the period of significance but in terms of the larger context of recognizing that there going to be some change on this property it seems that that is a reasonable place to put the stuff if there is going to be new construction. So that’s some of my thoughts.

SV: Okay, thank you. Anne…if we could organize ourselves to take general comments and then specific comments about the four different projects it would be great.

AL: Okay. First, it has been a real pleasure to get to know this project. The tour has been fantastic and the documentation was a really fun and interesting read. I thank you for that. That is outside of our conversation but we really do appreciate it. Second, my overwhelming reaction to the project that it is just like my grandmother whose history exceeded her ability to store it. You can feel the pressure of the program requirements everywhere in the solution and I think one of the first comments would be ...and I know that I appreciate the amount of work and the talent that has gone into all sides of this equation, the neighbors and Tudor Place, but we bring to it a fresh and perhaps naïve approach, but some of these comments I think bear reiteration. The first question programmatically is “what is essential to the intent of the program?” in other words “Is it essential to have the original documents on site?” Many institutions are going to computerized documents with the original documents stored elsewhere. Second would be the value of the Pierce Arrow and the particular location that the Pierce Arrow is in. It is in what seems to be a prime interpretive space and is that really the best use of the space. Third, what is the intent of the education program and is it proper in the location where it is or should it not be more closely associated with the house. And if there were records stored elsewhere should the education program occupy the garage rather than the education center. These are questions that…the palms…you know…is there another way to accommodate the palms other than the greenhouse. These are programmatic questions that I just throw out to you as first impressions of programmatic questions that have physical reality. The second broad comment I have is what approach do we want to the
house. What is important from the architectural - garden access and spirit of the project to preserve? And what’s happened apparently over time is that the initial access, if I am right, Mary, it originally came all the way from R Street, axially into the building more or less. When we toured you feel the power of that access dramatically. It is probably one of the most beautiful images of the house. So the question is are we doing the right thing perpetuating a secondary access that was created out of expediency or should we not be reverting to more historic and certainly more visibly dramatic approach which would be from the north, suggesting that maybe the gatehouse doesn’t want to be in that location at all but that the public entry to the house is somehow coming from the north. So those are the generic comments I have which when you boil them down to the specific buildings…and it is way to premature to get into the architecture, I think we are talking about mass and footprint here. The gatehouse is really what I’d call an extreme gatehouse relative to other Georgetown gatehouses. It’s too large for its location I think the location on the north is the proper location because despite Armistead Peter 3rd’s desire to put it on the south there doesn’t seem to be any functional or even axial reason to have it there and in the meantime mature trees have grown up in that area so the logical place is to put in on the north so I would agree with that decision. But I think the project is too large and doesn’t, should not be, was not intended in Armistead Peter’s view to accommodate all the functions that are in it now and maybe it’s not even necessary to have those functions if they can be moved elsewhere.

Moving to the greenhouse…the greenhouse is I think one of the most…it will more dramatically change the appearance of the property than you would assume from the footprint on the drawings because what is happening there is that that low brush area is actually the buffer screen for the entire service area…. your impression is, walking along 32nd Street that buffer that northern or western edge of the service road provides is actually a very important screen not only for the neighborhood but for the integrity of the lawn. And the amount of construction that is involved there to build that greenhouse and then the necessary function of the greenhouse to let light in is going to radically alter the amount brush vegetation and low vegetation in that area and I have strong reservations about putting anything more than possibly a small extension to the existing building there that would not remove any of that low brush. And parenthetically and way down on the list of importance but it has been mentioned by neighbors, low brush is actually the most important wildlife habitat we have in the city. It is the low brush that is getting eradicate by deer and by overuse of our parks and so if wildlife is a consideration, which I gather it was in his will, I would add that to the list of reasons that the greenhouse should not be there. The greenhouse would be very appropriately located at the end of the garage however. It is already open it is graded so that it functions as service level. It would be a low-scale glass structure and there is no canopy interrupting it.

Moving to the carriage house itself, I echo Eve’s thoughts. The way it stands now you have a fairly pristine historic building and then a, what is it, a ’68 addition to it on the north. And the ‘68 addition is not very successful architecturally, I think. It doesn’t, it’s
competing with the carriage house in some awkward ways and proportionally it is not a very harmonious structure and I am wondering whether you couldn’t take some of those programmatic elements and move them to the east side of the 1968 addition rather than putting them on the end of the carriage house.

