Photo by Mr. T in DC.
GM heard rumors about this, and then yesterday the Current reported on it: the massive West Heating Plant on 29th st. could be on the market soon.
The West Heating plant was built in 1946-48 in order to provide heat to federal building in northwest DC. Originally powered by coal, the plant was eventually converted to natural gas power (although it is supposedly still convertible back to coal). According to the Current, however, it hasn’t been used in over ten years.
For that reason, the General Service Administration is exploring whether the federal government needs to keep the property in reserve any longer or if it can be sold off.
The Current suggests that some find the building to be an eyesore, but GM could not disagree more. It’s a elegant Art Deco building modeled after the even more massive Central Heating Plant, located near L’Enfant Plaza.
The nearby residents of James Place condos want as much of the property turned into parkland as possible. The lot directly to the south of the building could be used in this manner since it runs right back to Rock Creek. GM wondered whether a park could be built with the old tanks still in place (like Seattle’s Gasworks park) but the fact is that most of the lot is a parking lot and the tanks are simply not attractive, even in an industrial sense.
Some condo owners want to level the building too, but GM thinks that’s completely unacceptable. This is an historic and landmark building and should be converted to a new use.
And that’s where it gets interesting. An obvious use would be yet another condo building. While the front of the building is monolithic and nearly windowless, the south and north facades are blessed with lots of windows. So given a proper floor plan (and completely new floors would probably be necessary since the inside is likely mostly hollow) habitable units could probably be constructed.
But why settle for that? A much more interesting use for this building would be a grand new museum. The interior could be built to suit it, either small floors with modular rooms, or a huge cavernous hall a la Musee D’Orsay. It could be a truly incredible space.
But that would take a lot of money. Besides the cost of buying the building and reconfiguring it, the new owners would have to deal with a huge unknown cost associated with remediating decades of pollution.
Does a museum exist with the means to pull this off? Probably not, but we can dream.