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D.C. designates Georgetown ‘Exorcist’ steps and adjacent car barn building as historic landmark

The Historic Preservation Review Board approved the nomination of the site last week

The “Exorcist” steps, next to the Capital Traction Company Union Station at 3600 M St. NW
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The District now possesses the notorious “Exorcist” steps in Georgetown among its historic landmarks. At its meeting on Jan. 24, the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) voted to designate the steps, famously depicted as the scene of Father Damien Karras’ death in the original 1973 horror film by William Friedkin, as the city’s first local landmark of 2019.

The D.C. Preservation League, a nonprofit, and the Prospect Street Citizens Association, a civic group, jointly nominated the site, which also includes the Georgetown Car Barn. The latter—a four-story brick building with a 140-foot-tall Romanesque tower—is now home to Georgetown University offices and owned by Douglas Development. Built in the 1890s, this building once stored streetcars for the Capital Traction Company, a former transit provider.

D.C.’s Historic Preservation Office (HPO) reviewed and recommended the site’s nomination, noting in a report that the car barn “is one of perhaps eight terminals that remain” from the era of D.C.’s original streetcar network. “It tells the story of the conversion of streetcars from horse to cable to electric propulsion,” reads the report, prepared by HPO’s Tim Dennee. “It also illustrates the consolidation of Washington’s streetcar lines, from an initial grouping of the termini of several independent lines, to their merger into the Capital Traction Company.”

As for the “Exorcist” steps, which are located at 3600-3601 M St. NW, the HPO report says they were initially intended as a public right-of-way, sandwiched between the car barn and the “retaining walls that keep Prospect Street from crushing the station.” It also argues that the 1973 film adds “distinct historic significance” to the site. The film “has stood the test of time (even if its special effects now look a bit cruder to our eyes),” the report notes, adding that “the movie’s significance is established in the history of cinema.” (It won two Oscars.)

A popular tourist attraction, the steps have featured a commemorative plaque since 2015; aptly, it was installed right before Halloween that year. In a post on its Facebook page, the D.C. Preservation League says the car barn was “designed by prolific Washington architect Waddy Butler Wood.” A little more transit history, per the group: “It opened in 1897 as ‘the only edifice of its kind in the country,’ according to the Washington Times. The associated Retaining Wall and Stairway form the oldest and best known pedestrian link in the District.”

The Georgetown Car Barn (2010)
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