Mystery and controversy swirled in the wake of the March 14 meeting where the razing of the historic Hendler Creamery building at 1100 East Baltimore Street was approved.
There was an unexplained nearly one-hour gap in the meeting video, together with allegations that the city preservation board had short-circuited its own procedures to hasten demolition.
Instead of a hearing to determine architectural and cultural significance and a second hearing to consider structural and economic issues, the demolition decision was made in a single meeting.
A preservation-minded couple who flagged the irregularities cried foul.
Fred Shoken and Donna Beth Joy Shapiro – who say the building could and should be saved – asked for the matter to be reconsidered.
But at tomorrow’s meeting the fireworks are likely to continue, given the way the Hendler matter is being approached by the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP).
Shoken and Shapiro’s reconsideration request is set to be heard. (Weeks ago they were told it would be on the agenda as a procedural matter, and that “new evidence will not be permitted.”)
But when the agenda came out online, they saw that plenty of evidence about Hendler is going to be presented – and a vote potentially taken.
Back-to-back hearings are now scheduled to be held on the demolition by the contract purchaser, Helping Up Mission. These hearings (and an unrelated demolition request for another property) are to take place in less than an hour, according to the agenda.
“I wish to protest in the strongest possible terms that this is a denial of due process,” said John C. Murphy, Shoken and Shapiro’s attorney, in a letter to CHAP Executive Director Eric Holcomb.
“This was just sprung on us”
Murphy pointed to the packed line-up of other items before the commissioners tomorrow – including a developer’s request to tear down buildings on Howard and Fayette streets, part of the long-stalled “Superblock” project that preservation advocates reportedly are planning to oppose.
“CHAP has a full agenda on that day and the Hendler building is listed along with other matters, all to be determined in the space of one hour,” the attorney protested.
According to Murphy’s letter, which was shared with The Brew, CHAP only told Shapiro last week that the May meeting would include two substantive hearings to decide on Helping Up’s demolition request.
“I wish to protest in the strongest possible terms that this is a denial of due process” – Attorney John C. Murphy.
“There is literally no time for my clients to secure any expert assistance in the space of three business days,” Murphy wrote, calling on CHAP to schedule a hearing at a time that allows the parties to prepare.
Shapiro said advocates for preserving the Hendler building shouldn’t be rushed to suit the purchaser’s interests.
“This was just sprung on us,” she said. “I think the attorneys for Helping Up just want to clean this up and get it over with.”
Development Never Happened
Helping Up’s preparations to back up its request, meanwhile, are now on display on the CHAP section of the Planning Department’s website.
There’s a link, for instance, to the report submitted by the engineer hired by Helping Up who concluded that the building is not salvageable and should be “demolished as soon as possible.”
(The discussion of this engineer’s report at the March 14 CHAP meeting took place during the “lost” hour of video footage.)
CHAP’s special page about March 14th also recounts efforts to recover that missing footage, concluding with this statement: “DriveSavers, the company hired to try and recover the recording, was unable to recover the lost portion of the hearing.”
Also linked on the page is the staff report, which chronicles the building’s history after its 2012 purchase by Kevin Johnson’s Commercial Group.
As The Brew previously reported, Commercial originally promised to transform the building and surrounding parcels into a $75 million luxury apartment and retail development.
Those plans never materialized and, after crafting a scaled-back version, the developer got permission in 2015 from CHAP to raze the roof and two walls of the structure.
Years of subsequent inaction by Commercial left the building – which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places – open to the elements.
The building’s facades “have deteriorated to the point where preserving and restoring them to maintain their historic fabric and character is not possible,” the Century Engineering report concludes.
Shoken, a former CHAP staffer, and Shapiro, a longtime preservation advocate, take issue with this assessment.
They point to the success of many “facade-ectomies” in which the front face of a historic building is saved and fused with a modern building behind it.
“Where there’s a will there’s way,” said Shapiro, testifying at the March CHAP hearing. “It seems like every other building in D.C. is a new building behind an old facade.”
THE BREW’S RECENT HENDLER CREAMERY COVERAGE: