Apple Store approved at Carnegie Library

Apple plans for the Carnegie Library's first floor to include a Genius Grove with tech support and hangout areas, as well as flexible space that will transform day by day. (rendering courtesy of Apple)

Plans for the Apple Store takeover of the Carnegie Library have sailed through numerous regulatory reviews in recent weeks with hardly any objection, culminating last Thursday in approval from city preservation officials.

Apple plans to begin a year of construction this fall on rehabilitating the Carnegie Library building at 801 K St. NW. The ground floor and lower level will feature an Apple Store and a spacious community area for art exhibits, science workshops and workday gathering spots. The Historical Society of Washington, D.C., will continue to occupy the two-story building’s top floor, as it has since 2001.

Concept designs for the project won unanimous support from the Historic Preservation Review Board on June 29.

Amid a volley of praise, board members requested only one minor change: eliminating several of 12 planned hanging outdoor banners announcing Apple’s presence.

“This is not Times Square,” board member Joseph Taylor told project architects from the firm Beyer Blinder Belle. “Let’s be a little understated with the banners and the Apple logo.”

Otherwise, board members described the plans using glowing adjectives like “phenomenal” and “beautiful.” Taylor said the project marks a distinct improvement over the more radical designs of a 2013 attempt to transform the city’s former central library into a new home for the International Spy Museum.

Apple is proposing no major changes to the exterior of the historic Carnegie Library building at 801 K St. NW. (rendering courtesy of Apple)

Under the approved plans, the building’s outdoor facade will remain largely unaltered, with new stormwater retention and landscaping features as well as a shallower slope on the side facing Mount Vernon Place NW. A massive skylight inside will be rebuilt, and long-closed windows will be reopened and beautified. Apple is funding construction on the city-owned building and federally owned surrounding property itself but doesn’t plan to disclose the cost, company spokesperson Nick Leahy told The Current last month.

Board member Linda Mercado Greene said the Carnegie Library is one of her favorite buildings in the city. She once thought it would be a suitable mayoral residence.

“I’m just really happy it’s happening,” Greene said of the renovation plans. “I think it’s a great concept, a beautiful idea.”

The National Capital Planning Commission — a federal planning review board comprised of presidential and mayoral appointees as well as local and national agency representatives — offered similarly full-throated praise at its June 1 meeting.

Commissioners agreed that Apple’s plans reflect an agreeable homage to the historic character of the existing Beaux-Arts architecture while upgrading it for modern-day needs. Several members said the only element of possible concern is the vague plan for exterior landscaping and pedestrian access, which the commission wants to see refined before the next review in the fall.

“We want to make sure that it’s not just a pretty building and a mediocre landscape,” D.C. Office of Planning director Eric Shaw said during the meeting.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts — a federal design review panel — voted on May 18 to support the concept as well. Members urged the development team to maintain the building’s public character and conduct landscape improvements in the process, according to the commission’s website.

Constructed in 1903 thanks to a donation by steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie, the Mount Vernon Square building served as the city’s main library for more than 70 years until the construction of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. Since then, observers agree that the building has been underutilized. Aside from the second-floor archival area, offices for Events DC — the city’s official convention and sports authority — currently occupy the bulk of the building.

The Apple Store at 1229 Wisconsin Ave. NW required multiple redesigns before the Old Georgetown Board allowed a permit. (Brian Kapur/The Current/June 2017)

Unlike when Apple endured four rounds of criticism from the Old Georgetown Board before moving in at 1229 Wisconsin Ave. NW in 2010, the Carnegie Library project thus far appears to lack high-profile detractors. Acting on widespread support from neighbors, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2C (downtown, Penn Quarter) voted unanimously in May to support the project. The Committee of 100 on the Federal City also weighed in with support during the preservation board hearing.

The only less than effusive note sounded at the preservation board hearing came when Dupont Circle-based libraries advocate Robin Diener testified asking Apple to make details of the project’s cost public. In his response a few minutes later to public testimony, project architect Hany Hassan from Beyer Blinder Belle didn’t broach the topic.

During construction, the Historical Society’s full collection will move to the Newseum at 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, according to a Washington Post report. Parts of the King Library’s Washingtoniana archives, temporarily housed at the Historical Society while the city’s current central library undergoes a three-year renovation, will also relocate to the Newseum during that time, according to The Post.