Recently students from Middlebury College’s Food Works internship program stopped by the Office of Planning to learn the latest and greatest on DC’s food systems. These fellows will be spreading out across the city this summer working for gardens, food banks, schools, and non-profit organizations to take action around food issues. Good luck on all your internships and we can’t wait to hear what you accomplish so we can update our food stats here at OP!
Did you know DC has many great food assets? We have…
- 52 farmers markets, 5 open year round
- 52 full-scale grocery stores
- 60 Healthy Corner Stores
- More than 1,800 community garden plots
- 110 school gardens
- 70+ Community-Supported-Agriculture groups delivering in DC
Want to find more food-related things in your neighborhood? Check out dcfoodfinder.org
Following on the release of Heritage Guides for Wards 5, 7, and 8, HPO’s new Ward 4 guide identifies historically and culturally important places in the uppermost part of northwest Washington, D.C. The guide describes sites of cultural importance to Ward 4 residents and visitors and describes the preservation challenges unique to this ward. Through the guide, HPO hopes to foster stewardship of the ward’s heritage by facilitating initiatives to promote, preserve, and reuse the ward’s significant historic resources.
Ward 4 is home to the city’s oldest church and cemetery, several early roads and crossroad communities, and was the site of Washington’s only Civil War battle. In the later 19th and early 20th centuries, Ward 4 provided housing in a number of beautifully laid out streetcar and, later, automobile suburbs. Historically home to substantial African American and Jewish populations, the area features businesses, recreational opportunities, places of worship, schools, and other facilities historically associated with its diverse communities.
This Heritage Guide provides a framework for developing strategies to promote and protect the historic resources of Ward 4 and to ultimately enhance economic development, community stability, and quality of life for residents.
The Ward 4 Guide is available in electronic format only. It is accessible and available for downloading on Office of Planning website at: http://planning.dc.gov/node/1057572
by Charlie LeeDecker
On May, 6, 2015, Mr. Charlie LeeDecker received a District of Columbia Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation (HP) in the category of Archaeology for his body of work in the District. In 2014, Charlie retired from the Louis Berger Group’s Washington, D.C. office. He spent the last 30 plus years conducting archaeological investigations for development projects and as a consulting archaeologist for federal agencies. Mr. LeeDecker was a principle on several HP award-winning projects since the awards were established in 2003, including 2004 for Public Archaeology, 2008 for the NPS Rock Creek Park Survey, and again in 2014 for work at the US Coast Guard Headquarters at St. Elizabeths Hospital with GSA, DHS, and Stantec. He has worked on dozens of projects and in every ward of the District. The post is his reminiscences on a career that focused on the buried history of our nation’s capital.
Washington, D.C., is one of the world’s greatest cities, and it’s been a great privilege to pursue a career in archaeology here, working alongside a large community of talented, passionate, and creative historic preservation professionals. One of my long-time professional goals has been to gain greater visibility for city’s archaeological resources. When I look at an old building, a landscape or even a parking lot, I want to see beyond what is immediately visible, and learn how this particular place came to be what it is today, how it developed through history, and what can we learn from the values, struggles, and daily lives of the people who lived and worked here generations ago. The archaeological record is mostly hidden from view, especially in urban areas, and sometimes when we look below the surface we find amazing stories that entertain, enlighten, and enrich our understanding of how our city came to look like it does today.
The city’s natural waterways — the Anacostia River and Potomac River waterfront areas, even the valley of Rock Creek and the smaller tributaries that feed these waterways – were the first places settled by European colonizers, the sites of our earliest industries, and the favored locations for the camps and villages of Native Americans that lived here for thousands of years before the first European explored the Chesapeake. While these areas contain the richest record of cultural development, they area also the most challenging to investigate archaeologically. In these areas, the natural or historic landscape has been layered below occupied buildings, pavement, formal landscapes, and massive amounts of fill soils that are occasionally contaminated with industrial waste.
I’ve had the privilege of working for many years in the Washington Navy Yard and the Navy Yard Annex (now known as the Southeast Federal Center). First established in 1799, the Navy Yard has played an important role in our national security and the development of military technology, and the historical significance of the Navy Yard is recognized by multiple historic districts, including a National Historic Landmark designation. We know from archival sources that the Navy Yard might include an archaeological record of the site’s early industrial history, especially shipbuilding and ordnance development. But opportunities to conduct archaeological investigations in the Navy Yard are limited by factors such as a high water table and nearly ubiquitous occupied buildings and pavement.
