Monumental or Eyesore?

West Heating Plant


Last month, a consortium of investors, including the Levy Group and Four Seasons, won the auction to purchase the historic West Heating Plant on 29th st. The future of the building is now in doubt, but is it worth saving as is?

No formal plans have been presented by the winning group, but you can read between the lines of their few public statements. Most tellingly, in a letter from the Zoning Administrator to the group’s lawyer, the general proposal to tear down most of the building was discussed. The request asked what the zoning implications would be to keep the 29th St. facade but tear down most of the rest of the building.

Some, like GM, think the entire building is worth saving. It’s a striking example of a austere Art Deco style in a city mostly untouched by that style. The front facade, (which the group seems likely to keep anyway) is a muscular and monolithic edifice, that is detailed with a precise yet delicate brickwork borders:

1000 block of 29th St.


The rest of the building carries on that muscular hulk:

1000 block of 29th St.


But the problem is, there is simply no way to get natural light into the building as it is currently structured.

Photo courtesy of Jones Lang La Salle.

Yes there are eight long windows on the north and south sides, but behind each window is a giant steel frame blocking the light. The frames are structural, so they cannot be easily removed.

GM has seen some plans calling for a giant atrium to bring light in, but that would limit the roof usage and remove a good deal of square footage within the building.

Some simply think people like GM are nuts and that the building is an eyesore. The very traits GM finds appealing can be just as easily seen as looming and oppressive.

What do you think? Should the new owners be forced to save all four facades? Or should they be allowed to tear down most of the building and simply keep the 29th St. side?


Filed under Development

8 responses to “Monumental or Eyesore?

  1. To destroy ANY of this building’s facades would be as criminal as the demolition by neglect loss in 1949/50 of Georgetown’s Francis Scott Key House.

  2. Why people should think that clean-lined example of its day is uglier than the hideous Four Seasons itself, which looks like a poorly-designed college dorm from the early 1980’s, is beyond me.

  3. JMW

    I do like this building and do not take lightly the importance of preservation, but it was built as a heating plant. Any realistic use in the future involving people inhabiting the building will require natural light. I hope some creative architect can find a way to preserve the general character but bring in light at the same time. This could be a much greater building, and one that actually draws people in, if the owner / architect is given the proper freedom to make that happen.

  4. Olive

    Following on JMW’s comment, any realistic use in the future involving people will likely require extensive remediation of soil beneath the building. The remediation would take much less time and effort without the building in the way.

  5. gee

    I find the building fascinating and much more pleasing to the eye than the faux brick colonial-type buildings nearby

  6. Jim McCarthy

    What does the phrase “given the proper freedom” mean?

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