Two Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) voted to oppose an application to include a historic designation of the Hartman-Cox addition to the Folger Shakespeare Library (201 East Capitol St. SE) at their July meetings this week.
The DC Preservation League (DCPL) submitted an application to the DC Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) to designate both the interior and exterior spaces of the addition as a District Historic Landmark in March of last year. That application was reviewed in July by both ANC 6B and ANC 6C at their meetings on July 9 and 10 respectively.
Discussion on the application concerned the Hartman-Cox addition, which is at the rear, or south, of the Paul Philippe Cret building, the main marble building completed in 1932. The Cret building is already a Historic Site. The Cox addition was built in 1983 on top of a 1958 below-grade office space, and originally contained a reading room and archival storage space.
The landmarks committee of DCPL identifies structures or features that should be preserved, and prepares nominations of buildings to submit to HPRB. While building owners are typically informed of the process, they do not have to agree.
Folger Shakespeare Library Director Michael Witmore argued that designating the Cox Addition as a landmark would prevent the adaption of the Cret building to future library needs.
The Folger library has prepared a Historic Preservation Application (HPA) for interior renovations to the addition if the nomination is approved. The renovation would include no permanent changes to the interior.
To be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a building must be 50 years old or more. There are no similar age guidelines for buildings to be designated on the District Register. Buildings such as the Martin Luther King Jr. Library (opened in 1972, designated 2007) and Arena Stage (built 1960, designated 1980) were designated 20 to 35 years after they were completed, she said.
Notable Addition to Cret Building
DCPL Outreach and Grants Manager Jacqueline Drayer emphasized the respect of DCPL for the Folger as a steward of the building and grounds, and their support for the recently announced renovations to the Cret building.
Nonetheless, DCPL argued that the addition meets the threshold for historical designation in four areas, including merits of history, architecture and urbanism, artistry as well as being the work of a master. At the July 10 meeting of ANC 6C, Drayer argued that the design of the addition is notable as it presented a unique solution to the problem of building over the 1958 space, which was unable to support the weight of an addition by using inverted ‘L’-shaped beams.
The addition, Drayer said, is a modernist interpretation of Tudor Revival architecture, a distinct but complementary addition that does what an addition should do. Further, she said that architect Warren Cox, who is still living, qualifies as a master due to the extensive recognition of the influence of his works and the many awards won by the addition as well by Cox himself, whose works are ‘seen as the core of a unique ‘Washington School’ of architecture’, according to the DCPL application.
Threat to the Folger
Folger Director Michael Witmore said that Folger opposed the historic application on its merits. Noting the good relationship with and respect that the Folger had for the DC Preservation League, Witmore told ANC 6B that it nonetheless opposed the application. “I feel that it is a threat to the Folger,” Witmore told commissioners. “It’s the greatest one I’ve encountered since I’ve been Director for eight years.”
Witmore said that while the Folger had no plans to demolish the addition, any future expansion that would allow the library to remain in the Cret building would have to take place along the south side of the site, where the addition is located. That ability is vital to continuing the library’s mission to be a living memorial to literature, history and Shakespeare deliberately located near to the Capitol, Witmore said.
Witmore further argued that the Cox addition is a complement to the landmark Cret building, rather than a significant landmark itself. He added that the addition is not public, as it is only seen by staff and qualified researchers. Finally, Witmore argued that he believed too little time had passed between the construction of the building to determine the significance and development of what might be called a ‘Washington School’ of architecture.
“Our future as an institution depends on our ability to serve, exhibit and work with this landmark collection in the Paul Cret building,” he said.
At the Tuesday meeting of ANC 6B Commissioner Jennifer Samolyk (6B01) she was shocked that the addition would be considered for historic designation, saying that the decision to pursue the application seemed ‘arbitrary’.
Similarly, at the meeting of ANC 6C the following day, Commisisoner Joel Kelty (6C05), who is a trained architect, said that the addition does not yet rise to the level of historic designation, adding that he felt that the building was subject to sufficient oversight due to its location, putting it under the purview of the Federal Commission on Fine Arts (CFA) which reviews design changes effecting the dignity of the nation’s capital.
ANC 6B voted 7-2 to oppose the nomination, saying that the addition was too young for such a designation and arguing that it does not meet the historic and artistic thresholds for the designation. The letter asked that if HPRB chooses to accept the nomination, it should designation the exterior but not the interior. ANC 6C voted unanimously to oppose the nomination, noting that if the nomination was nonetheless accepted it would support a historic application for interior renovations to the space prepared by Folger.