The relocation of Naval Sea Systems (NAVSEA) Command to the Navy Yard required rehabilitation of many historic structures, along with demolition of some buildings and new construction. Impacts to the historic districts and buildings were evaluated prior to construction, but archaeological work was deferred until the construction phase. There are serious risks with this approach – risks that archaeological resources might be destroyed without adequate documentation, and risks that archaeological work might cause delays to the construction schedule. Managing these risks required an unusual level of partnership between the construction and archaeological teams, but ultimately, the risks were rewarded beyond anyone’s expectations.
Some of the best opportunities for archaeological work occurred during the rehabilitation of historic buildings, after the interiors were gutted and the floor slabs were removed. At Building 104 we were able to document remains of the Brass Gun Factory, including features associated with furnaces and a casting pit. At another site, we found massive furnace foundations associated with the New Ordnance Foundry, a structure built during the Civil War to cast large, smooth bore cannon cast that were formed in a distinctive “soda bottle” shape, known as the Dahlgren cannon. We also documented remains of the West Shiphouse, a structure built around 1825 that was used for repair of 19th-century naval vessels. Reaching seven stories in height and extending over an area of roughly 100×300 feet, this shiphouse was one of the most prominent structures along the lower Anacostia River, visible in many nineteenth-century views of the city.
Much of my work over the last 10 years has been in and around the parklands in the city’s monumental core area, including the National Mall, the Ellipse, West Potomac Park, and the Washington Monument grounds. Historically, these iconic landscapes were originally low-lying tidal flats and open water at the mouth of Tiber Creek, a tributary of the Potomac that disappeared long ago. For thousands of years, Native Americans camped along the banks of the Tiber, and after the City of Washington was established in 1790, the creek was transformed first into a canal, then a foul sewer that carried the city’s waste into the Potomac. Tiber Creek and its banks were filled during the nineteenth century. Some of the filling was a result of efforts to improve the land around the White House but most of the fills – millions of cubic yards – was deposited during efforts to maintain the river’s navigation channels and control flooding that ravaged the city.
Some of the most interesting finds were unearthed along 17th Street. One of these was a wharf built in 1807 at the foot of 17th Street where it extended into Tiber Creek. The 17th Street Wharf was a shipping point for the early city, its importance growing after 1833, when it became a hub connecting the Washington City Canal and the Washington Branch of the C&O Canal. The wharf disappeared in 1902 when 17th Street was extended after land reclamation had been completed on Potomac Flats.
The Lock Keeper’s House that stands at the corner of 17th Street and Constitution Avenue gives a hint of how different today’s landscape is from that of the 19th century. The C&O Canal Extension followed the shoreline of the Potomac from Georgetown, ending at the 17th Street Wharf. At that point, a canal lock accommodated the changing elevation between Lock 1 in Georgetown and the tidal waters at 17th Street. When 17th Street was extended in 1902, the Lockkeeper’s House was moved about 50 feet, but its original foundation was left in place where it was exposed during the replacement of a sewer line. After exposure of the Lockkeeper’s House foundation, we should not have been surprised that the actual canal lock would be found a few feet away. Sure enough, as the tunnel for the sewer line proceeded beneath Constitution Avenue, there it was!
Perhaps the most spectacular find along 17th Street was the “Mother of All Sewers,” aka the Tiber Creek Sewer Outlet. As the city developed in the nineteenth century, the Washington City Canal became a major nuisance, essentially an open sewer that collected waste from much of the downtown area. In the 1870s the city began to cover the Washington City Canal, converting it to an underground sewer. Following the area’s natural topography and hydrology, the sewer outfall was located at the intersection of 17th Street and Constitution Avenue, where waste emptied directly into the Potomac. Like the 17th Street Wharf and the C&O Canal Extension, the sewer outfall was engulfed during the land reclamation process that led to the creation of West Potomac Park. Exposed during construction of the Potomac Park Levee, the sewer outlet was an immense structure, measuring some 40 feet across its headwall.
With these and the findings from many other studies, the understanding of archaeology in the District has been increasing. Some of my most satisfying projects have been those that presented the greatest challenges and that required strong partnerships among project proponents, review agencies, and construction teams. Without the commitment of all stakeholders, some of the city’s most interesting archaeological resources might have remained virtually unknown and forgotten. The amazing opportunities to document the historic foundries at the Navy Yard, the wharf beneath the pavement of 17th Street and the canal lock below Constitution Avenue would not have been possible under conventional archaeological survey methods and would not have happened without committed partnerships among all of the project stakeholders. Going forward, I hope that the preservation community will continue to challenge us to think creatively to search for new ways to bring the city’s archaeological heritage to light.
