Friday, January 9, 2009

St. E's West Campus Wins Final OK

it is incredible that these buildings, at once both beautiful and desperate, are so close to everything yet so unknown to most of the public

The National Capital Planning Commission gave final approval yesterday to the GSA's planned redevelopment of the St. Elizabeths West Campus (and part of the East Campus) as the consolidated headquarters for Homeland Security and the U.S. Coast Guard.

because this is a Historic District, most of the buildings will be restored to a much better look

Although the move has been on everyone's radar for a while, the $3.4 billion headquarters project - which will be among the largest construction projects since the Pentagon and will carry the same security requirements - will be a game-changer for the Anacostia, Barry Farm, and Congress Heights neighborhoods.

the variety in the rooflines lends a whimsical and rural feel to the campus

Located just up MLK (what was once called Asylum Road) from the Anacostia Metro Station, the historic mental hospital campus is currently a boarded-up but very impressive reminder of the kind of distinction the institution once held. But it's also a sad place, and very eerie. A lot of people really suffered there.

the ghostly auditorium inside Hitchock Hall

Many of the discussions have centered on the redevelopment's effect on the historic nature of the place, with the National Park Service recently suggesting that the called-for changes pose the risk of de-designating the c. 1850s campus as a National Historic Landmark (Click Here for a PDF of the boundaries). Others fear the "loss" of the campus' prime views, and the missed opportunity for mixed-use development at the site. However, this has always been a closed campus, so we aren't really losing an asset we have always had. If you want views, move to the hills of Anacostia or Barry Farm, where you will be equally or even more impressed. Most of the buildings will stay and be preserved, but there will also be significant new construction, sensitively placed, on the site.

the gatehouse at MLK - straight out of lady and the tramp

For an area of the city that isn't well known to the region, this move will help highlight its potential. I don't expect all 14,000Homeland Security employees to grab lunch in Anacostia. I understand that it will be a very closed campus. But some will, and some will buy homes, and all will be forced to readjust their perceptions of River East. Proximity matters, and the areas surrounding the campus will most definitely benefit from its location within their midst.

on the main quad - MLK runs just behind these buildings

The redevelopment may also bring a new St. Elizabeths Metro station on the Green Line between Anacostia and Congress Heights. This is an exceptional idea that absolutely needs to happen. With a new intersection and highway access directly into the site from 295 planned as part of the project, it is necessary to also provide a transit option.

looking forward to seeing this with windows...

So, I'm pretty pumped that this continues to move forward. Next step, congressional funding. It has been a long time coming, and it will be a long time in the making. This isn't everyone's top choice for the land-use at St. E's, but it is a catalyst and presence that will certainly help legitimize the communities it lies at the heart of. In the end, the project will be a major player in the dramatic change of River East.

at the entrance to Hitchcock Hall

For more, see:
Planning Agency Approves Homeland Security Complex, Washington Post

Disaster for St. Elizabeths, a less-than-optimistic Op-Ed by the President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation

NCPC approves St. E's plan, Washington Business Journal
Additionally, if you are interested in a tour of the West Campus, hosted by the DC Preservation League, please email your interest to rsvp[at]dcpreservation[dot]org.

photos by DG-rad

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great article on the St E's redevelopment plans. It's been about two years now, it's about time for an update!