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D.C.’s newest historic district: Bloomingdale

Officials granted the Northwest neighborhood historic status in late July

Rowhouses in Bloomingdale
David Harmantas/Shutterstock

Northwest’s Bloomingdale neighborhood became the city’s newest historic district by a unanimous vote of preservation officials late last month.

On July 26, the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) approved, 8-0, the designation of Bloomingdale as a historic district. The change will go into effect on Sept. 9 and means that any new construction, demolition, or exterior work that requires city permits must first clear historic preservation review.

The decision will help preserve the neighborhood’s rowhouse-dominated character but will also effectively restrict development as home prices continue to rise. The boundaries of the Bloomingdale Historic District are Channing Street NW to the north, North Capitol Street to the east, Florida Avenue NW to the south, and Second Street NW to the west.

There are about 1,700 “contributing buildings” and one “contributing site”—the tucked-away Crispus Attucks Park—that bolster the neighborhood’s historic status, according to a March 2017 application. The application was prepared by Prologue DC, a historical research group.

A group of Bloomingdale residents spearheaded the nomination process, with help from the nonprofit D.C. Historic Preservation League (DCPL). The residents said that though the neighborhood’s Victorian-era and early-20th century rowhouses “have been under heavy development pressure in recent years,” they still have a “high degree” of historic integrity.

The local advisory neighborhood commission, ANC 5E, and other residents opposed the nomination. They said most of the structures in Bloomingdale did not merit historic status, that many of them already had incompatible “pop-up” and “pop-back” additions, and that it would be unfair and costly to require neighbors to abide by preservation regulations.

“Residents have also raised concerns about the impact designation would have on reducing their ability to modify their homes to meet their changing needs,” an April 2018 resolution by ANC 5E stated. It added that many residents were concerned historic status could fuel gentrification by driving up housing costs and that the nomination was not widely favored.

The Historic Preservation Office sided with the supporters of Bloomingdale’s historic status and recommended that the HPRB pass it. An official memo on the HPRB’s July meeting says:

“The Board recognized that the historic district designation process needs improvement, but that in this case, the public outreach was implemented effectively, efficiently and in conformance with current procedures. The Board also found that historic district designation versus landmark designations more fully tells the story of the neighborhood’s history and more appropriately recognizes the quality architecture. Finally, the Board found that despite the recent alterations to buildings in Bloomingdale, the historic district is overwhelmingly intact and retains its integrity.”

Groups on either side of the debate hailed and criticized the board’s decision. “This was not an effort on behalf of just a few NIMBYs, but that of a well-organized coalition that perceived threats to their neighborhood — and acted accordingly,” DCPL Executive Director Rebecca Miller wrote in the Washington Business Journal. Meanwhile, urbanism organization Greater Greater Washington labelled the historic designation process “a system in need of reform.”

In September, the HPRB will hear its first individual cases for the Bloomingdale Historic District, per a new meeting notice. One involves the planned demolition of a brick church at 150 S St. NW and the other involves prospective construction at 1634 North Capitol St. NW.