The recent posting for Zoning Commission Case 14-13 provided a summary of the proposed amendments, and alternatives, to the penthouse regulations in the District. Since that posting, OP has compiled additional maps, showing the proposed alternatives for where habitable space would and would not be permitted. Under the current zoning regulations, habitable space (living space, offices, enclosed recreation space, etc.) is generally not permitted within a penthouse, with the exception of limited recreation space on a residential building. Instead, penthouses tend to be limited to mechanical equipment and elevator overrides, or stair access ways to the roof. However, the Height Act was recently amended to permit habitable space within rooftop penthouses located above the Height Act building height limit, if the penthouse is one story and 20 feet in height or less.
Essentially, the Zoning Commission is considering two alternatives for the permissions for habitable space:
- Alternative 1 – Permit habitable space within a penthouse only in zones allowing a building height of more than 40 feet, by right (i.e. do not permit habitable space in a penthouse in any zone in which the building height is limited to 40 feet or less).
- Alternative 2 – Permit habitable space within a penthouse only in zones allowing a building height of more than 50 feet, by right (i.e. do not permit habitable space in a penthouse in any zone in which the building height is limited to 50 feet or less).
The maps show these two alternatives by mapping the zones limited to 40 feet and 50 feet, respectively.
The Zoning Commission also invited the public to comment on whether some specified uses, such as a nightclub, bar, lounge, restaurant, or others, should be permitted only by special exception within a penthouse, in some or all zones.
The Zoning Commission public hearing for these proposals will be held April 30, 2015. For more information or if you have questions about this proposal, please contact the Office of Planning at 202-442-7600. Thanks!
First – what is a rooftop penthouse? In DC, it is a (usually) small rooftop structure sitting on top of the roof, containing things like mechanical equipment, elevator or stairwell over-runs, and sometimes a room supporting a rooftop deck – storage, washrooms, etc. Not every building has one, in fact, most one-family homes and rowhouses and many small commercial or apartment buildings do not. Where they do exist, you may not always notice them, since they are required to be set back from the edge of the building below, to minimize their visual impact.
Penthouses are regulated by zoning, including their size, height, setbacks, and permitted uses. Generally, the current penthouse regulations:
- Limit penthouses to a height of 18’-6” above the building roof;
- Do not limit the number of stories within the penthouse;
- Require the penthouse to be set back from the edge of the building roof below by a distance equal to the penthouse height (a 1:1 set back); and
- Do not permit “habitable” space in the penthouse. Habitable space includes uses such as residential living space, office space, conference rooms, or rooftop commercial space like a rooftop bar or lounge.
The federal Height Act of 1910 also regulates penthouses. It was amended in 2014 to allow any use, including habitable space, within a rooftop penthouse which is one story and 20 feet in height or less. The intent was to allow greater use flexibility for roof tops and penthouse space. The DC zoning regulations are more restrictive than the federal Height Act, and any new building or addition must conform to both the zoning and the Height Act. To bring the Height Act and the more restrictive zoning regulations more in line and to implement the intent of the Height Act changes, amendments to the penthouse regulations would be needed.
The Zoning Commission held a public hearing on November 6, 2014 on the original OP proposed amendments to the penthouse regulations. In response to the public comments received, the Commission instructed OP to prepare an amended set of penthouse zoning regulation alternatives, to be re-advertised for a new public hearing. The new alternatives include the following:
- Permitted penthouse height: Allow a penthouse of 20 feet in height above the roof it sits on (an increase from the currently allowed 18’-6”) in some higher density zones, but limit height to 10 feet (a decrease from the currently allowed 18’-6”) in any zone in which the building height is limited to 50 feet or less by right. The Commission is also considering an amendment to not allow a penthouse at all on a single family dwelling or rowhouse.
- Permitted number of stories, not currently regulated by zoning: Allow 2 stories in zones that would allow a penthouse of 20 feet in height, but one story where the permitted penthouse height is limited to 10 feet. In the alternative, allow one story of habitable space in any zone, but allow a second story for mechanical space in zones where a 20 foot tall penthouse is permitted.
- Permitted uses in a penthouse: Allow habitable space (residential units, office space, commercial space) in a penthouse in higher density zones, but not allow habitable space in zones where the building is limited to either 40 or 50 feet in height, or on top of a single family home or rowhouse. The Zoning Commission will also discuss whether certain uses such as a restaurant or nightclub (if permitted in the zone) would be permitted in the penthouse only with Board of Zoning Adjustment review of a special exemption request, to assess potential impacts on neighboring properties.