So finally moving to the education center. Looking at the north axis of the education center now as the more public access and the prime access to the house, and I am not saying there couldn’t be a gatehouse just a secondary gatehouse, but it seems to me that the education center and its relation to the administration building can be dealt with in a lot of ways that gain you more space there, underground being an obvious one. But also I don’t think that the education center needs to be one story. In fact I think a two story element… it should not be built two stories at the back of the neighbors that front on 32nd Street but it doesn’t seem to me that it couldn’t have two story elements that protrude into what’s now the parking area making it a tripartite building or some other form that gives you more space on the second floor and below ground. And I’ll leave it at that because…

SV: Let me ask you would you…. if the general thought here is that more stuff is being pushed to the north, would you have problems with adding to the back of the existing house… That was something that the neighbors…

AL: In the abstract, no. I really have not really looked at the back of the house. In principal, no.

SV: Okay …David

DC: Fine I think all of those comments are pretty much the way I’m feeling about the master planning of the site as well, both Eve and Anne I think have expressed it pretty well. All of the separate pieces have impacted those particular parts of the site at the perimeter and my first concern was how it might be possible to look at another scheme that did not have quite so much separation from all the separate pieces and maybe created a denser part of the site. And having heard all of the comments about…the two particular areas seem to be the garage area and the administration site as the prime candidates for trying to get as much of this program into those two and I think thoughts that have been expressed about how both of those sites could handle some additional new construction seem to me to make a lot of sense. I think that the whole thing for me starts with walking the site again and having that same really warm feeling of the history of the place approaching it from the north on the axis that was originally there and how exciting that could be for the average visitor rather than to come in laterally from the side and up that steep driveway where you’re really not,… your thoughts aren’t focused on the house they are really I think more focused on the steepness of the climb and the cobblestone drive.
There’s something really very peaceful about walking through the gardens to get to the destination of the house as a visitor that I found very appealing and I think the asset here is that Tudor Place owns that north property and uses that historic Victorian house as the administration building. For that to be the arrival point in some manner rather than the driveway and messing around with a large gatehouse that becomes a visitor’s center
seems like a much better thing to explore at this early stage…to see how the administration building could be extended into that backyard parking space both below ground and above so that it combines the visitor’s center and most of the elements of the education building. How you do that of course with the parking component as well means that you‘ve still got to maintain a lot of exposed surface space. But just in terms of the general approach to the site and how you would experience the site in a measured sequential way I think this is a very strong asset to have for Tudor Place. The gatehouse itself is clearly the most visible prominent addition in this plan and you know whether it is to the south or to the north, I am frankly less concerned about. I can certainly understand the reasoning for putting it to the north of the entrance. The advantage there is that it can be sunken down into the higher grade so that not as much of it is exposed on the north side. But I absolutely agree that it could be a much smaller structure and a structure that doesn’t signal so much a point of entry as it does just an adjunct to the gate that’s there right now. The main garage building I am in sympathy with all that has been said by the neighbors about extending the scale and size laterally to the south with another big addition and I would strongly encourage looking at some of the ideas that the neighbors proposed of an underground structure in the parking… the driveway that would mean creating a new mechanical space down there as well and then having an above ground piece added to it to form a sort of L to the ‘68 garage. So I think building on the north side, as Anne suggested, to the east of the ‘68 addition makes a lot of sense. And then I further agree about the thoughts of getting the greenhouse as the addition to the south end of the garage, a much smaller structure, pretty much replacing the hoop greenhouse that is there right now with something somewhat larger. So I think we are all kind of feeling much the same.

SV: Yes, I agree with everything that has been said. I think I won’t repeat everything that has been said because I agree with every word. I would only like to emphasize that when I took the tour of the grounds yesterday, when we walked up to the north site and then came to the main house from there it just seemed...it was so strongly the right way to come to the house that you felt like this is the way people should come to this site through, from the north site using the administration building for a lot of the functions of what was going to be put into the new gatehouse. I just think that is the first step and that reorganizes almost everything. I would agree that the gatehouse as proposed is too big. It should really just be a guard house and tight up to the street. And I am.. would certainly entertain the new education center being able to be made larger and perhaps undergrounds additions there. And I would also be willing to entertain alterations to the northern, the house on the northern property so that you can accommodate ADA requirements and additions to the back to accommodate some of the program. The carriage house/garage I think is as big as it should be. I can see adding to the north and east side of it. And I also agree that the greenhouse, the proposed greenhouse should be put down at the southern end of the carriage house. So I think we are all pretty much saying the same thing. …And I think we are done. Thank you.

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Tue, 16 Sep 2014 15:28:50 -0400

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