Earlier this year, Dupont Circle resident Lance Salonia was disappointed to see that two narrow row homes in his neighborhood were set to be razed. The houses sit across the street from the southern boundary of the locally protected Dupont Circle Historic District, which means developers don’t need to secure preservation board approval before altering them.
Then an idea struck him: What if the existing two-story buildings didn’t need to be destroyed in order to make way for a new project there?
The result is an unusual arrangement, which observers agree is extremely rare, especially in the tight confines of D.C.’s residential streets. The developer J Street Cos. has teamed with Salonia and his fellow Dupont Circle Citizens Association members to offer the two existing houses at 2126 and 2128 N St. NW free of charge to anyone willing to transport the structures elsewhere on their own dime. All are welcome to take J Street up on its offer, as long as the developer doesn’t have to provide funds or assistance — even something as minor as recommending a construction company or expediting a work permit.
Meanwhile, J Street is advancing plans for a new four-story, nine-unit apartment building that will take the place of the two homes and an adjacent empty lot to the east. The project earned glowing reviews from Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2B (Dupont Circle) and residents last month. Construction is set to begin in October, and if the two existing homes haven’t been claimed by that point, they’ll be razed and recycled as originally planned.
“These buildings are not of the type and quality that you would see in the neighborhood. They’re not bad buildings, but they’re run-down,” J Street CEO Bruce Baschuk told The Current. “We always viewed them as properties that we would tear down and build a new building on the entire property. We worked at the potential of preserving them, but it made no sense. It just didn’t figure in the fabric of the side of the street.”
But J Street sees no reason to destroy the buildings if someone could put them to good use elsewhere. Serious interest in the properties has trickled in from more than 10 individuals and groups since the citizens association announced the offer last month. Two of those interested individuals toured the houses May 9, remarking throughout that living in or marketing the houses would be appealing — if only they can find a way to successfully move them.
The citizens association would prefer that the homes stay in Dupont or at the very least D.C., though they’re willing to hear other ideas. And J Street is open to giving away either the two dwellings in their entirety or the two detached facades, the firm’s Peggy Crowley said during the tour.
“It’s not come in and piecemeal,” Crowley said. “It’s pick ’em up and out they go.”
One participant of the tour, Jennifer Jose, said she has seen similar projects pulled off successfully in Mississippi, where laws are looser and space is more ample to transport a bulky dwelling. Looking at the width of N Street just before the tour, she had her doubts about the houses fitting down the street without disturbing mailboxes, trees, cars or other homes. “They’re very much worth saving, though,” she added.
Jose is exploring the properties on behalf of Diane Herz, who wants to move the houses or their facades next to her own College Park, Md., home, creating a bed-and-breakfast of sorts. Moving both intact houses into Maryland could cost between $400,000 and $500,000, Jose said, likely twice the cost of taking just the facades.
Built in 1906 by the architecture firm Speiden and Speiden and first owned by Edmund K. Fox, the houses haven’t been occupied in three decades, and the neglect shows on the inside. During the tour, paint could be seen peeling from the walls in several places. Eccentric detritus from previous residents popped up on floors, in shelves and scattered across the backyards: a poster for “A Clockwork Orange”; a dusty book about coping with anxiety and panic attacks; and a bottle of old-fashioned roux. An entire wall of the 2128 basement is lined with elaborate graffiti, and a 15 mph speed limit sign rests upside-down against that wall.
“That must have been a fun night,” Adams Morgan resident Taylor Cooper said during the tour.
Last week, Cooper told The Current that she remained interested in moving the houses within D.C. and renting them out.
Despite their rough patches, both houses could easily be fixed and transformed into livable single-family homes, tour participants agreed. The 2126 home in particular would need fewer fixes, having been more extensively renovated with flourishes such as attractive exposed-brick walls and an elaborate stained-glass rooftop fixture in an upstairs bedroom. “This is fabulous!” Cooper exclaimed as she walked in last week.
Salonia — a former Sheridan-Kalorama advisory neighborhood commissioner — and his fellow citizens association members hope this project will renew interest in preserving areas of the neighborhood that aren’t formally protected under historic district guidelines. His association plans to propose an amendment during the upcoming revision of the city’s Comprehensive Plan that would add protections for houses with historic value that aren’t official landmarks.
“There’s a quality in these old buildings, especially the facades, that you just don’t find in new buildings,” Salonia said. “It’s something that you can’t re-create overnight.”
This article has been updated to correct Edmund K. Fox’s association with the homes. He was the first owner, but they were designed by architecture firm Speiden and Speiden.