- Penthouse setbacks: Essentially retain the current requirements, but provide clarification in the language when the setback is required, and also require a new penthouse setback from an adjacent historic property.
- Penthouse area: Alter or generally eliminate current restrictions on the area of the roof that could be covered with penthouse structure – penthouse size would mainly be limited by required setbacks.
- Penthouse walls: Amend and clarify design-related requirements for penthouse structures.
- Affordable housing: Apply existing affordable housing requirements to new penthouse residential and non-residential space, and apply them more broadly and potentially at a deeper level of affordability.
- Parking: Consider whether new penthouse habitable space triggers additional parking requirements.
For more detail and additional analysis, including a comparison of the proposals to existing zoning regulations, please refer to:
- A summary document including more illustrations of the potential impact of the proposed changes to the regulations.
- The official Zoning Commission public hearing notice, which includes a description of the proposal and draft text, with alternatives.
- The OP report to the Zoning Commission dated February 13, 2015, which provides the broader range of options considered by the Zoning Commission and additional analysis.
These changes will be discussed at a Zoning Commission Public Hearing to be held the evening of April 30, 2015 – you can participate by providing written comments to the DC Office of Zoning in advance of the hearing, or you can submit written comments in advance. More information on how to do this is available on the DC Office of Zoning website. Please also feel free to contact the Office of Planning if you have additional questions or comments.
The District of Columbia is a strange political entity and our unique status has unexpected effects on local archaeology. But that makes it a perfect place to focus on the upcoming 50th anniversary of the National Historical Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966 and the 100th anniversary of the creation of the National Park Service (NPS) in 1916, to be commemorated at the #SHA2016 conference. Why? Because Washington is a “special” federal enclave rather than a state and many District affairs are subject to federal laws. The District has a State Historic Preservation Office, or SHPO, that was established by, and is annually funded as a result of the NHPA regulations. The federal government owns 21.6% of the land in the District, so one-fifth of our land mass is directly subject to Section 106 of the NHPA. And 17% of District land is managed by NPS, making them a major partner in many archaeological projects.
Washington, D.C. is also a residential city with numerous historic districts and its own preservation laws, and procedures. The SHPO also serves as the “local” Historic Preservation Office (DC HPO). The District has a rich cultural history that began long before it was chosen for the nation’s capital which includes both prehistoric and colonial resources. In recent years we’ve seen an explosion of development that has led to dozens of city-funded archaeological surveys in addition to the ones conducted for federal projects. The bulk of these local projects were on city park and school properties, which comprise some of our largest non-federal open spaces. Among the sites identified are significant prehistoric camps and quarries, Civil War-era military and contraband camps, antebellum estates and tenant farms, former cemeteries, and urban row houses and alley dwellings. Archaeology offers a unique perspective – and sometimes the only material evidence — on events that were often ignored or overlooked in documentary sources. As the city’s Archaeology Team, we operate at both the federal and city levels, consulting with agencies on project concepts to ensure locations that merit survey are identified early on in the planning process, reviewing survey work plans, and commenting on draft technical reports. We are also responsible for maintaining and managing the archaeological collections, all paper and digital records, the site files, our Geographic Information System (GIS), and the archaeological survey report library. Any outreach, and education we get to conduct is pure “gravy!” Our efforts are somewhatconstrained because Chardé Reid, the assistant archaeologist, is a limited-term contract. Despite the challenges, we have forged a public outreach program on a shoestring! We have developed strategic partnerships with a variety of groups, and rely on the contributions of our graduate student interns and volunteers. Stipends are sometimes available for our interns, but the real payoff for them is the experience in a SHPO, and mentoring as they enter the job market.
Archaeology has quite a bit of community support in the District and Washingtonians turn out at our events, tune in to radio shows, and email us all the time! Mitchell Park is a great example of this. The park is located on the site of a large farm-house built by Anthony Holmead in 1795, and is a National Register-listed property. When a neighborhood group, Friends of Mitchell Park, raised funds to renovate and improve the park, they also funded an archaeological investigation of the Holmead House site. Community members now serve as site guardians and vigilantly protect the resource, which remains buried beneath their feet. Community support for archaeology may be tied to other concerns, as when groups attempt to use site preservation as a tactic to impede development even before any investigations occur. This is a tricky line for us to walk, since we promote an archaeological preservation ethic, but we also need to be sensitive to public benefits of development. We can’t short-circuit the review process to appease one constituent, because there are many competing needs and perspectives.
