• Property: Jefferson at Penn Quarter
  • Location: Washington, D.C.
  • Total Project Cost: $125 million
  • Project Scope: Redevelopment of a 1.74-acre site that included 13 historic properties, featuring a building that served as Civil War nurse Clara Barton's office.

The headaches of rehabbing just one historic building can make any developer want to head for the hills. Try tackling 13 unique historic properties filling an entire city block in downtown Washington—one of which served as the office for Civil War nurse Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross. While many might take one look and run, JPI Cos. jumped at the opportunity. “It was basically a mess waiting to get redeveloped,” says Jim Butz, president of JPI's East Coast division.
JPI saw great potential in the site's location, just blocks from the MCI Center, White House, and the Capitol. The Irving, Texas-based company's plan? To transform the 1.74-acre site into Jefferson at Penn Quarter, a 428-unit luxury condominium community with more than 35,000 square feet of retail space and a 250-seat performing arts theater.

Past Meets Present The process started in 1998, when JPI beat out about 20 firms to take over the property from the U.S. General Services Administration. Required to include a housing component, JPI also threw in office and retail space, a theater, and parking garage, winning the deal.

BARTON'S BUILDING: The nurse's former office is now part of a dynamic mixed-use community in downtown Washington. Many of the original buildings date back to the 1800s but now house condos, a museum, a grocery store, and the Woolly Mammoth Theater Co.
BARTON'S BUILDING: The nurse's former office is now part of a dynamic mixed-use community in downtown Washington. Many of the original buildings date back to the 1800s but now house condos, a museum, a grocery store, and the Woolly Mammoth Theater Co.

Then came seven years of work. “It takes a lot of tenacity to see it [the renovation] through and to keep on top of all the details,” says Linda Palmer, associate at Washington-based Esocoff and Associates Architects, the project's architect. “We started thinking about this and drawing things in 1998, and now we are in 2004.”

Courtesy JPI Cos.
Courtesy JPI Cos.

The project's 13 historic properties on three streets posed unique challenges for the development team, which had to follow local and federal historic preservation guidelines. Name any type of historic rehab, and you'll see it here. Two buildings were adaptively reused. One offers a Starbucks with housing units on top, while the other—formerly Clara Barton's Civil War office—features a Clara Barton museum on top with retail and office space below.

Four buildings had their façades suspended in mid-air while the project was built below, behind, and above them. Four other façades were disassembled and reinstalled in their original locations. Finally, three façades dating to the 1800s were assembled and installed along the project's perimeter. In storage for 25 years, “these pieces had been sitting, waiting for someone to take them and make them into a new building,” says Palmer.

The new construction component was carefully designed to resonate with the 19th-century ornamental masonry and trim of the historic buildings. “Architecturally we wanted to have something that was sympathetic to the qualities of the old building,” says Palmer. “We made a real point to set the glass lines back to give the windows the appropriate relief that you would see in an older building.”

Comparison
Comparison

The condos—divided into the 173-unit Lafayette at Penn Quarter and the 255-unit Clara Barton at Penn Quarter—boast an array of amenities. Top on the list is a pub with a big-screen TV, antique car photos, swanky striped wood flooring, and intimate booths. A rooftop garden with a pool, barbeque, and catering kitchen offers sweeping views of the Washington Monument and the Mall. The courtyard comes complete with a serpentine walk of locust trees that recall Thomas Jefferson's curving brick walls at the University of Virginia.

Behind the Scenes

Meshing historic guidelines with renters' desires is always a challenge. “We don't live in houses that look the same as houses built 100 years ago,” says JPI's Butz. For instance, residents want a higher ceiling today, which throws off the alignment of windows in a historic structure.

The solution: two-story spaces. “You create a loft unit so that you don't have to replace a [historic] window with a new window or brick it over,” says Butz. That's easier said than done, and owners are often stuck trying to rent or sell a large, high-priced unit.

But these jazzy spaces pay off in the end, Butz says. “Financially it might not always be the best unit, but it does create an environment and an aura to the building that people like.”

That's certainly the case at Jefferson at Penn Quarter. Originally slated as apartments, and then a mix of apartment and condos, all units ended up as condos to meet the large buyer demand. Close to 90 percent of the units are sold.