It’s somehow appropriate that when I meet James M. Goode, it’s in his home at the Kennedy-Warren apartment building. Through the open windows rattles the noise of incessant jackhammering: construction that will eventually produce a new wing on the famed Art Deco building, which opened to tenants in October 1931.
When the work is finished next year, the Cleveland Park landmark will have added more than 100 new units, completing an original plan derailed by the Great Depression. Few people in Washington will appreciate the new wing as much as Goode, author of Capital Losses: A Cultural History of Washington’s Destroyed Buildings and Best Addresses: A Century of Washington’s Distinguished Apartment Houses. Published in 1979 and 1988, respectively, they were among the first books of their kind about any U.S. cityand they remain unique today as the Smithsonian Institution Press reissues both volumes in revised, updated editions. Each large-format (and heavy) volume exceeds 500 pages and features a wealth of photographs, along with Goode’s signature blend of architectural criticism and social history.
Architecturally, Goode puts his money where his mouth is. In addition to the Kennedy-Warren, he’s lived in such well-preserved buildings as the Northumberland at New Hampshire Avenue and V Street NW, which opened in 1910. “I just had a tour two weeks ago of the new Ritz-Carlton in Georgetown,” Goode says. “They have 29 apartments there, and they range from $2 million to $8 million and from 3,000 to 6,000 square feet. Still, I’d rather live [in the Kennedy-Warren] than there, because of the…good woodwork and elegant detailingthe features you don’t get in any modern building.”
Not to mention the lobby. “In New York and Chicago, the prestige of an apartment house was measured in the height of the building,” he says. But the height limit imposed on Washington’s buildingsa law prompted by the 1894 construction of the 12-story Cairo building in Dupont Circlemeant that “the prestige of the early [District] apartment houses was measured by the size and decor of their lobbies. It was so hot here that people congregated there in the summer.” The Kennedy-Warren’s lobby, he proudly points out, will soon be restored to its original splendorincluding an “Aztec” Deco ceiling that’s been covered by white paint for four decades.
Goode, 63, grew up in Hickory, N.C., and came to Washington in 1959, when the Army stationed him at the Pentagon. Later, he spent 17 years as curator of the Smithsonian’s headquarters, known as “the Castle,” before leaving to study with prominent architectural historian and preservationist Richard Longstreth at George Washington University. His latest project is a history of the B.F. Saul Co., the local real-estate giant that owns the Kennedy-Warren, among other properties, and the organization of the company’s archives, which date back to the 19th century.
Goode wrote Capital Losses and Best Addresses mostly during his tenure at the Smithsonian, investing seven years of research in the first book and a decade in the latter. Last year, Goode says, his editors convinced him to produce new editions after learning that the originals were fetching top dollar on the Internet and inspiring waiting lists at local used-book shops. To update Capital Losses, Goode asked Longstreth to write a foreword
that covered the local historic-preservation movement since 1979. For Best Addresses, Goode produced write-ups of 18 additional buildings, as well as a new preface.
There’s been no shortage of “crimes against preservation” since the first editions appeared: tear-downs of significant structures, the illogical incorporation of historic façades into glass-covered modernist office buildings. But on balance, Goode has seen significant improvement both in preservation and in new architectureas recently as this year, with a new convention center that he calls “absolutely beautiful.”
“The progress made during the last 30 years has been remarkable,” Goode says. “Developers are much more sensitive. What started out as radical is now conventional wisdom.” Now, Goode says, he thinks semi-seriously about writing a book called Capital Successes. Louis Jacobson