We do as much public outreach as possible given all our other responsibilities and limited staff. As the city grows and our demographics change, it becomes increasingly important for residents (especially young people) to understand the city’s history, diversity, and unique neighborhoods. We talk to schools, clubs, community history and heritage groups, and at neighborhood libraries, and we bring along displays and artifacts from our collections. Student interns are a big part of these outreach events and often plan and program them. We have gained the most ground by partnering with local non-profits, such as Archaeology in the Community. They have the capacity to organize annual events like Archaeology Day (in October) and Day of Archaeology (in July). Even NPS has gotten involved at the local level by starting a summer Urban Archaeology Corps program comprising District high school through college-age youth, who learn about local history, archaeology, and NPS careers. While few UAC participants plan to study archaeology, their feedback indicates they like learning about their neighborhood history and regret not getting more of it in school.
The lens of archaeology is our tool for providing alternative perspectives on the District’s long and diverse history. We have the ability to look at groups often overlooked by more traditional history. The lens, while powerful, requires that some remnants of the past remain in the ground. Therefore, continued protection and management of archaeological resources are needed. But our efforts also need support from an educated and empowered public, who embrace and advocate for archaeology because they believe it enriches historical narratives. Identification and preservation of archaeological resources is best done by concerted efforts of preservation partners at every level, including Federal, District, and neighborhood entities. We look forward to engaging more groups as we increase our outreach capacity and visibility through our limited – but successful — “shoestring” efforts.
Chardé Reid, Assistant City Archaeologist, DC Historic Preservation Office
Lois Berkowitz, volunteer at the DC Historic Preservation Office
Ruth Trocolli, City Archaeologist, DC Historic Preservation Office
On those crisp clear days following a snowstorm, the hills east of the Anacostia River have always drawn scores of children to their slopes for winter recreation. In the pre-snowplow era, steep roads, almost impassable to other vehicles, were paths of least resistance and maximum fun.
Still partly wooded, Naylor and Good Hope Roads as they dropped from Good Hope Hill were famous sledding or “coasting” routes before the end of the nineteenth century. Home-made and commercially made sleds—tall curved-steel-runnered sit-down cutters, long and short clippers often ridden belly down, and multi-person “trucks” or bobsleds—all plied the powder together. In the heart of Anacostia, sledding parties would commandeer Morris Road, Maple View Place, the eastern end of W Street, and 15th Street below Frederick Douglass’s Cedar Hill.
Early sleds couldn’t be steered or braked except by dragging the feet. The combination of speed with a variety of stationary and moving obstructions—pedestrians, curbs, utility poles, other sleds—made for plenty of accidents, most happily not serious. But being thrown from his clipper head-first down Maple View Place in December 1890 left little Claude Allen wishing his two front teeth back for Christmas. The number of crashes plummeted when the police forbade further coasting on Good Hope Hill and Asylum Hill in 1895.
Asylum Hill was the popular name for the long slope from the main gate of Saint Elizabeths Hospital to the doorstep of Anacostia, along the road now known as Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. It was the main drag through the aptly named Hillsdale and one of that neighborhood’s sweetest sledding spots. It was the collision of two sleds here that was responsible for police closing the street to coasting. But Hillsdale children had alternative runs along the entire Stickfoot Branch valley through which Sheridan Road snaked. In the 1930s, Louise and Henry Sayles sailed down the slope behind their parents’ home on Sheridan near MLK, where generations of kids had joyfully preceded them.
At least one late-nineteenth-century Hillsdale sled has survived its wear and tear and the passage of years. Until a few months ago, in an attic on Stanton Road—among jars, kerosene lamps, a saddle, luggage and hats dating from the 1890s to the 1930s—sat a dusty 1880s-vintage clipper, likely built in New England. A quick clean-up revealed the stenciled image of a thrush on its faded red paint, and the name of the original owner, Frank Williams, hand-lettered on the underside. Of nearly all-wood construction, just a handful of nails secure the runners, and four screws fasten the single-plank deck. Two steel rods bent around the pine runners provided the biting edge. A frayed hemp rope, mended with cotton cord, remains to tug the sled uphill once more, and it served too as a handle for its riders while shooshing down.
The sled was a second-hand toy, as the Stanton Road house and its attic treasures had belonged to the family of Annie D. and Edward E. Taliaferro (pronounced “Toliver”), who built the frame building about 1887 and resided there until the 1930s. The Taliaferros were Virginians and had probably grown up enslaved. In the mid 1880s they moved from Loudoun County with their five children, born between 1872 and 1883. The kids were the right ages to have enjoyed a sled of this vintage. It was likely put away for good when the youngest, Olivia, outgrew it in the late 1890s, explaining why this “Rosebud” was tucked into their attic’s farthest corner for some distant day.